May 30, 2012
The Platoon Advantage
On the Padres, Cycles, Supercycles, and Pseudocycles
Carlos Quentin was playing just his second game of the season on Tuesday afternoon, in the Padres’ eventual loss to the Cubs. He doubled in the second inning, homered in the fifth, and singled in the seventh, which meant that television and radio announcers were legally bound to declare that Quentin was “a triple short of the cycle.” It’s a phrase that, while true and harmless, also (as has been noted here in detail) has crazily misleading connotations; a hitter with a single, double and homer is a triple short of the cycle in the same way the guy playing Tevye in the community production of Fiddler on the Roof down the street is a Best Actor Oscar short of being Laurence Olivier.
In this case, though, it wasn’t just the announcers taking note of it. It was mentioned on Twitter, and for a brief period was the lead story on the front-and-center scroll at MLB’s website. That’s because in the extremely unlikely event it did happen (which, of course, it didn’t), it would have been the first time in franchise history that a Padres player had hit for the cycle.
That’s pretty astounding, when you look at it. The Padres have been around since 1969; this is their 44th season. In that time, there have been 133 cycles. 3.67% of all baseball teams’ seasons since 1969 (44 out of a total of 1198 team-seasons) have been Padres seasons, so given an equal distribution across the league, we’d expect the Padres to have had five of those 133 cycles (or, more accurately but absurdly, 4.88 of them). They’ve had five fewer than that. All 29 other teams have had at least one cycle, and all but the most-recently-expansion Rays have had at least two. The Diamondbacks have had five cycles in their 15 seasons, and the Rockies have had six in their 20. Six individual players have done it twice since 1969. Six players have done it against the Padres. I counted 11 players who were either former or future Padres, ranging in every way possible from Jody Gerut to Dave Winfield, who hit for the cycle with other clubs. The fact that it’s never once happened for a Padre, while wearing a Padre uniform, is getting to be quite strange.
Meaningless, too, though. Far from alone among the achievements and statistics baseball celebrates, the cycle’s meaning is mostly symbolic. A four-hit game with three extra-base hits is great, and the 1-1-1-1 breakdown is aesthetically pleasing, but a 4-for-4 with a double, triple and two homers is better for the team than a cycle is, but won’t generally be nearly as well celebrated. This caused Keith Woolner to introduce a new term on this site, nearly nine years ago:
The Padres have had nine supercycles, displayed on the first nine lines here. Oddly enough, none of them involved even one triple. The greatest was certainly Steve Finley’s performance on June 23, 1997, when he went 4-for-5 with three homers and a single (and threw in a walk for good measure) against the Giants in San Francisco. Then there’s Ryan Klesko, on August 29, 2001 in St. Louis, going 5-for-6 with a single, two doubles and two homers. Seven others have had supercycles consisting of four hits including two homers and at least one double, but no triples. Chase Headley has one of those, plus a game in which he had four hits with a homer and two doubles and one in which he had five hits, with a homer and three doubles. (Chase Headley doesn’t really do triples.)
Just for fun, I’d like to throw another, similar new term out there, for performances that may not quite be as great as a true cycle, but are close enough:
A double, a triple and a homer makes nine total bases. So the quintessential pseudocycle would be Mike Cameron’s day on June 13, 2006 (one of only two “pure” pseudocycles in Padres history—Brian Giles had the other): 3-for-4 with a double, triple and a homer...and no single, but a walk in its place. Cameron is actually the first player who came to mind when I started thinking about pseudocycles, and he had six of them in his career; Giles had eight, including one more of the “pure” variety.
The Padres have had 57 of these pseudocycles (ignoring the nine supercycles, which all meet the same criteria); all can be seen here. Your average true cycle is probably a touch more valuable than your average pseudocycle, but they’re certainly close enough that it feels wrong to celebrate one while ignoring the others, and some of these seem to me like they’d be a lot more fun to watch. There are three more three-homers-and-a-walk games, for instance, including a second by Steve Finley. There’s Ryan Klesko’s 3-for-3 day with a triple, two homers and a walk in 2001. There’s Dave Roberts in 2005: 4-for-4 with a single, a double, two triples and a walk (and a caught stealing, just for a little extra excitement).
So, it’s weird that in nearly four and a half decades, the Padres haven’t had a single player come up with one of each type of hit within the same game. But that’s all it is—an oddity, and a purely trivial one. They’ve had plenty of games that were just as good as any cycle you’re likely to see (or close enough). And of course, it will happen eventually. There’s no guarantee it will happen this year or even within the next 10, but it’ll happen. And the guy who breaks the curse might well already be on the team—Cameron Maybin and especially Will Venable seem like they have the gap power and speed to be especially good bets to hit for the (true) cycle someday, given enough opportunity.
And: whether by “supercycles” and “pseudocycles” or by some better method devised by someone much smarter than I, it’d be great to find a way to categorize and recognize great single-game hitting performances that didn’t depend entirely on putting a ‘1’ in all the different hit columns.