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July 3, 2007
Millstones and Milestones
Prior to play last night, we were at the exact moment of the year where the lazy among us could simply double whatever counting stat any player had and chuck it out there as his year-end projection, because the bigs had polished off 49.8 percent of the schedule. The Tigers are actually one shy of their halfway point, but we can still throw a double multiplier on Curtis Granderson's triple count and come up with the unheard of number of 30. Only three men in history have smacked 30 three baggers in a season: Owen Wilson (36 in 1912), Dave Orr (31 in 1886), and Heinie Reitz (1894, also with 31), and since World War II, only one man has had as many as 23 in a season--Dale Mitchell of the 1949 Indians.
Before we get too excited, though (you are excited about this, right?), we should probably look at other recent players who tripled their brains out in the first half of seasons. Since 1962, nobody has hit more than Granderson in their clubs' first 81 games, but a couple have come close. Here are the most-prolific first-half triplers of the Expansion Era. Unfortunately for Granderson, the last column represents how many triples they hit in the second half.
Player Year Team Triples Triples 1st 81 2nd 81 Curtis Granderson 2007 Tigers 15 ? Rod Carew 1977 Twins 14 2 Willie Wilson 1985 Royals 13 8 Vada Pinson 1963 Reds 12 2 Cristian Guzman 2000 Twins 12 8 Nomar Garciaparra 2003 Red Sox 12 1 Andy Van Slyke 1988 Pirates 12 3 Lance Johnson 1994 White Sox 12 2 Cristian Guzman 2001 Twins 12 2 George Brett 1979 Royals 12 8 Lance Johnson 1996 Mets 12 9 Jim Rice 1978 Red Sox 12 3 Jose Reyes 2006 Mets 11 6 Deion Sanders 1992 Braves 11 3 Chone Figgins 2004 Angels 11 6 Ryne Sandberg 1984 Cubs 11 8
Not a single one of these men matched their first-half output; only Lance Johnson in 1996 and Ryne Sandberg in 1984 got the closest to repeating. Some were nearly barren in the department--Carew went from June 17 to August 17 without hitting another triple, then hit one more the rest of the way. In 1963, Pinson had a similar triples drought, but still managed to win the league title. Garciaparra hit eight triples in a two-week period, culminating with number 12 in the Red Sox 67th game of 2003. His next and last three-sacker of the season came 10 weeks later. Johnson's '94 campaign was cut short by the strike a couple dozen games into the second half. Guzman missed a month in the second half of 2001. Sanders played sporadically in the second half of 1992, as he was off pursuing his football career.
As events go, triples are somewhat random. Even a typical league leader does it once every two weeks, give or take. Acknowledging that, expecting Granderson to get to 30 is wanting way too much out of life. Even 25 would be exceptionally cool, and "just" tying Dale Mitchell for the postwar record would be outstanding.
Apart from a Tampa Bay-Texas matchup, this meeting pits the teams who have scored and allowed the most combined runs. Detroit (858 runs scored/allowed combined) and Cleveland (823) are also one-two in runs scored in the league. Considering that both their home parks are skewing slightly to the pichers' side, that's even a bit more impressive.
As of this writing, Barry Bonds has an OBP of .516. A season at .516 would be the ninth-best figure of all time. I'm sure we've all wondered how long Bonds can play this out. While not his old self in some aspects, most teams would welcome a player who was getting on base half the time, regardless of what's happening to the rest of his game.
With that in mind, what will Bonds do about the 3,000 hit question? He's an even 100 away at this juncture, and only figures to get about halfway there or so by the end of the 2007 season. A return in 2008 would guarantee him the next entry into the 3000 Hit Club. His pursuit of such a goal--even with some reduction in effectiveness--would still be more productive for his team than that of the man who recently got there, Craig Biggio. The last man to get this close and not pursue it was Frank Robinson, a man who was in the unique position of getting to decide if he wanted in or not. In the end, Robinson the manager kept Robinson the player with the bum shoulder on the sidelines, and Robinson the simply great finished with 2,943 base hits.
Who among the active leaders in hits has a shot at 3,000, and who doesn't?
Julio Franco (2,575): Alas, no. Julio's years in the wilderness cost him. Had he managed just 100 hits a year between 1998 and 2001, he'd be passing Robinson about now on the all-time list. Even with that, though, he seems to finally be slowing to the point where that last 50 might take him until he's 50.
Steve Finley (2,548): At 42, Finley finally appears to be about done. That's the thing about playing into your forties--it can all end so quickly. Last year he spanked 12 triples. Now, even playing in Colorado didn't get him any before his release two weeks ago.
Omar Vizquel (2,534): Vizquel was going to have to keep his .270-.290 batting average playing full time until he was 42 to have a shot. The first half of 2007 indicates that's probably not going to happen.
Ken Griffey, Jr., (2,490): Does 110 hits a year from age 38 through 41 sound like an unreasonable demand at this point? If he finishes this year with another 70 or so, that's what he'll need to do to get there.
Gary Sheffield (2,472): Ditto for Sheffield, only he's a year older. You have to figure his legs will give out before his bat speed does. By the time he's 70 he might swing about as fast as everybody else.
Luis Gonzalez (2,451): He would have to keep playing full time until he's 42, hitting exactly as well as he is now.
Ivan Rodriguez (2,431): Pudge is only 35, although one must assume his knees, quads, and haunches are three to four times that age. He's nevertheless got an excellent shot, considering he could cease being a regular in a few years and take up residence as someone's backup. One can picture him finishing his career with the Rangers and reaching 3,000 with them. It would be pretty neat to see a catcher in the 3,000 Hit Club, Craig Biggio's 427 (early) career games at the position notwithstanding.
Sammy Sosa (2,372), Kenny Lofton (2,361), Frank Thomas (2,324), and Jeff Kent (2,261): Time has long since run out for Kent and Lofton, and Sosa's year off--in which he probably could have added at least 100 or 125 hits--really put him out of range. As for Thomas, if only he'd been more aggressive and didn't mess around with all those fool walks. It's the same reason you don't see that Ted Williams fellow in the 3,000 Hit Club.
Derek Jeter (2,257): A couple weeks ago, the Yankee broadcasters were discussing how Jeter has more hits as his age than Pete Rose did. Now, if Jeter can somehow to conspire to become player-manager of the Yankees when he turns 43, he could end up as the all-time hit leader like a certain someone else we know.
Alex Rodriguez (2,163): Basically, Rodriguez could hit .180 for the next nine years and make it. With him, it's more a case of which players he'll be juxtaposed with at the top of the list: Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, or Tris Speaker.
Others worth mentioning: At 35 years and 2,147 hits, Manny Ramirez certainly has a chance; it would take 140 hits a year until he's 41, and that doesn't sound outside the realm of possibility. Johnny Damon is a thousand hits away, but is only 33. If we look past his first half, one can see there's a chance of him getting 160 hits a year for another six seasons. Vladimir Guerrero (1,880) is a bit younger than Alex Rodriguez and only 300 hits behind him. He should clear it with ease. If you can picture Edgar Renteria playing into his very late thirties, then you must then consider the possibility that he'll end up as a 3,000 hit guy. He's six months older than Guerrero and only 11 hits behind him. It's always fun to throw Ichiro Suzuki's name into a discussion like this. By the end of the season, he'll have about 1,600 hits, but he'll be 34 next year. He'd have to maintain his 200-hit pace for another five years to put him in a position where he can make it on a reduced-hit diet at ages 39 through 41. That said, it's certainly not out of the question.
At least the Devil Rays are fun to watch these days. The positive thinker in me wants to believe that this is just like 1989-1990 Braves team that was building up talent while still foundering in the standings. I'm not saying this is the dynasty of 2009-2024 in the making, but it seems like all this top draft choice talent has got to lead to somewhere other than more trips down the oblivion hole.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have allowed the fewest runs in the league. The last time that happened was in 2000. Unfortunately for them that year, they combined that with the third-fewest runs scored that year and finished at just 85-77, missing the wild card by six games. This year, they're not hitting people over the head with a truncheon, but they are sixth in the league with 400 runs scored.
With Frank Thomas hanging on home run number 499 last week, I discussed the various waiting times between home runs 499 and 500 for the previous men to the mark. In the end, Thomas hit his 500th on the 12th at-bat (not including two walks) of the fourth game after number 499. The one player I didn't have definite data on was Jimmie Foxx. Based on the number of games his team played in the 20 days between the two homers, I speculated that he could have taken the longest to get there. Reader Rob Diamond came up with the particulars.
I used Proquest to find the AP stories of each of those games, and it doesn't say what at-bat Foxx hit each home run in, just what inning. My estimated guess is that Foxx hit his 499th in his second at-bat (of five in the game) and his 500th in his fourth at-bat (of five in the game). Adding up the three at-bats from after 9/4's HR and the three at-bats from before 9/24's HR with the at-bats in between (4+5+4+4+5+3+3+4+4+4+3+3+4+4+1), I come up with 61 between #499 and #500 for Foxx. In those 15 homerless games, Foxx went 9 for 55 with three doubles, four runs, eight walks, and seven Ks. I can't say for sure what happened in the games which he homered. Foxx's line from 9/4 game #1: 3 for 5, HR, RBI, K. Foxx's line from 9/24 game #1: 2 for 5, HR, RBI, K.
So it is Foxx who took the longest, beating out Harmon Killebrew for that dubious distinction. It's somewhat ironic that Foxx, the man who reached 499 at such a young age, took the longest time to get to 500 once there.
Skroo-Uppz (Skroo-Uppz is a copyrighted feature of this author. No other parties may make the same errors without the express written consent of their originator.)
In that same column, I ran a list of the best Yankee MLVr seasons since Maris and Mantle were doing their thing. I listed Alex Rodriguez's .449 season as having taken place in 2002 and not 2005. Rodriguez was still with the Rangers in 2002. For the record, all three of Rodriguez's Ranger seasons rank in the teams top 10 MLVr; 2001 is second, 2002 is sixth, and 2003 is eighth. Rafael Palmeiro's 1999 season is number one. If you include the Washington Senators portion of the team's history, Frank Howard's three best seasons muscle into the top 10 as well, pushing Rodriguez's lowest count to 11th.
Jason Pare contributed research to this column.