On Monday night, Christian Yelich hit for the cycle against the Reds, going 4-for-4 and driving in four runs in an 8-0 Brewers win.
That was the second time in less than three weeks Yelich has hit for the cycle against the Reds. On August 29, in a game the Brewers won 13-12 in 10 innings, he …
- Singled in the first inning and scored, giving the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
- Singled in the third inning.
- Hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, giving the Brewers a 4-3 lead.
- Doubled in the sixth inning.
- Tripled in the seventh inning, driving in a run and tying the game at 10-10.
- Singled in the ninth inning.
And Yelich has been a beast in the second half of the year. From the All-Star break through Thursday, he hit .356/.415/.724 with 20 home runs, 44 runs scored, and 50 RBIs. That ranks him second in the National League in batting average, sixth in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in homers, third in runs scored, and first in RBIs since the break. He’s also first in isolated power (.369) and OPS (1.140). He’s vaulted himself into a crowded MVP field.
But you probably knew all of that. Or at least most of that.
The point is, Christian Yelich is having a very good year at the plate. He’s only the third player ever to hit for the cycle twice in a season. But he’s having the type of season we’d expect of someone hitting for the cycle: Lots of hits, with a nice dollop of power.
A total of 242 different batters have hit for the cycle a combined 270 times since 1908. (I’m sure it was done several times prior to 1908 as well. But Retrosheet goes back only to 1908, and the Baseball-Reference Play Index uses Retrosheet, so as far as I’m concerned, time began in 1908.) Bob Meusel (1921, 1922, and 1928), Babe Herman (1933 and twice in 1931), and Adrian Beltré (2008, 2012, and 2015) are the only players who’ve done it three times. Yelich is one of 22 players who’ve done it twice in their career. And 217 guys have done it once.
Like Yelich, most of them are good hitters having good years. Here are the dozen batters with the highest OPS in a season in which they’ve hit for the cycle:
|Ted Williams||Red Sox||1946||1.164||672|
In other words, 11 Hall of Famers and one September call-up who had an outstanding 13 games. This is a pretty formidable list. Thirteenth is Mookie Betts, this year.
But not everyone who’s hit for the cycle has been Ted Williams or Lou Gehrig. In 1957, two players hit for the cycle: Mickey Mantle, whom you know, and Lee Walls, whom you don’t. Walls was an outfielder (he played 65 games in left, 30 in center, and eight in right) for a 62-92 Cubs team that was pretty much carried by Ernie Banks. He hit .240/.292/.344 in 402 plate appearances. His True Average (TAv) was .240. That was not only considerably worse than average (TAv is scaled to .260 as average), it was bad even for the Cubs. He ranked eighth among 10 Cubs with at least 200 plate appearances. He was, in short, not Mantle.
Here are the dozen players with the lowest OPS during seasons in which they hit for the cycle:
|Jeff Frye||Blue Jays||2001||.631||194|
*That’s what they called the Boston National League team. They were the Red Stockings from 1876 to 1882, the Beaneaters from 1883 to 1906, the Doves from 1907 to 1910, the Rustlers in 1911, and the Braves ever since.
You know how the first list was a September call-up who got hot (Ward) and 11 Hall of Famers? This list is a guy playing the last 32 games of his career (Gerut) and 11 non-Hall of Famers. Gerut, for example, hit .197/.230/.366 for the 2010 Brewers. Take away his May 8 game in which he hit for the cycle and his numbers for the season drop to .154/.191/.294. His big day accounted for 29 percent of his hits, 25 percent of his doubles, half of his home runs and RBIs, and all of his triples in 2010.
We can also park- and league-adjust the numbers by looking at TAv. We have TAv going back only to 1949, so some of the old-timers fall off the list.
|Jeff Frye||Blue Jays||2001||.232||194|
Or, if you prefer, here’s FanGraphs’ wRC+, which is fairly well correlated to TAv, going back to 1908.
|Jeff Frye||Blue Jays||2001||66||194|
By and large, these are the same suspects. There are only two pre-1949 batters who make the list going back to 1908, given the depressed overall offensive numbers of the Deadball Era. And if you’re wondering, the adjusted figures bring in this year’s Betts and 2013 Mike Trout among the all-time best seasons for batters hitting for the cycle. (Gary Ward’s small sample 1980 still tops the list.)
So who’s the worst?
You can make a case for Andújar Cedeño in 1992. He played in the run-suppressing Astrodome, but still, .173/.232/.277 is bad anywhere. He hit just two triples and two homers all season, half on August 25, when he hit for the cycle in his first game back from a 74-game demotion to Triple-A Tucson. When he was sent down at the end of May, he was hitting .186/.252/.294. After hitting for the cycle, he hit .133/.183/.186 the rest of the season.
But he wasn’t a full-time player. The same applies to Chad Moeller in 2004, when he hit .208/.265/.303. His home ballpark, Miller Park, was roughly neutral that year, but this was the second-to-last year before the Joint Drug Agreement, and there was an average of 4.81 runs per team per game, a total eclipsed only five times in non-strike years since World War II. Moeller was the Brewers’ primary catcher, starting 92 games behind the plate.
But I’d nominate Mike Lansing’s 2000 as the worst season ever for a batter hitting for the cycle. This was pre-humidor Coors Field, in the heart of the you-know-what era. Teams scored 5.14 runs per game, the fourth-most since the American League was formed in 1901. The Rockies scored 5.98 runs per game, which is of course fantastic, but they gave up 5.54 en route to an 82-80 record. Lansing started 86 games at second base for Colorado and batted .258/.315/.419, which would be OK, but this is a team on which the non-pitchers as a group hit .304/.373/.471. Worse, they batted him second in the order for 77 of his 86 starts. Traded to Boston in a minor deadline deal, he hit an even worse .194/.230/.223 in 148 plate appearances for the Red Sox. His big day was on June 18, when he hit for the cycle and drove in five runs in a 19-2 blowout of the Diamondbacks. After that game, he hit .189/.229/.252 for the rest of the year.
Overall, the average batter had an .838 OPS, 122 wRC+, and, since 1949, a .286 TAv in the season in which they hit for the cycle. That’s good! But it’s not always good. Yelich’s strong season is the norm, but it’s not the rule.
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