Image credit: USA Today Sports

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:

Batter Team Year OPS PA
Gary Ward Twins 1980 1.269 46
Hack Wilson Cubs 1930 1.177 709
Mickey Mantle Yankees 1957 1.177 623
Lou Gehrig Yankees 1934 1.172 690
Ted Williams Red Sox 1946 1.164 672
Jimmie Foxx Athletics 1933 1.153 670
Lou Gehrig Yankees 1937 1.116 700
Joe DiMaggio Yankees 1937 1.085 692
Mel Ott Giants 1929 1.084 674
George Sisler Browns 1920 1.082 692
Stan Musial Cardinals 1949 1.062 721
Chick Hafey Cardinals 1930 1.059 515

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:

Batter Team Year OPS PA
Andújar Cedeño Astos 1992 .509 237
Chad Moeller Brewers 2004 .568 349
Jody Gerut Brewers 2010 .596 74
Bill Collins Doves* 1910 .599 656
Otis Clymer Senators 1908 .604 397
Bengie Molina Rangers 2010 .623 416
Lee Walls Cubs 1957 .627 426
Harry Craft Reds 1940 .630 452
Jeff Frye Blue Jays 2001 .631 194
Brandon Barnes Astros 2013 .635 445
Chris Speier Giants 1988 .645 201
Cliff Heathcote Cardinals 1918 .646 375

*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.

Batter Team Year TAv PA
Andújar Cedeño Astros 1992 .189 237
Chad Moeller Brewers 2004 .191 349
Mike Lansing Rockies 2000 .206 548
Bengie Molina Rangers 2010 .223 416
Neifi Pérez Rockies 1998 .226 712
Jeff Frye Blue Jays 2001 .232 194
Carlos Gómez Twins 2008 .234 614
Tony Fernández Yankees 1995 .235 438
Jeffrey Leonard Giants 1985 .236 531
Tim Foli Expos 1976 .237 572
Rajai Davis Indians 2016 .238 495
Lee Walls Cubs 1957 .239 426

Or, if you prefer, here’s FanGraphs’ wRC+, which is fairly well correlated to TAv, going back to 1908.

Batter Team Year wRC+ PA
Chad Moeller Brewers 2004 45 349
Andújar Cedeño Astros 1992 45 237
Mike Lansing Rockies 2000 47 548
Jody Gerut Brewers 2010 55 74
Neifi Pérez Rockies 1998 59 712
Bengie Molina Rangers 2010 65 416
Jeff Frye Blue Jays 2001 66 194
Lee Walls Cubs 1957 69 426
Harry Craft Reds 1940 70 452
Bill Collins Doves 1910 71 656
Carlos Gómez Twins 2008 74 614
Brandon Barnes Astros 2013 75 445

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.

Thank you for reading

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Sumner Steinfeldt
The most unlikely has to be Molina, who hit 6 triples in over 5000 plate appearances and manged to get one in his cycle.
Rob Mains
Yeah, you have to wonder how many outfielders fell down for that to have happened.
I'm thinking, everybody on the field, and at least one guy in the dugout...
Rob Mains
Maybe an ump or two as well.
John Trupin
Dan Wilson doesn't qualify as the worst hitter by any stretch, but by unlikelihood standards his has to be up there. An 81 wRC+ with a .241 TAv and the only triple of the season coming in that game? The only thing wilder is that it was a natural cycle which culminated in an inside-the-park Grand Slam.
Rob Mains
Hate to be That Guy, John, but during the year in question--1998, when he had a .241 TAv and 81 wRC+--his only triple occurred on May 2, when he hit a single, double, and triple in three plate appearances. His inside-the-park grand slam was the next day, May 3. He did go triple-double-single-homer in consecutive plate appearances, though!
Jonathan Beilfuss
A few years ago, my friend and I did a ballpark tour and came up with the concept of a "groundout cycle" - a groundout to first, second, third and short in the same game. At the time, Jason Kendall was considered a prime candidate. I am probably the only one, but would find a version of this article centered around that "achievement" highly entertaining. I have no idea how common it even is.
Rob Mains
Interesting idea, Jonathan. I also vaguely remember somebody getting thrown out at first, second, third, and home in a game. Let me see how searchable those are.
Brendan Gawlowski
I watched the game where Barnes got his cycle, and tuned in for Gerut's double to clinch it. And I remember Frye's was notable for stopping at first on the single on a ball in the gap. Delighted to see all three in here!
Rob Mains
You almost hit the unlikely-to-hit-for-the-cycle cycle.
Brendan Gawlowski
The other two I've caught are Aaron Hill (maaaaybe) and Trout (lol).