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September 27, 2013

Raising Aces

A Taxonomy of Pitcher Triples

by Doug Thorburn

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Last week, we ventured into the world of pitcher offense by taking a look at the top 10 home runs that were hit by hurlers this season. At the time that the article was published, there had been 20 homers hit by pitchers on the year, but Jhoulys Chacin did some afternoon yardwork for pitcher bomb no. 21 last Friday. It was the first homer of the year for a Rockies pitcher, and prior to the blast the Rox were one of just two National League clubs whose pitchers had not hit either a home run or a triple on the season (the Pirates are now alone in that distinction).

As one would expect, pitcher triples are even more rare than pitcher homers, and there have been just 10 three-baggers hit by moundsmen this season. There are multiple factors that can make a pitcher triple possible, including ballpark configurations and outfield miscues in addition to hard-hit baseballs and good hustle. I reviewed each of the 10 pitcher triples hit this season, and found that they can be separated into a few unique categories.

Let's take a look.

The Rock Will Roll

Kyle Kendrick
Hit off of Tom Koehler, June 3

Kendrick's knock conformed with our basic expectations about pitcher triples. He hit it where they weren’t, dividing the outfielders who were drawn in to little league depth. The low liner became a slow roller that drifted all the way to the wall, with Chris Coghlan giving a long chase. Kendrick was nearly at second base before Coghlan could pick it up and make a throw, and though Kendrick was clearly running out of steam for the final 90 feet of his journey, he finished with a head-first slide as the relay throw bounced away from third baseman Ed Lucas. The highlight of this clip might just be a player who never touched the baseball, given the flailing acrobatics of Adeiny Hechavarria as the first in line on the cut-off relay team.

Jacob Turner
Hit off of Paul Maholm, July 10

Turner's 270-foot trip around the diamond looks much like that of Kendrick, beginning with the line-drive hit just far enough away from the center fielder to induce the slow roll and the long chase, and the play came complete with a throw that airmailed the initial cutoff man. Unlike Kendrick, however, Turner was able to ease off the gas pedal as he closed in on third base thanks to the combination of the triples-friendly nook in center field of Marlins Park and B.J. Upton's less-than-enthusiastic pursuit of the baseball. It is worth noting that more three-baggers have been hit at Marlins Park this year than at any other field in the majors, with a total of 45 triples through Wednesday's games. The only other park that is even close is the expansive Coors Field at 43 triples on the season, followed by the 34 triples that were hit in Kauffman Stadium.

Tim Lincecum
Hit off of Ricky Nolasco, June 21

AT&T Park in San Francisco has seen the next-highest number of triples this season behind Kauffman, with a total of 33 on the year. Lincecum's drive perfectly split the outfielders and headed directly into the space that is so affectionately known as “triples alley.” His top-end speed may be lacking, but it was a joy to watch Big-Time Timmy Jim pump his arms with vigor as if he was doing a high-speed impression of the baserunners on RBI Baseball. It was Lincecum's second career triple, and the blow that knocked Miami starter Ricky Nolasco out of the game.

Jose Fernandez
Hit off of Julio Tehran, August 30

The 21-year old rookie is the only pitcher in the big leagues to hit a home run as well as a triple this season. His thrill-ride homer against the Braves earned the top spot on last week's rankings of the Top Ten Pitcher Homers, and his triple of 12 days prior adds even more fuel to the fire of Atlanta's frustration. His home-to-third trip on August 30 was struck off of fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Julio Teheran, and Fernandez will likely earn the final taunt when the awards are announced after the season. The young Marlin displayed impressive instincts on the play in question, bursting quickly out of the box and showing some speed around the bases. He finished with an awkward head-first slide (the knees aren't supposed to hit the ground first, big guy), but Fernandez got the call on a close play at third base that adds further context to the subsequent Fernandez-Chris Johnson tilt. Fernandez was a force with the lumber over his final few games, collecting five hits in his last eight at-bats and zero strikeouts over the span, and now we have an offseason to imagine his accelerated learning curve being applied to hitting.

The Ghosts of Chavez Ravine

Trevor Cahill
Hit off of Chris Capuano, May 6

Trevor Cahill's soft liner had all the makings of a base hit, but the reaction of Carl Crawford leaves the impression that someone had pulled the pin on an incoming grenade, with the left fielder hitting the deck to avoid the explosive projectile. Crawford opened his eyes to see the baseball rolling toward the Dodger Stadium wall, leaving him with a long run as penance for the mistake. Cahill cruised into third base standing up, and though Crawford survived the incident with everything but his pride intact, the collateral damage included two runs driven in and a 2-1 deficit for the Dodgers.

Hyun-jin Ryu
Hit off of Patrick Corbin, June 12

The same apparition that clouded the judgment of Carl Crawford may have interfered with A.J. Pollock, as the Arizona right fielder hit the dirt on a Hyun-jin Ryu liner and ended up with similar results. Ryu's knock was more of a lumber-induced deflection of a baseball's trajectory than it was a concentrated attempt to drive the ball, but the defensive swing worked wonders with the assistance of Pollock and the electromagnetic hyperactivity that has surrounded Dodger Stadium this season. Ryu may have had the slowest home-to-third time of the year, but it still counted as a triple and a Dodger run added to the scoreboard.

Dillon Gee
Hit off of Chris Capuano, August 14

Capuano's back, and so is Crawford. Dillon Gee was able to work Capuano for an eight-pitch at-bat, which constitutes a relatively productive plate appearance in and of itself, before he sent a pitch flying into the night air at Chavez Ravine. Seven of the eight pitches were sinkers, including the 88-mph offering that resulted in three bags. Gee hit the ball hard, and though left fielder Carl Crawford had a long way to go to make the play, his closing speed was less than impressive for a player whose previous peak was defined by legwork. It is also tough to blame Crawford for the extra english that spun the ball off the wall with a crazy carom, but the fielder's awkward recovery opened the door for Gee to stretch his hit into three bags. Gee deserves the vast majority of the credit, from the deep drive to the impressive hustle and the Rickey-inspired slide into third.

Balls to the Wall

Cole Hamels
Hit off of Julio Teheran, August 12

Teheran greeted Hamels with three consecutive fastballs, sitting 91-92 mph and locating away from the left-hander on each pitch. Hamels lined up his swing on pitch number three, hitting a drive to left-center field that dropped just short of the warning track. B.J. Upton joins Teheran with a second appearance on this list, and though Bossman Junior showed impressive speed en route to the ball, he then fell inches short of the catch before momentum took him out of the play. Little brother Justin was on hand to pick up the pieces while the television audience was left to wonder about B.J.'s reaction time (bonus points for another over-thrown cutoff man). Hamels ended up with a standing triple, kick-starting a productive day at the plate that included a walk as well as a successful sac bunt.

Mike Leake
Hit off of John Lannan, April 17

Lannan alternated his sinker and curve for a sequence of seven pitches to Leake, with every pitch finishing over the middle third of the plate. The Cincinnati right-hander fouled off four pitches in a row before Lannan threw the 88-mph sinker right down the pike, which Leake squared up for a 400-foot blast to straightaway center field.

Ben Revere could have limited the damage to a double, but he was rejected and knocked on his ass by the center-field wall. Leake was standing on third base by the time Revere's throw found the infield, and Lannan would not survive the inning. Leake had a big game at the plate, going 3-for-4 and scoring three runs to go along with the RBI, and he also threw seven shutout innings in an eventual 11-2 victory for the Reds.

Cliff Lee
Hit off of Chris Hatcher, September 16

Just 11 days ago, the 35-year old Lee ripped the first triple of his career. The veteran of 12 years has spent not quite four full seasons playing in the National League, having accumulated fewer than 250 plate appearances along the way, but he joined teammates Hamels and Kendrick on the exclusive list of 2013's pitcher triples. His big hit had the feel of realism, as if struck by someone who is licensed to carry a bat. Lee's deliberate stance was prelude to the deep drive that split the outfielders before the ball dropped to a halt in front of the scoreboard. He was a beast on the mound, with eight innings of two-run baseball that included 14 strikeouts and zero walks, and he helped his own cause with a three-hit game at the plate that included four RBI. Even in a down year in Philly, Lee continues to deliver positive value on the price of admission.

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

Related Content:  Pitcher Hitting,  Triples

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