30 in 30: A Chiefs Countdown to Opening Day – Day 3
We’re counting down until Opening Day with a new post on our Inside the Chiefs blog every day until Syracuse’s opener on April 3rd. Here’s what’s on tap today…
Three. Is there a better number in baseball than three? I think not. It’s the number of strikes in an out. It’s the number of outs in a half-inning. It’s the number of games in most major league series – often leading to the all-important “rubber match” in game three. It’s the number of divisions in the American League, the National League and the International League. It’s the jersey number of the greatest player in the history of baseball – one George Herman “Babe” Ruth.
And it’s the number of bases needed in baseball’s most exciting play. Did I say baseball? Scratch that – in sports’ most exciting play…
A wonderful 2003 Sports Illustrated article by Roy Blount, Jr. illustrates why the triple makes up the most exciting 12 seconds in all of sports. His first of 12 reasons begins with an ode to its rarity:
It is like…service at a service station, a soda fountain in a drugstore, a free-range neighborhood dog. In on-base percentage a triple counts the same as a walk, although only an idiot would love a walk more than Angela Whittling Trust. In slugging percentage a triple counts 25% less than a home run, although it is 560% rarer. That’s like valuing all minerals solely by weight. In the early days of baseball, when the game was played almost exclusively on the field as opposed to over the fences, a home run was appropriately the rarest hit, the triple next rarest, and so on. Today triples represent only 2.1% of hits, home runs 11.8%.
Last year, the Chiefs tripled a bit more frequently than the usual Syracuse squad, picking up 33 three-baggers – the most Syracuse triples in 12 years, since the 2001 SkyChiefs hit a staggering 51 (fifty-one!). Four Chiefs got in on the team-leading fun, with Zach Walters, Will Rhymes, Eury Perez and Chris Rahl smashing five triples apiece.
And yet, all the same, the most Syracuse occurrences of “the most exciting 12 seconds” in a full 12 years barely amount to a scratch on the surface that was the Chiefs’ offensive outburst in 2013. Those 33 triples – good for fifth place in the 14-team International League, by the way – came together over the course of 5,371 plate appearances. That’s one triple every 162.8 plate appearances. What else, on average, happened in those 162.8 plate appearances?
- 7.3 doubles
- 3.5 home runs
- 1.3 sacrifice flies
- 1.5 batters hit by pitch
- 1.8 sacrifice bunts
Sacrifice bunts! In what universe should perhaps the least exciting play in baseball occur nearly twice as frequently as the most exciting play in baseball? It’s absolute baseball sacrilege.
Is there hope for us triple traditionalists? Well, in short – no. Per Fangraphs‘ Jeff Sullivan, triples declined by an 18% rate from 2012 to 2013 – the largest decline since a 20% drop from 1901 to 1902. With more analysis geared toward defensive positioning, fewer balls put in play and more conservative coaches, triples are getting rarer and rarer by the day. They’ve become an unfortunately endangered species. But the next time we see a player rounding second on a smash to the gap, with the cutoff man gearing up for the throw to third – perhaps we’ll appreciate the feat a little bit more.
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