Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why the hate for the Triple?

Going along with the theme of misguided statistical notions (i.e., my “wins” post from last week); the triple has been significantly underrated by baseball historians and fans. Depending on how one looks at the triple, it could either be viewed as a lucky feat that doesn’t merit much consideration when evaluating a player, or a feat that isn’t recognized enough. My hope is for the baseball world to adopt the former view as its own. When comparing player statistics, most people look at career statistics like home runs, RBI’s, runs, hits, doubles, and walks. This punishes players that had above average speed. In most cases, a hit that results in a triple is no different than a hit that results in a double. They both require hits in the gap that go to the wall or hits down the line that go to the wall. Either way, a double or triple is usually achieved by a batter lacing a drive to the wall. Faster runners turn doubles into triples more often.

People often forget the fact that a triple is actually a double first. In fact, a triple is essentially the same thing as a home run in terms of driving runs in. The only difference is the run by the hitter that results from a home run. When there are men on base, a triple always clears the bases. The same is usually true for a double. The triple might be harder to achieve but that doesn’t mean that it is a statistic that should be regarded as an anomaly. I think the best way to give proper credit to players that are fast enough to hit triples on a regular basis is to combine doubles and triples to make a new statistic.

In recent years, OPS has become one of the premier statistics in baseball. OPS is derived by adding On Base Percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage. This relatively new statistic has given baseball fans a way to compare hitters to one another. OBP is one of the most important indicators of a player’s value. The players that get on base the most usually score the most runs and drive in the most runs. Also, players with the highest Slugging Percentages are usually the best hitters because a high Slugging Percentage is generally attained by hitting more extra-base hits. When the statistics are combined, you have a meaningful statistic that works better together than it did as two individual statistics. The triple and double are statistics that work better combined than they do separately. Adding triples and doubles together gives a fairly accurate indication of how many times the batter drove a ball past the outfielders. Since many players admit that they don’t usually try to hit a home run, driving a pitch past the outfielders is usually the result that the batter is hoping for. This statistic would give more credit to line drive hitters. Some of the best hitters in the game merely hit line drives. The line drives that end in a triple are rarely counted when comparing players because it’s viewed as a “lucky” statistic. That problem could be alleviated by combining the two.  

Now, people may argue that the OPS is all that really matters which essentially combines everything there is to combine in baseball. This may be true. Slugging Percentage already takes into consideration triples, doubles, home runs and singles. So, if the argument is that combining doubles and triples to make a new statistic is irrelevant, those people that only use OPS have a point. I can understand that. Another argument worth mentioning is the fact that triples were significantly more prevalent in baseball’s dead-ball era in the early 20th century. Bigger ballparks allowed for the ball to travel farther to the wall than balls hit to the wall today. By combining doubles and triples, players that played in the dead-ball era would be given an advantage. All triples were not created equal which would distort this statistic towards players from long ago. However, that only becomes a problem when comparing a player from pre-1920 to a player post-1920. As long as each player in the comparison is either before or after 1920, there are no problems. That doesn’t seem like a caveat that’s too difficult to follow.

In baseball, the players that hit the most home runs usually get the most fanfare. However, as I mentioned above, most good hitters go to the plate looking to drive the ball to the gap. It could be argued that most hitters are just trying to get on base in whatever way possible. However, when a player swings at a pitch, the desired result is usually to drive the ball to the gap or down the line. Thus, the players that have the most doubles and triples (combined) are usually the best hitters in baseball. This is not to take away from the home run. Ideally, every player would want to hit a home run every time. Unfortunately, trying to hit a home run usually results in an out or a swing with limited control. This is why most players say they rarely try to hit a home run. Ken Griffey Jr. has gone on record numerous times stating that he is a line-drive hitter and that he doesn’t try to hit home runs. Home runs are good but the best pure hitters usually are the ones that hit the most doubles and triples (combined).

When the merits of great sluggers like Albert Pujols are discussed, rarely does a triple enter the discussion. Triples are so rare in baseball that they are pretty much left out when talking about Pujols or any other great hitter. Triples are often attained as a result of a bad bounce in the outfield or a ball placed in the perfect spot that had considerably more to do with luck than with skill. It’s important to remember, though, that even the luckiest triple was a double first. Triples may come far and few between but they are just glorified doubles. Discrediting triples all together is a mistake that will likely inflate the merits of some players over the merits of other deserving players. For example, here is a list of the MLB leaderboard in doubles for the 2005 season:

2005 MLB Doubles Leaders

1     D. Lee          50
2     M. Tejada     50
3     Marcus Giles     45
4     Helton          45
5     H. Matsui     45
6     Brian Roberts     45
7     J. Bay          44
8     M. Cabrera     43
9     J. Randa     43
10     A. Soriano     43
11     C. Crisp     42
12     T. Hafner     42
13     G. Jenkins     42
14     B. Wilkerson     42
15     D. Wright     42
16     C. Delgado     41
17     C. Lee          41
18     M. Teixeira     41
19     C. Biggio     40
20     Cantu          40
21     Chavez          40
22     D. Ortiz     40
23     M. Young     40
24     B. Hall          39
25     M. Sweeney     39

A fan may look at this list and conclude that these were the best players in MLB at hitting doubles. This list should indicate which players, aside from hitting a home run, were the best line-drive hitters in baseball. I included the top 25 doubles hitters in baseball as to not leave anyone out that deserves to be recognized as being a proficient line-drive hitter.

Now, compare that list to the top 25 hitters in 2005 in a new category, doubles plus triples:

1     M. Tejada     55
2     D. Lee          53
3     Brian Roberts     52
4     J. Bay          50
5     Marcus Giles     49
6     B. Wilkerson     49
7     J. Rollins     49
8     H. Matsui     48
9     Sizemore     48
10     Crawford     48
11     Helton          47
12     C. Crisp     46
13     B. Giles     46
14     M. Cabrera     45
15     J. Randa     45
16     A. Soriano     45
17     M. Young     45
18     B. Hall          45
19     C. Utley     45
20     C. Delgado     44
21     M. Teixeira     44
22     G. Jenkins     43
23     D. Wright     43
24     T. Hafner     42
25     Lugo          42

Clearly, Miguel Tejada and Derrick Lee’s dominance has not changed. They hit so many doubles that even when triples are taken into consideration, they remain at the top. Calculating doubles plus triples should identify the best hitters in baseball and Tejada and Lee were clearly among the best in 2005. What becomes apparent, though, when comparing the two lists is that merely looking at the doubles list does not adequately identify the best line-drive hitters in baseball. On the doubles only list, Jimmy Rollins, Grady Sizemore and Carl Crawford don’t even show up in the top 25. Conversely, they all show up in the top 10 of the doubles + triples list. One would have no idea how good Rollins, Sizemore and Crawford were in 2005 by simply looking at their doubles totals. Since triples are often overlooked, these three players would certainly be overlooked in terms of their true impact. None of the three players is a home run hitter. Combine that with the fact that none of the three players is even in the top 25 on the doubles list and you have three players that are set up to be severely underrated. Even though all three players were among the league leaders in triples, the fact that triples are viewed as a lucky statistic would make their place on the triples list meaningless to most baseball fans.

Another way of looking at the comparison is to look at the players that rank high on the doubles list but don’t rank high on the doubles plus triples list. These players include Travis Hafner, Craig Biggio, Jorge Cantu, Eric Chavez, Carlos Lee, and David Ortiz. Hafner missed a good amount of games due to injury so his totals would’ve been higher. However, Biggio, Cantu, Chavez, C. Lee, and Ortiz all rate in the top 25 in doubles well ahead of Rollins, Sizemore, and Crawford. Despite this, there is no question that Rollins, Sizemore, and Crawford were significantly better line-drive hitters than Biggio, Cantu, Chavez and C. Lee in 2005. The problem is that few people would know it by simply looking at the doubles totals.

As I mentioned above, all of this gets sorted out in OPS because Slugging Percentage takes into account home runs, triples, doubles and singles. However, line-drive hitters are usually undervalued by the OPS because they do not hit as many home runs. Generally, the OPS statistic favors home run hitters. Since most home run hitters also hit more doubles than the average player and less triples than the average player, the OPS can undervalue line-drive hitters just as much as merely looking at doubles. By simply looking at OPS, doubles, or home runs, nobody would have the slightest idea how good Rollins, Sizemore, and Crawford were in 2005.  

Here is a look at how each fared in those three categories in 2005:


Rollins .769
Sizemore. 832
Crawford .800


Rollins 38
Sizemore 37
Crawford 33

Home Runs

Rollins 12
Sizemore 22
Crawford 15

None of these three players would show up in the top 25 in any of these categories. They are undervalued by virtually every statistic. Their triples totals would hardly make a noise in player comparison because of the relative lack of value of a triple. These players are essentially punished by their speed. If they were as slow as Mark McGwire or Travis Hafner, they would all be in the top ten in doubles and be regarded as exceptional line-drive hitters. The fact is that these players aren’t slow. In fact, they are some of the fastest players in baseball and unbeknownst to the baseball world, some of the best line-drive hitters in baseball.

One of my favorite websites to visit is This site has pretty much every statistic you could possibly want in MLB history. Every award, accomplishment, salary, playoff and season is filed for easy access. One of my favorite features is the Hall of Fame Monitor. This feature takes into consideration every statistic to predict which players are Hall of Fame bound and which players come up short. Every player in MLB history has a score. The higher your score, the better chance you have at making the Hall of Fame. Here is a brief description:

This is another Jamesian creation. It attempts to assess how likely (not how deserving) an active player is to make the Hall of Fame. It's rough scale is 100 means a good possibility and 130 is a virtual cinch. It isn't hard and fast, but it does a pretty good job. Here are the batting rules.
Also, I require a minimum of 30 points in this metric before the value is displayed for a player.
  1. For Batting Average, 2.5 points for each season over .300, 5.0 for over .350, 15 for over .400. Seasons are not double-counted. I require 100 games in a season to qualify for this bonus.

  2. For hits, 5 points for each season of 200 or more hits.

  3. 3 points for each season of 100 RBI's and 3 points for each season of 100 runs.

  4. 10 points for 50 home runs, 4 points for 40 HR, and 2 points for 30 HR.

  5. 2 points for 45 doubles and 1 point for 35 doubles.

  6. 8 points for each MVP award and 3 for each AllStar Game, and 1 point for a Rookie of the Year award.

  7. 2 points for a gold glove at C, SS, or 2B, and 1 point for any other gold glove.

  8. 6 points if they were the regular SS or C on a WS team, 5 points for 2B or CF, 3 for 3B, 2 for LF or RF, and 1 for 1B. I don't have the OF distribution, so I give 3 points for OF.

  9. 5 points if they were the regular SS or C on a League Championship (but not WS) team, 3 points for 2B or CF, 1 for 3B. I don't have the OF distribution, so I give 1 points for OF.

  10. 2 points if they were the regular SS or C on a Division Championship team (but not WS or LCS), 1 points for 2B, CF, or 3B. I don't have the OF distribution, so I give 1 points for OF.

  11. 6 points for leading the league in BA, 4 for HR or RBI, 3 for runs scored, 2 for hits or SB, and 1 for doubles and triples.

  12. 50 points for 3,500 career hits, 40 for 3,000, 15 for 2,500, and 4 for 2,000.

  13. 30 points for 600 career home runs, 20 for 500, 10 for 400, and 3 for 300.

  14. 24 points for a lifetime BA over .330, 16 if over .315, and 8 if over .300.

  15. For tough defensive positions, 60 for 1800 games as a catcher, 45 for 1,600 games, 30 for 1,400, and 15 for 1,200 games caught.

  16. 30 points for 2100 games at 2B or SS, or 15 for 1,800 games.

  17. 15 points for 2,000 games at 3B.

  18. An additional 15 points in the player has more than 2,500 games played at 2B, SS, or 3B.

  19. Award 15 points if the player's batting average is over .275 and they have 1,500 or more games as a 2B, SS or C.

Notice that a player receives “2 points for 45 doubles and 1 point for 35 doubles.” Triples only show up once on the list and that’s a measly one point for leading the entire league. Players like Crawford, Sizemore, and Rollins would get hosed by this point distribution because triples count for virtually nothing. Why do triples not matter? If they’re lucky, then just group them in with doubles like I’ve suggested. Triples are better than doubles. Players should not be punished for being fast. Over a 15-20 year career, most players don’t hit enough triples to significantly affect their standing in terms of total extra base hits (not including home runs). One only needs to look at the active leaders in triples to see that even the most tenured players only have somewhere between 20 and 50 career triples. That hardly makes a difference for most players. However, it certainly makes a difference for the best line-drive hitters that happen to be fast like Crawford, Sizemore, and Rollins. The Hall of Fame Monitor above essentially counts triples as nothing but credits doubles. I understand that the Monitor only gives points based on what has historically gotten players into the Hall of Fame. Triples have been overrated by the masses in MLB. I find this bothersome since triples are hardly a non-event. While most players rarely hit triples, there are some that do it enough to the point that they should receive credit for doing so.

Here is another example of a player that has been slighted by the overall lack of credit for hitting triples consistently. Steve Finley doesn’t appear in the top 10 on the active career doubles list. When doubles and triples are added together, Finley jumps all the way to fourth behind only Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, and Luis Gonzalez. Finley’s triple total is hardly irrelevant in determining his place among active hitters. Since Finley has had an inordinate amount of triples, he has been punished in terms of how his career totals are viewed. Adding doubles to triples would eliminate this problem. A player that’s younger than Finley that will likely be underrated even more than Finley in Johnny Damon. Damon already has 80 triples. There’s a good chance that he’ll finish with somewhere around 100 triples or more. If things don’t change, Damon’s true value as a line-drive hitter will likely be undervalued as much as any player that has ever played the game.

This statistic won’t revolutionize baseball. In a sport where every conceivable action is quantified, baseball hardly needs more meaningless statistics. However, I feel that doubles + triples would certainly not be a meaningless statistic. It would help shed light on the ambiguity that the doubles leaderboard casts. It would stop fans from punishing players that are fast. It would help identify which players are truly the best line-drive hitters. Personally, simply looking at the doubles total only shows part of the picture.. Players like Sizemore, Rollins and Crawford had some of the best seasons in baseball in 2005. Their bevy of extra-base hits led to high run totals and high hit totals. Unfortunately, there is no real way of properly crediting non-home run, line-drive hitters in MLB. This statistic would be a start in giving these players their due. Now, I just need help coming up with a name. Unless a better name comes along the default name should be “Troubles” which could actually have a double meaning at least from a pitcher’s perspective.

1 comment:

robert paulson said...

Just curious, but you seem to imply that people like to cite the league leaders in doubles for something. I've never seen it other than as a random stat thrown out when a given player is hitting and has a high total. I see it about as often as I see triples thrown out.

I don't think triples are undervalued, I think they are appropriately valued when looking at current things like Slugging Percentage and OPS and Equivalent Average and Runs Created and any other number of "newer" stats.

The triple is the most exciting play in baseball, but leading the league in triples doesn't mean a whole lot because so few players get a lot of triples.

Why not just look at Doubles + Triples + Home Runs? That'd be a pretty nice statistic, though it would be almost identical to slugging percentage.


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