Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fun With Numbers: Triple Trouble [Updated]

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[Updated on May 15]

In yesterday’s piece on the Marlins, I mentioned in passing that they had yet to hit a triple. They’re not the only ones. The Indians haven’t hit a three-bagger yet. In a related story, the Indians and Marlins have the lowest slugging percentages and lowest wRC+ marks in baseball.

It is uncommon for any team to have no triples at this late date. Prior to 2019, in fact, just four teams since 1908 (the Play Index era, and for all intents and purposes, all-time) had reached May 14 without having hit a triple.

Stopping At Second (Latest Date Hitting First Triple)

Expos    1973   5/28
Giants   1982   5/23

Indians  2019    ???
Marlins  2019    ???
Braves   2016   5/14
Braves   1957   5/14

Two more teams, the ’72 Orioles and the ’35 Phillies, hit their first triples on May 13. The Marlins and Indians are now in a tie for third on this list, two weeks from holding the record. No team in baseball history has entered June without hitting at least one triple.

The date of a team’s first triple is interesting, but a bit of a moving target. The baseball season now starts earlier than ever before, three weeks earlier than it did for most of the game’s history. (Three weeks earlier than it should, but that’s a subject for a different day.) The more salient measure here might be games. Viewed through that lens, the Indians are on the brink of history, the Marlins right behind them.

Stopping At Second Every Time (Most Games w/o a Triple to Start Season)

Giants   1982   41
Indians  2019   41
Marlins  2019   40

Expos    1974   38
Braves   2016   36

The Cardinals made a run at this record last year, getting 31 games into the season before poking their first triple on May 6. This year, we’re getting a rematch of the 1997 World Series, as the Indians and Marlins try to out-do each other.

Triples were once more common than home runs, and they remain one of the game’s most exciting plays. They’re also increasingly rare, with the rate of triples per PA, per contact, per game, at or near all-time lows. The Indians and Marlins have taken triple avoidance to an extreme this year, so much so that they’re set to wipe a 40-year-old record from the books.