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September 30, 2010

Seidnotes

A Triple Short of Driving Me Insane

by Eric Seidman

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Vernon Wells has had a nice rebound season after struggling mightily last year. In 629 plate appearances, the Blue Jays' center fielder is hitting .273/.331/.518, with 31 home runs and 42 doubles. Heck, his defense has been less maligned this season even if the various metrics still consider his work to be below average. But this past Monday, Wells came close to achieving something rare: making me incredibly angry. It wasn’t technically his fault, but if not for his efforts I wouldn’t have wanted to tear my hair out.

After hitting a single and home run off of A.J. Burnett, Wells doubled off of David Robertson and found himself one hit away from the cycle. Only, the remaining hit was the hardest one to get, and announcers inevitably started claiming that Wells was “a triple short of the cycle.” If I thought spitting my breakfast at the television would have done anything, I would have done so, but instead I sat back on the couch, sulked, and continued watching highlights, hoping that I had just dreamt the entire thing.

This phrase comes up seemingly every month when someone has a great game but does not hit a triple, as if getting that three-bagger is incredibly easy. There is no such thing as being a triple short of the cycle, when that missing component is the toughest to get. I mean, technically, yes, a player can be a triple short of the cycle, but without a triple there is no cycle and triples are the toughest hit to come by. That would be akin to saying that a pitcher fell the eighth and ninth inning short of a complete game shutout, or that a batter fell a home run short of a multi-homer game after blasting a dinger. Wells didn’t fall short of anything—he just didn’t do something that is relatively rare.

If a player hits a single, double, and triple in his first three at-bats, one could reason that he would swing for the fences his next trip to the plate, but you can’t exactly plan for a triple. Baseball players are freaks of nature, but nobody goes up to bat with Professor Frink calculating the exact swing trajectory and force needed to have the ball hit the wall then ricochet away from the defender in order to preserve the triple. Seeing a triple, period, is a feat of its own, let alone one sandwiched between the other hits.

On a per-plate appearance basis, here are the percentages of each type of hit:

Single: 16.10 percent

Double: 4.12 percent

Triple: 0.57 percent

Home Run: 2.33 percent


Triples are rare, and a player should not be expected to magically hit one just because he has a single, double, and home run. This is before even reconciling the fact that four-hit games are also incredibly rare. From an etymological standpoint, saying that something falls short of a goal implies that the goal was realistically within reach and readily attainable, but the interested party just couldn’t close the deal. As I’ve established, this isn’t a reasonable assumption at all, which is why the “triple short of the cycle” phrase drives me batty. How common are these “triple-short” games?

Since 1974, I count 7,386 instances when a batter had at least one single, double, and home run, without hitting a triple. Garrett Jones actually did this on Tuesday. Here are players with the top 10 totals:

Player

Total

Alex Rodriguez

38

Ken Griffey, Jr

37

Barry Bonds

35

Juan Gonzalez

32

Jeff Bagwell

28

Frank Thomas

28

Cal Ripken, Jr

28

Jose Canseco

27

Moises Alou

27

Rafael Palmeiro

27

Including the players tabled above, exactly 50 hitters have had 20 or more of these games over the last 36 seasons. Another 166 players had between 10 and 19 such games. Case in point, going triple-less while loading up on the other hits is rare from an overall standpoint, but nowhere near as common as actual cycles. In fact, in the same span of time, actual cycles have occurred only 119 times--and how likely do you think it is that the vast majority of those failed cycle attempts were due to not tripling?

Luckily, we can find out! Since 1974, there have been 206 games in which a player failed to single but recorded at least a double, triple and home run. There have been 739 games in which a player failed to double while singling, tripling, and homering. Running through the same exercise but searching for homerless games with singles, doubles, and triples abound, 1,821 games surface. Putting these numbers together, there have been 10,271 chances for a player to hit a cycle since 1974—and I’m defining these players as either having achieved the cycle or missing out by one of the hits—and 71.9 percent of the “attempts” fell flat due to a missing triple.

Even if we think that it is rare from a relative standpoint for a player to hit a single, double, and homer in the same game, it is undeniable that the main cause of failed cycles is a lack of triples. A player doesn’t fall a triple short of the cycle when the triple should honestly be expected to confound these attempts. But maybe my frustration with the situation stems from the cycle itself. If you really think about it, the cycle is a very trivial feat. If a player hits two doubles, a triple and a homer, he doesn’t go in the record books as hitting for the cycle, even though he a) produced a better game, and b) would have had to intentionally worsen his game to get the cycle. The same is true for games with a double, two triples and a homer, or a double, a triple and two homers. Do these games occur, though, or are they just hypotheticals in my mind?

I’m glad you asked, Eric, and here are the results. There have been 12 players who have hit two or more doubles, with at least one triple and one home run since 1974:

Player

Date

Johnny Grubb

8/8/82

Lou Whitaker

6/8/83

Bob Horner

7/13/85

Kevin Bass

6/27/87

Darryl Strawberry

8/16/87

Chris Sabo

6/18/88

Kevin Mitchell

6/22/93

Mike Blowers

5/24/95

Melvin Nieves

4/6/96

Juan Gonzalez

8/31/98

Mark Teixeira

9/13/04

Dustin Pedroia

7/2/08

 There have also been two different instances of a player recording at least one single and homer, with two or more triples, without any doubles present:

Player

Date

Dmitri Young

5/6/03

Conor Jackson

4/18/08

 

Wait, what!? Dmitri Young had a game where he didn’t double, but managed to hit two triples. And this was a major league game? Lastly, there have been eight games where the batter didn’t single, but hit at least one double and triple, and hit two or more dingers:

Player

Date

Ryan Howard

6/18/10

Raul Ibanez

6/11/07

Roger Cedeno

7/18/01

Chris Richard 

9/3/00

Carl Everett

8/29/00

Rich Becker

7/13/96

Larry Walker

5/21/96

Gary Sheffield

4/10/94

I hereby decree these players to be honorary cycle-achievers based on Seidman Statute 4(b)2.1 that clearly states: “Any player that surpasses the cycle by achieving hits with greater total base values than those that were missed is to be attributed as having achieved the feat. Just as newer video game systems can play games from older consoles, triples are technically doubles plus something extra, just as doubles are technically singles plus something extra.” This is irrefutable evidence from a completely valid and legitimate rulebook, so my hands are tied here for anyone that disagrees.

 Bottom line is that “triple short of the cycle” should be retired. Cycles are rare, but if the player is missing a triple, he just isn’t likely to get the cycle. In such instances, the player should not be considered to be on the doorstep of a rare achievement. Just celebrate his game and don’t detract from it because he might not record something trivial.  

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

Related Content:  Triple-A,  Single

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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kmbart

Whoa, Eric, back on the meds. The phrase "a triple short of the cycle" is one of the cliches that actually IS correct. Four hits are needed, three have been obtained, one remains; that's the essence of the situation. Nowhere in your article do you complain about the announcers opining that the triple "is easy" or "a lock", so I see this as a tremendous over-reaction to a perfectly reasonable statement.

Of course, I saw David Bell's cycle in person, so it's pretty hard to overwhelm me with cycle-related minutiae; I would be interest to find out how many times the triple was accomplished as the *final* hit in the cycle, though.

Sep 30, 2010 05:59 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

David Bell's cycle nearly made my head explode. I couldn't believe it was happening. Even after I saw him on third base I couldn't believe he tripled.

Sep 30, 2010 06:20 AM
 
jlefty

I vehemently disagree with the very premise of this article:

But this past Monday, Wells came close to achieving something rare: making me incredibly angry

Shenanigans!

Sep 30, 2010 06:58 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

I vehemently disagree with your face.

Oct 01, 2010 04:18 AM
 
mingaaws

looks like dmitri didn't double that game - two homers, two triples and a single.

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2003/B05060BAL2003.htm

Sep 30, 2010 07:03 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Yeah, I phrased it wrong. Jackson and Young had two triples, a homer, and a single, but no double.

Sep 30, 2010 07:13 AM
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Additionally, the players in the final table were inputted wrong -- they are actually from the first table. The 8 players for the last table are being fixed momentarily.

Sep 30, 2010 07:19 AM
 
BERSMR

Kind of a related issue. When Bengie Molina came up earlier this year "a triple short of the cycle" and got it, despite only having tripled on 5 prior occasions in five thousand prior at bats, was that the least likely conversion of a "triple short of a cycle" ever to have occurred?

Sep 30, 2010 07:36 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Okay, table fixed. Apologies for that.

Sep 30, 2010 08:17 AM
 
DavidHNix

No surprise that Alex Rodriguez failed to get a triple to complete the cycle the most times. More proof that he just can't produce in the clutch, right?

Sep 30, 2010 08:34 AM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

This is certainly further proof of that.

Sep 30, 2010 14:44 PM
 
newsense

I think Keith Woolner wrote an article a few years back on what he called "Super-Cycles", games with 4 hits totaling more than 10 total bases. A useful term, I think.

Sep 30, 2010 09:34 AM
rating: 0
 
jlefty

I want to see someone have a 4 homer game with 10 rbis, off of a grand slam, 3 run shot, 2 run shot, and a solo home run. No one has ever done this according to my cursory glance, though Mark Whiten came close. Replacing the solo shot with a second 2 run shot.

Sep 30, 2010 11:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

I believe that would be called a super-cycle.

Sep 30, 2010 14:45 PM
 
irussma

Right, right, the home run cycle. According to Wikipedia, it's been done once in the history of professional baseball, in a Double-A game, by someone named Tyrone Horne. It's also been done a few times in college.

Sep 30, 2010 19:42 PM
rating: 0
 
klipzlskim

My favorite cycle ever: looking up at the jumbotron during Miguel Tejada's 5th AB (back in his Oakland days) to see:
1st: Groundout to 1B
3rd: Groundout to 2B
5th: Groundout to SS
7th: Groundout to 3B
I'm not sure about the innings, but they were in order. Now that's something to strive for.

Sep 30, 2010 10:04 AM
rating: 5
 
hhbliss

I'm not sure if it was the same game, but I remember watching Tejada pull one of those (we had a more vulgar name for it). I'd have to check the box scores, but I think it was the same week he shoved all his bats into the stands in disgust.

Oct 04, 2010 19:43 PM
rating: 0
 
JimmyJack

Funny how Bagwell and Thomas show up together again. I'm convinced they were twins separated at birth!

Sep 30, 2010 10:57 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Klipzlskim, I believe you have just given me an idea for a future Seidnotes.

Sep 30, 2010 11:10 AM
 
BrewersTT

I hear the phrase "a triple short of the cycle" as an entirely positive figure of speech, not as indicating a failure to do anything. Thus I can't get worked up about it as I might if I dissected it literally word by word. But I have my own pet irritations like this, so I can relate.

Love Klipzlskim's story about Tejada spraying the ball around to all fields (except the outfield).

Sep 30, 2010 13:17 PM
rating: 1
 
makewayhomer

what a weird article. this is an instance where the announcers are completely correct, even brain dead MSM types recognize that a triple is rare, hard to achieve, and can't really be planned for.

Sep 30, 2010 13:21 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Oh come on, it doesn't REALLY make me angry. Half this article is facetious.

Sep 30, 2010 14:45 PM
 
FLeghorn

What of the most enjoyable moments of the season for me was, in a Rox game, when CarGo came up in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, and just as the announcers brought up that he was only shy a homerun for the cycle, he promptly walloped the first pitch about 500 feet for the cycle and the win. I understand the premise of the article, but these guys need to follow a narrative like anybody else.

Sep 30, 2010 13:41 PM
rating: 0
 
FLeghorn

The opening 'What' in my dumb comment above should, of course, be 'One'...

Sep 30, 2010 13:42 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

Fun piece, and as long as we're admitting semantic pet peeves, Eric, people are "who," not "that."

Sep 30, 2010 19:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Hey, the announcers made the obligatory announcement that Philips was a triple shy of the cycle in tonight's playoff game. Made me think of this article, naturally. He popped out.

Oct 08, 2010 17:46 PM
rating: 0
 
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