Dexter Fowler and the return of the running game?

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).

Rk Player Year 3B AB PA Age Tm G R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Shane Victorino 2011 16 519 586 30 PHI 132 95 145 27 17 61 55 63 19 3 .279 .355 .491 .847 *8
2 Dexter Fowler 2011 15 481 563 25 COL 125 84 128 35 5 45 68 130 12 9 .266 .363 .432 .796 *8
3 Dexter Fowler 2010 14 439 505 24 COL 132 73 114 20 6 36 57 104 13 7 .260 .347 .410 .757 *8
4 Curtis Granderson 2007 23 612 676 26 DET 158 122 185 38 23 74 52 141 26 1 .302 .361 .552 .913 *8/7
5 Carl Crawford 2004 19 626 672 22 TBD 152 104 185 26 11 55 35 81 59 15 .296 .331 .450 .781 *78/D
6 Cristian Guzman 2000 20 631 690 22 MIN 156 89 156 25 8 54 46 101 28 10 .247 .299 .388 .687 *6/D
7 Lance Johnson 1996 21 682 724 32 NYM 160 117 227 31 9 69 33 40 50 12 .333 .362 .479 .841 *8
8 Willie Wilson 1985 21 605 642 29 KCR 141 87 168 25 4 43 29 94 43 11 .278 .316 .408 .724 *8
9 George Brett 1979 20 645 701 26 KCR 154 119 212 42 23 107 51 36 17 10 .329 .376 .563 .939 *5/3D
10 Willie Mays 1957 20 585 669 26 NYG 152 112 195 26 35 97 76 62 38 19 .333 .407 .626 1.033 *8
11 Pete Runnels 1954 15 488 570 26 WSH 139 75 131 17 3 56 78 60 2 3 .268 .368 .383 .751 *64/7
12 Minnie Minoso 1954 18 568 676 28 CHW 153 119 182 29 19 116 77 46 18 11 .320 .411 .535 .946 *798/5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/4/2012.

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.

Rk Player Year SB OPS+ 3B Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Dexter Fowler 2011 12 105 15 25 COL 125 563 481 84 128 35 5 45 68 130 9 .266 .363 .432 .796 *8
2 Dexter Fowler 2010 13 92 14 24 COL 132 505 439 73 114 20 6 36 57 104 7 .260 .347 .410 .757 *8
3 Stephen Drew 2010 10 113 12 27 ARI 151 633 565 83 157 33 15 61 62 108 5 .278 .352 .458 .810 *6
4 Curtis Granderson 2008 12 123 13 27 DET 141 629 553 112 155 26 22 66 71 111 4 .280 .365 .494 .858 *8
5 Mike Devereaux 1992 10 117 11 29 BAL 156 710 653 76 180 29 24 107 44 94 8 .276 .321 .464 .785 *8
6 Larry Herndon 1982 12 121 13 28 DET 157 659 614 92 179 21 23 88 38 92 9 .292 .332 .480 .812 *7/D
7 George Brett 1979 17 148 20 26 KCR 154 701 645 119 212 42 23 107 51 36 10 .329 .376 .563 .939 *5/3D
8 Dave Cash 1976 10 92 12 28 PHI 160 727 666 92 189 14 1 56 54 13 12 .284 .337 .345 .683 *4
9 Al Oliver 1974 10 135 12 27 PIT 147 661 617 96 198 38 11 85 33 58 1 .321 .358 .475 .832 *83
10 Roger Metzger 1973 10 74 14 25 HOU 154 637 580 67 145 11 1 35 39 70 4 .250 .299 .322 .622 *6
11 Pete Rose 1972 10 134 11 31 CIN 154 731 645 107 198 31 6 57 73 46 3 .307 .382 .417 .799 *7
12 Mickey Stanley 1970 10 92 11 27 DET 142 623 568 83 143 21 13 47 45 56 1 .252 .305 .396 .701 *8/3
13 Don Kessinger 1970 12 77 14 27 CHC 154 711 631 100 168 21 1 39 66 59 6 .266 .337 .349 .685 *6
14 Johnny Callison 1961 10 109 11 22 PHI 138 538 455 74 121 20 9 47 69 76 4 .266 .363 .418 .780 *79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/3/2012.

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. 

Players Seasons Matching Criteria
Period10+ SBs, 3B > SB10+ 3B, SB >= 3B3B > .03 * AB
1901-19102526255
1911-19203431954
1921-19304214842
1931-1940174814
1941-195062510
1951-19601263
1961-19703340
1971-19805691
1981-19901531
1991-20001442
2001-20114635

 

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.

Rk Year #Matching  
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/3/2012.

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.

Rk   Yrs From To Age  
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/3/2012.

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?

 


Comments

Dexter Fowler and the return of the running game? — 23 Comments

  1. To me, the triple, along with an inside-the-parker and a steal of home, is one of the most exciting events that can happen in a baseball game. Watching a runner run for his life around the bases while the outfielder is also chasing down the ball then throwing it in, usually with a cutoff and another throw, then a slide and tag bang-bang play at third, all within the space of a few seconds is just exhilarating. I’ll take that over a tater any day. I welcome the return of the speed game if indeed it is back. I did notice that while all of these players have >10 steals there are a few of them that have gotten caught quite often. With the exception of Granderson’s outstanding rate in ’07 (26/1) and Victorino in ’11 (19/3), there have been some very low success rates among this group. Might triples hitters be inherently bad baserunners? Heedlessly heading past second as the third base coach waves his arms in vain? I’d like to see how many times these players got caught trying to stretch a base hit.

    • Interesting thought, Jameson. Is low base-stealing success associated with greater numbers of triples? I’ll take a look.

  2. I would love to see a team shove their fences back to dead-ball distance, stack up on the speediest outfielders in the game, and start runnin’ wild.
    We haven’t seen a true speed team since 1985.

    I don’t see it happening, though.
    Teams may be getting smart enough to better-utilize their best pure athletes, but as long as that $15-Million, 150 SO, 35 HR guy is anchoring the middle of lineup, most managers will continue to err on the side of having everybody stand around and wait for the ball to fly over the fence.

    _____________________

    I have an Official Scorer question that relates to speed:

    Is it possible to have an OUT on the same play as a HOME RUN?

    Hypothetical:
    Runner on 2nd, long fly ball to CF.
    Runner hangs near the base, thinking he’s going to tag up.
    Ball hits the fence.
    By this point, the batter is right behind the runner.
    They both head for home.
    Play at the plate.
    The lead runner is tagged out.
    The batter slides in safely.

    Is it an inside-the-park homer?

    • The way the rule *used* to read, anyway, the answer is no. You don’t get credit for a hit on which a runner doesn’t advance that many bases: IOW, all runners have to safely advance two bases (or score, of course) before you get credit for a double, three for a triple, or (also) three (since runners can’t advance four bases) for a homer.

      I haven’t seen the rules for a while, so it’s possible this could have been changed; but that’s the way it was back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid.

      • So, Phil, based on the old rules (and, possibly, the current rules), the batter would then get credit only for a single since the lead runner safely advanced only one base? If so, would the batter then be credited with a 3 base advance on a throw to the plate?

        Incidentally, I have seen plays with two runners arriving at home right on top of each other, with both tageed out, and with the lead runner safe and the trailing runner out, but never with lead guy out and trail runner safe.

      • This is covered in rule 10.06 and, specifically, the comment that is associated with it. The rules can be found here: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/y2011/Official_Baseball_Rules.pdf

        The comment states that the official scorer is not to determine the value of the hit based upon how many bases the runners advance, so you can definitely be credited with a double even if a runner on 2nd stops at 3rd. However, if a runner is put out (or would have been except for an error) the scorer is limited in crediting the batter with more bases from the hit than were safely advanced by the runner. The rules state that if a runner is put out at home, the batter shall not receive a 3B (it also says no 2B if a runner from first is out at 3rd), but it doesn’t distinguish where the runner started. Though not specifically mentioned, it is logical to assume that a scorer prohibited from awarding a 3B can’t award a HR.

        In Voomo’s hypothetical I believe the correct scoring is a 2B, batter advances 2 bases on a FC.

        The scenario I was envisioning as I read the hypothetical was a collision between the first runner and the catcher that left the catcher unable to tag the batter. There is a possibility that the umpire might consider this interference on the part of the runner depending upon the nature of his actions.

        • Thanks for the help about rule 10.06, Evan.

          And about your injured-catcher scenario, I was present at an almost-identical scenario to that. Blue Jays at Mariners, somewhere between ’81 and ’86. Buck Martinez was the catcher; I forget who the two Mariners were, although I think the baserunner was a big tough guy who liked to run over people.

          Batter gets a hit of some kind to the outfield, and Runner, trying to score, is beat by the throw from the outfielder; however, he barrels into Buck, knocks him over and BREAKS HIS LEG. Ball goes flying; Runner is safe at home. Batter, seeing that Buck is in no shape to do much of anything, keeps running. But I guess the ball didn’t get too far away from Buck, who picks it up and fires it to third, where Batter is sliding in. But the throw gets past the third baseman (probably a wild throw; I don’t remember, but then you could hardly blame the poor guy if it was). Batter sees that the ball is now rattling around the outfield, gets up, and scampers home.

          And is thrown OUT at home by the left fielder.

          Then poor Martinez is carried off the field. Depending on what year this happened, that might have been the end of his career (which was ’86); I don’t totally remember. But if it *was* in ’86 (or ’84 or ’85), then I think Runner was Gorman Thomas; or else, maybe Batter was Thomas. I seem to remember him being involved, I think as the Catcher-Cruncher Guy.

          Now, I admit that my scenario isn’t *identical* to yours, in that Batter wasn’t just a few feet behind Runner, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same.

          And the thing is, Runner probably scored (and Batter advanced to second) on poor Buck Martinez’s error, dropping that throw at home.

  3. Doug, a simple B-Ref question: Where is it on the site where I can see how many triples have been hit in Coors Field vs. the other NL stadiums? I can’t find it off-hand.

    • You can find this information in B-R as follows:
      – Click Seasons and select a year and league (or all MLB)
      – Click on the Batting tab and select League Splits
      – Scroll most of the way down the page to find the Ballpark split
      – There is also a Platoon Ballpark split showing results for LH and RH batters in each park

      For 2011, Coors was tied with Kauffman Stadium for the most triples hit, with 49. Coors was also the MLB leader in 2010 and 2009, the latter year by a wide margin.

      • I knew it was there somewhere. Thanks, Doug. I think Fowler might be kind of an anomaly, one of those really speedy guys who has never applied that skill to base-stealing. Willie McGee leaps to mind, although he did have 350+ steals in his career. But he was THE fastest guy in the league in the 80s (NL), and with all those stolen bases by St. Louis he could have had many more.

        • Chet Lemon could be the poster child for hitters with speed but no base running skills. He managed to steal 58 bases in 134 attempts. Buddy Bell had about the same success (55 in 134) as Lemon but a) he wasn’t near as fast and b} the Indians of the 70’s use to hit and run a LOT and that’s where most of his attempts occurred.

          I wouldn’t mind seeing a base stealing revival PROVIDED they do something to limit a pitchers throws to first base. Even watching the opposing pitcher strike out on 3 pitches without ever taking the bat off his shoulder is more exciting than watching some guy throw over to first 8 or 9 times in a row.

          • I second all of that, Hartvig.

            In The Machine, Joe Posnanski describes an instance in which Reggie Cleveland threw to 1st base 17 times during a single AB, trying to keep Joe Morgan close. How’s that for killing the action of a WS game?

            P.S. Another Lemon on the basepaths was Bernie Williams. He just never could learn to read a pitcher’s move.

  4. Juan Pierre is hitting .329 for the Phils, he likes cheeseburgers, is from Mobile, and has a small head.

    • LOL….yup .324 actually

      With ONE extra base hit in 76 plate appearances.

      With a slash line of .324/.368/.352.

      With an OPS+ of 100.

      With a SB success rate of .667 (4 out of 6).

      Oh wait, he does have positive dWAR (0.1) for the first time since 2006, and his OPS+ is the THIRD highest of his “illustrious” career (career 85 OPS+).

      Really, why is this guy still taking PT away from some kid in the minors?

      • Because there’s plenty of old-school managers who think that a having two tools in spades (speed, average) makes up for having none of the other three, I guess.

  5. Johhny Damon is back, had a double last night, and a 2 run triple tonight. He’s on his way to 3,000!!!!

  6. A factor no one has mentioned is that, in those dear dead days beyond recall, most players didn’t stand in the box admiring the results of their efforts at putting the bat on the ball. They were off to first with the swing, the idea being to advance as far as possible. If you lose three to five tenths of a second starting up you lose the edge that gets you from second to third on a long drive in one of the alleys.

    If that kind of play is returning, maybe the Neanderthal home run or nothing mentality will subside even more than it has.

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