With writers drooling over Alex Rodriguez and his “charmed season”—the New York Yankee is leading the majors in home runs, runs batted in, slugging, and runs (and by significant margins)—little ink has been spilled on the remarkable achievement of the Detroit Tigers’ Curtis Granderson. Through 144 games this season the center fielder has tallied 22 triples. No one’s hit that many since 1949, when Dale Mitchell did it for the Cleveland Indians. There are five teams this season without 22 triples. With 16 games to go Granderson, a native of Lynwood, Illinois, who played ball at the University of Illinois-Chicago, won’t approach the single-season record of 36 set by Chief Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1912, but he’s on pace for 24, which would make him the first batter with that many three-baggers since 1925. And there’s an outside chance he could reach 26, which would tie the American League (and Detroit Tigers) record.
Granderson’s 22 triples is already an odd achievement:
1) Granderson is a young player. To hit triples you’d think it’d help to have experienced base-running skills and the intuition out of the batter’s box that three bases is a possibility based on how the ball was hit, where the ball was headed, and the likelihood that an outfielder wouldn’t make a quick play on the ball. Last year was Granderson’s first full season in the bigs, and the 26-year-old hit 9 triples in 159 games. (A quick look at the season-by-season leaderboard for triples suggests experienced players do typically lead the league, but I did notice that when Christian Guzman topped the Majors in triples in 2000 with 20, he too was in just his second full season).
2) Granderson hasn’t stolen an especially high number of bases. You’d expect the triples-steals connection because fast base runners can turn some doubles into triples. Last year Granderson added 8 stolen bases to his 9 triples. This season he’s swiped 22 bases—which is a good number, no doubt, but still way behind the 75 of major league leader Jose Reyes. Moreover, 29 other players have stolen 22 or more bases this season (including A-Rod). Is Granderson actually not so speedy? Well, I don’t know his home-to-first or 40-yard times, but among players with 20 or more steals this season, Granderson has the highest success rate (95%)–he’s been thrown out just once. Perhaps his team has a conservative approach to stealing? Not really. The Tigers rank 13th out of 30 teams in steals. The best answer may be that Granderson simply hasn’t been standing on first quite as often as the other steals leaders. Among those players with 22 or more swipes, only Grady Sizemore has struck out more often than Granderson. And in that same group, Granderson’s walks+singles number ranks 19th, while four of the top five base stealers rank in the top ten in that stat. (Granderson’s 47 walks are nothing to write home about and, along with his strikeouts, account for an on-base percentage (.362) that’s unspectacular given his productivity).
3) Granderson is playing today. Of the 51 other players who’ve hit 22 or more triples in a season, 47 did it before 1928 (and, again, none after 1949). And all 51 on that list played in seasons in which the official schedule was capped at 154 games or less. Now, I admit Granderson’s 22 is not far ahead of the 21 hit by Lance Johnson in 1996 and Willie Wilson in 1985 (the only other players with 21 or more since 1949), but this is a stat where every additional increment represents a significant margin over your peers. So why so many triples back then? I’d love to hear some comments on this, but my guess is the bigger size of the ballparks back then (it was 462 feet to center in Forbes Field, where Chief Wilson played when he set the record; it’s 420 to center in Comerica Park, where Granderson plays) and the rise of the home run hitter in baseball around the same time those lofty triples totals started tailing off. (The single-season homer record had been 27 since 1884 until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. The next year he hit 54.)
Finally, beyond Granderson’s triples mark, Rotowire.com reports that Granderson is just the third big leaguer in history with 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 stolen bases in one season, joining Willie Mays (1957) and Frank Schulte (1911). So Granderson’s doing something even A-Rod hasn’t done.