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August 28, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Double and Triple That

by Jim Baker

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In the Tigers' 16-0 route of the Yankees last night, Curtis Granderson hit his 32nd double. This, combined with his 21 triples, gives him 53 doubles-plus-triples on the year. With 32 team games to go, he could get into the mid-60s in this often-overlooked combo. (The less said about his inside-the-park homerun on Sunday, the better. Don't get me started on players who put their team's needs ahead of their own personal goals and novelty records.)

If Granderson gets into the mid-60s, how will he sit historically? These are the best double/triple combos in history:

Total: Player, Team (doubles/triples)
77: Joe Medwick, 1936 Cardinals (64/13)
72: Paul Waner, 1932 Pirates (62/10)
72: Charlie Gehringer, 1936 Tigers (60/12)
71: Tip O'Neill, 1887 Browns (52/19)
71: Ty Cobb, 1911 Tigers (47/24)
70: Joe Jackson, 1912 Indians (44/26)
70: Tris Speaker, 1923 Indians (59/11)
70: Lou Gehrig, 1927 Yankees (52/18)
70: Adam Comorosky, 1930 Pirates (47/23)
70: Earl Webb, 1931 Red Sox (67/3)
70: Hank Greenberg, 1934 Tigers (63/7)
70: Stan Musial, 1946 Cardinals (50/20)

Eight of the 12 men on this list are in the Hall of Fame, and a ninth would be save for a serious lapse of moral turpitude. O'Neill won the American Association Triple Crown in 1887. Webb you know as the all-time single-season doubles leader. The player on the list of whom you are least likely to have heard of is Comorosky. His presence on this list is owed in no small part to his having played in the big bat year of 1930 in Forbes Field, or, as it could have been known, the Pittsburgh Triples Manufacturing Facility. Just 24 at the time of this, his greatest statistical feat, Comorosky was out of the bigs by the time he was 30.

Most of these 70-plus seasons took place in big offensive years, either in the '20s or '30s or in the upswing seasons of 1887 and 1911. Musial's 1946 effort is the outlier here. In addition to having the best year of this type ever, Medwick followed it up with a score of 66. Waner had a 69 in 1928 as well.

The death of the triple and the rise of the home run pretty much put an end to the high-volume double-triple combos. While scores in the high 60s were fairly common in the '20s and '30s (nine times total in those two decades), very few players have cracked 60 since the Second World War came to a close. Grady Sizemore had 64 (53/11) last year, one of the four best showings of the postwar era. Todd Helton (59/2) and Nomar Garciaparra (56/5) had 61 each in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Lance Berkman (55/5) turned the trick in 2001. The only other postwar players to crack 60 have been Hal McRae with 65 in 1977, Musial with 64 in 1948 and 62 in 1953, George Kell with 62 in 1950, George Brett with 62 in 1979, Lou Brock with 60 in 1968, and Stan Spence with 60 in 1946. Thus, for Granderson to work his way onto this list would be most impressive.

Where are they now?

Last year they were the Kings of All Things. This year? Some are still there, some aren't. Let's look at the top 10 VORP finishers from 2006 and see how they're coming along with 80 percent of the 2007 season in the books.

Albert Pujols (85.4/56.9): He's ninth now instead of first, but has recovered well from a slow start. His prime year of 27 will not go down in history as his best, but it won't look incongruous in the midst of his career, and he can still finish in the top five.

Ryan Howard (81.5/39.2): Howard is ranked 33rd in VORP overall and just fourth on his own team, behind Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Aaron Rowand. It seems unlikely he'll reach the heights of 2006 again, but there's nothing wrong with that, really, as playing at his current level is more than acceptable--there's nothing wrong with having the fifth-highest VORP at one's position.

Derek Jeter (80.5/38.5): As it was last year, Jeter is one spot behind Howard. The difference is, it's 33/34 instead of 2/3. As with Howard, though, you'll take a year like 2006 as gravy and gladly settle for what's transpiring this year. Jeter has the second-best VORP among American League shortstops, trailing only Carlos Guillen of the Tigers. A 9.6 WARP3 (Jeter's current 2007 figure) is Cooperstown-caliber work, even if it doesn't quite stack up to what he did the past two seasons.

Travis Hafner (79.7/21.7): If you had been told prior to the season that Hafner's value would be more than halved, you probably wouldn't have seen the Indians' improvement as the fait accompli it seemed to be. He's currently ranked 94th, and is no longer being called the best pure hitter in the league. While it was unrealistic to expect to him to post another .367 EqA (PECOTA had him at .335 at his 50th percentile), what has transpired in 2007 is off the bottom of his chart.

Miguel Cabrera (78.7/60.9): In spite of a recent downturn--or because of it, now that I think about it--Cabrera is currently ranked exactly where he finished last year, fifth place.

David Ortiz (76.8/63.0): A two-spot jump from last season, from sixth to fourth. It's not going quite as well as it has the past couple years, but it's going well enough.

Lance Berkman (70.1/27.7): I blame Phil Garner and, to some extent, Tim Purpura. If they had provided better leadership, Berkman's VORP would be twice as high and the Astros would be two or three games closer to the Muddle in the Middle, or, as it is known in official parlance, the National League Central. Failing to get a great performance out of your best player is grounds for dismissal, is it not? Obviously, they didn't say the right things to him and needed to be cashiered for that. Berkman is currently ranked 67th, just behind rookie teammate Hunter Pence.

Grady Sizemore (69.1/44.3): Sizemore is currently ranked 21st, dropping from being outstanding to merely excellent. By the time the season is done, he'll have landed somewhere around his 70th PEOCTA percentile, which you would take any year on the perpetual calendar.

Carlos Beltran (68.5/38.3): Beltran is a 25-30 home run guy who happened to hit 41 in 2006. This cannot be allowed to color the perception of every season henceforth. What we're seeing this year is really more what a typical Beltran season is supposed to look like. Currently ranked 34th.

Joe Mauer (66.9/28.7): Much of Mauer's predicted worth was predicated on a lot more playing time than he has actually gotten. He's ranked 64th overall, but fourth among catchers behind Jorge Posada, Victor Martinez, and Russell Martin. If you didn't know about last season, you wouldn't be all that disappointed in his 2007 showing.

William Burke contributed research to this column.

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