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I’ve been on a bit of a triples kick lately (witness this postmost recent Beyond the Boxscore offering
In all, 14 players have accomplished this feat in MLB history (not counting seasons in questionably “major” leagues, like the American Association). The list features many famous or interesting seasons:
|4||Rickey Henderson||45||0||1997||38||SDP ANA||ML||509||100||14||8||8||*7D8/9|
|Bill North||30||0||1978||30||OAK LAD||ML||442||82||14||0||10||*8/7|
First off, let’s note what these players have in common. All but one (Lenny Dykstra) either bat right-handed or are switch-hitters. This makes sense, since triples will be hit more often by left-handed hitters, who usually pull the ball into the right-field corner–the most likely location for a triple. Righties will naturally have lower triple rates. As for Dyskstra, his season appears to have been just a fluke; he tripled in every other MLB season and had 5 triples the year before in 100+ fewer PAs.
Another commonality is that all but 1 of the seasons occurred from 1976 onward. The lone exception, Billy Gilbert’s 1903 year, is highly unusual because of the triple’s relative frequency in those days. (NL teams averaged 68 triples that year, compared to just 30 in 2011.) Gilbert never hit all that many triples, but his season is still quite anomalous. In fact, there were just 16 seasons before 1940 in which a hitter had 500+ PAs and no triples. For perspective, there were 25 such seasons in 2011 alone.
If you’re wondering who Miguel Dilone and Larry Lintz are, you should probably read this post
The second-highest steal total on the list belongs to Mariano Duncan, who had a bit of a strange career in this context. The year in question was Duncan’s sophomore season, and it was easily his career high in steals. It was also the only year out of his first 11 seasons in which he didn’t hit a triple; in his rookie year, he hit 6. Even weirder, Duncan actually hit 11 triples in 1990 to lead the NL–the only player on this list to lead a league in triples. Either Duncan’s 1986 or his 1990 were aberrations, and probably both were.
Two great seasons by 40-year-olds make the list, one from Davey Lopes and one from Rickey Henderson. Those two seasons, in fact, represent the two highest-steal seasons by players 40 and older (a list that Lopes and Henderson dominate):
Lopes’ 1985 season is just incredible all around. Not only did he have a 122 OPS+ and steal 47 bases, he was only caught 4 times, making for a success rate of 92%. And all that coming off two seasons in which he stole just 37 bases combined (though at a 90% clip). Similarly, Henderson’s late-career stolen-base aptitude is a wonder to behold–the man led the majors in steals at age 39. But I’m sure you don’t need much convincing on the “Rickey was amazing” front.
Another incredible season on the list is Jose Canseco’s famous “40-40″ season in 1988. Canseco single-handedly invented the 40-40 milestone that year by dramatically increasing the rate at which he attempted steals. He had stolen just 30 bases combined in his first 2 full years and would never again top 30 steals in a season after ’88. But he set his mind to making the 40-40 year happen, and he did it, which is to be commended even if he did it with the help of numerous illegally obtained chemicals. After all, nobody else in the AL hit more than 32 homers that year, and only 2 others hit more than 28. Canseco’s lack of triples is easy to explain, however. He’s one of the worst triples hitters among players with any amount of speed, with just 14 in his career. That’s the fewest triples of any hitter with 150+ career steals (Canseco had 200).
The most recent season on the list is Derek Jeter’s 2002. I can’t say I’m too surprised at his inclusion, despite the fact that 2002 is Jeter’s only year to date without a triple. He hit nearly half of his triples (30 of 65) in his first 4 full seasons. Since then, he’s averaged fewer than 3 per year, which is a fair amount below average for someone with that many PAs. Jeter hit just 1 triple in 700+ PAs in both 2004 and 2009 (and in ’09, he also stole 30 bases).
It’s a similar story for Jeff Bagwell, who hit just 32 triples in his career. In Bagwell’s last 11 full seasons, he stole 174 bases but hit just 18 triples, a microscopically low total for anyone with better-than-catcher speed.
Stay tuned for more fun with triples in the coming days.
Tagged with: A's Bill North Billy Gilbert Bob Dernier Davey Lopes Derek Jeter Frank Taveras Jeff Bagwell Jose Canseco Larry Lintz Lenny Dykstra Mariano Duncan Miguel Dilone rare feats Rickey Henderson steals triples weird combinations
This blog is devoted to the invention and use of unusual baseball statistics. These Junk Stats are designed to reveal the not-so-meaningful quirks that make baseball so fascinating.
JunkStats is written by Jacob Peterson, who also writes for the Braves blog Talking ChopBeyond the Boxscore
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