Dexter Fowler has played three qualifying seasons and each time has accomplished what has become a fairly unusual feat, that of stealing 10 or more bases and having 10 or more triples. What makes this feat even more noteworthy is that over the past two seasons, Fowler had more triples than stolen bases. It is far more common for players with some speed to have more stolen bases than triples.
In the past 4 seasons, having more triples than stolen bases while achieving double figures in both has happened four times. But that is more often than had occurred in the 30 previous seasons (1978-2007). Looking just at triples in isolation, since 2000 there have been 6 seasons with triples in more than 3% of ABs (min. 502 PAs). That is the same number as occurred in the 50 previous seasons (1950-1999).
Are these signs of a return to the running game in baseball? After the jump, I’ll take a look at that question.
So here are those lists. First, players since 1950 to have triples in 3% of their ABs (min. 502 PAs).
Of this group, except for Granderson, Fowler’s two seasons have the highest rate of triples as a % of ball in plays, topping 4.2% each year. Granderson’s season was a phenomenal 5.1%, and the only others above 4% were the two Willies, Wilson and Mays. Granderson’s rate is the 4th highest since 1901 and the only mark above 5% for any player in the live ball era. Of the 46 seasons since 1901 above 4%, two thirds are from the dead ball era.
And, here are the players since 1961 with more triples than stolen bases and 10 or more of each.
The last player before Fowler to do this twice was Buddy Lewis in 1939 and 1941, and the last to do it in consecutive seasons was Mike Kreevich in 1936-37. Sam Crawford managed it 8 times over a 17 year period starting in 1900, including 4 times consecutively from 1900 to 1903. Crawford was also in double figures in both stolen bases and triples every year of his career, except for partial seasons in his first and last years. Earle Combs was also pretty adept at this particular feat, doing it 6 times in 7 years, including 5 years consecutively from 1927 to 1931.
If you’re guessing then that this used to be a lot more common, you’re absolutely right, as can be gleaned from the table below. But this table also indicates how uncommon this is relative to the complementary achievement of 10 or more triples and an equal or greater number of stolen bases. Note also that these are raw numbers, so the much higher numbers up to 1930 would be higher still if normalized to 162 games and 30 teams.
[table id=46 /]
The prominence of triples in the early days had a lot to do with ball park configurations, particularly highly asymmetrical parks with huge spaces in parts of the outfield. As well, with permanent fences or walls lacking in some ballparks, there was nothing to stop balls that got past the outfielders. Thus, both speedsters and less fleet players could accumulate significant numbers of triples.
The drop in triples starting in the 1920s is likely reflective of ballpark modernization and, especially, tactical changes resulting from the onset of the live ball era. For example, in the dead ball era, it may have made some sense to try to stretch a double into a triple with 2 outs, a tactic seldom favored since then.
Those 67 seasons since 2001 of 10 or more triples and stolen bases break down this way.
|1||2006||9||Carl Crawford / Kenny Lofton / Juan Pierre / Hanley Ramirez / Jose Reyes / Dave Roberts / Grady Sizemore / Cory Sullivan / Omar Vizquel|
|2||2005||9||Carl Crawford / Chone Figgins / Rafael Furcal / Juan Pierre / Jose Reyes / Dave Roberts / Jimmy Rollins / Grady Sizemore / Ichiro Suzuki|
|3||2010||8||Carl Crawford / Stephen Drew / Alcides Escobar / Dexter Fowler / Austin Jackson / Jose Reyes / Denard Span / Shane Victorino|
|4||2001||8||Roberto Alomar / Carlos Beltran / Luis Castillo / Roger Cedeno / Ray Durham / Cristian Guzman / Juan Pierre / Jimmy Rollins|
|5||2011||7||Peter Bourjos / Michael Bourn / Dexter Fowler / Curtis Granderson / Austin Jackson / Jose Reyes / Shane Victorino|
|6||2009||6||Michael Bourn / Jacoby Ellsbury / Dexter Fowler / Angel Pagan / Denard Span / Shane Victorino|
|7||2004||5||Carl Crawford / Chone Figgins / Carlos Guillen / Juan Pierre / Jimmy Rollins|
|8||2003||5||Carlos Beltran / Steve Finley / Rafael Furcal / Nomar Garciaparra / Cristian Guzman|
|9||2008||4||Carl Crawford / Curtis Granderson / Fred Lewis / Jose Reyes|
|10||2007||4||Curtis Granderson / Akinori Iwamura / Jose Reyes / Jimmy Rollins|
|11||2002||2||Johnny Damon / Jimmy Rollins|
So, the average for the first four seasons of the period was 4.8 players per year. But, since then, the average has climbed to 6.9 players per season. Here are the same data, showing players in this period who have accomplished 10 or more triples and stolen bases at least twice.
|1||Jose Reyes||6||2005||2011||22-28||Ind. Seasons|
|2||Carl Crawford||5||2004||2010||22-28||Ind. Seasons|
|3||Jimmy Rollins||5||2001||2007||22-28||Ind. Seasons|
|4||Juan Pierre||4||2001||2006||23-28||Ind. Seasons|
|5||Shane Victorino||3||2009||2011||28-30||Ind. Seasons|
|6||Dexter Fowler||3||2009||2011||23-25||Ind. Seasons|
|7||Curtis Granderson||3||2007||2011||26-30||Ind. Seasons|
|8||Austin Jackson||2||2010||2011||23-24||Ind. Seasons|
|9||Denard Span||2||2009||2010||25-26||Ind. Seasons|
|10||Michael Bourn||2||2009||2011||26-28||Ind. Seasons|
|11||Grady Sizemore||2||2005||2006||22-23||Ind. Seasons|
|12||Dave Roberts||2||2005||2006||33-34||Ind. Seasons|
|13||Chone Figgins||2||2004||2005||26-27||Ind. Seasons|
|14||Rafael Furcal||2||2003||2005||25-27||Ind. Seasons|
|15||Cristian Guzman||2||2001||2003||23-25||Ind. Seasons|
|16||Carlos Beltran||2||2001||2003||24-26||Ind. Seasons|
So, Fowler along with Shane Victorino and Austin Jackson currently have multi-year streaks.
In a declining offensive environment, might we be seeing the start of a return to the running and speed game of the 1970s? If we are, this observer would certainly see that as a welcome development.
What do you think?