The 300 club

Curtis Granderson is in the midst of a fantasy baseball season for the ages. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it by basically undermining the rigorous statistical analysis that this wonderful site, naïve enough to let me captain itsr fantasy ship, has worked so hard to build over the years.

Feeling a bit left out of the group of brilliant mathematically analytic minds over here, I invented a stat. It’s so glorious in its inability to account for context and its over-simplification of the production landscape that one might conclude that I actually froze Tim McCarver by inhibiting his basil ganglia, burrowed into his mind, and swiped it before he even had a chance to think it! In fact, my goal for inventing it wasn’t even to write this column, but rather this column is only the middle man, as the real goal of inventing this stat was to lure Ken Tremendous out of retirement. This column is but the vehicle that will do so.

This stat is so amazing that I will not even formally name it. In fact, to encapsulate the reaction that it is likely elicit from a hardened SABR-inclined readership like ours, there’s only one way to refer to it—with a symbol. The one and only interrobang! Alt 8253 for those scoring at home on PCs.

This stat has all the elements of splendid junk fantasy baseball analysis. It is the apotheosis of statistical gallimaufry; it does all of the following:

  • Relies on arbitrary round, milestone numbers
  • Combines different category totals with equal weight
  • Disregards entire categories
  • Does not account for positional scarcity

I know, this is a hell of a buildup, right? Okay, here we are; here’s how we know Curtis Granderson is kicking booty! Granderson is firmly on pace to have more than 300 combined runs, home runs, RBI and steals! He’s going to put up a 300+ interrobang season! Sweet sassy molassy, that’s a fine year.

Over the past two seasons, only one player has turned out a 300 interrobang season, Albert Pujols churning out a 322 in 2009. Below are the top five seasons since 2009:

1. Albert Pujols 322 (2009)
2. Ryan Howard 299 (2009)
3. Jose Bautista 296 (2010)
4. Prince Fielder 292 (299)
5. Albert Pujols 289 (2010)

Granderson is currently on pace to flirt with 350 interrobangs, which is a number that has hardly been achieved outside of A-Rod’s 2007 (377) since the days of Jeff Bagwell’s, Sammy Sosa’s, and Larry Walker’s assaults on fantasy record books.

As I write this, Granderson has a combined 256 runs, homers, RBI and steals, has 34 iterrobangs in hand over his closest rival, Matt Kemp. Meanwhile more than a half dozen players are within 34 of Kemp’s total.

I’ve been clearly self-deprecating about this stat, but as ridiculous as it is, there are legitimate points to be associated with it, so let me offer a few in rapid fire.

  • Granderson has been an absolute monster. While creating the “300 club” is an exercise in deifying the arbitrary, I do actually believe that if you set milestone bars high enough, you will only encapsulate greatness. Many have long feared the cheapening of the 500-homer or the 3,000- hit milestones, but to this day, only great players (perhaps some made that way by illegitimate means) have reached such milestones.

    The point here is that when you combine Granderson’s skill set, home park, and lineup, this season is an inflection point for fantasy owners about the true potential of Granderson’s pedigree. Frankly, the same goes for Jacoby Ellsbury, currently third in the game in interrobangs. Yes, this season may be flukish, and most likely he will not approach another historic fantasy season, but the Grandyman has the goods.

  • Production wins leagues; value isn’t a category. I have no qualms with paying premium prices for elite options at thin positions, but make sure those options are truly elite. Troy Tulowitzki, Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano and the like can at least compete with the Miguel Cabreras and Ryan Brauns of the world in total all-out production, so they are absolutely fine premium priced options. However, coming into this season, Martin Prado had a higher ADP than Jay Bruce. I know that hindsight is 20/20, but when you think about things from a production ceiling standpoint, it’s pretty difficult to justify such a preference.
  • For my buddy Jeff Gross, in 2007 and 2008, David Wright posted back-to-back seasons of 284 and 287 interrobangs, respectively. I’m not sure how anybody can argue that he didn’t return his price in those years.
  • Finally, when you’re thinking about fringe first-round players, or looking at players who may be slipping in the draft, it’s not totally idiotic to think briefly about their potential paths to seasons of 275-plus interrobangs. Coming into this season, some people felt Ryan Braun’s stock was slipping a bit, but his history indicates he has one of the easiest paths to elite total production, seeing as how he put up 243 during his “off-year of 2010.” Players like Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira also tend to slip down the draft board a bit, but are virtual locks to produce big time total production numbers. Meanwhile, for some players—Brandon Phillips for example—it is just too easy to imagine them coming up on the wrong side of 200.
  • For the past thee seasons (including 2011), Nelson Cruz has averaged right around 1.6 interrobangs per game. Cruz is injury prone, as we all know, but if the law of averages prevails and Cruz manages to make it through one of the next two or three seasons unscathed, he will put up a top 10 fantasy season.
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The 300 Club

There are a great many ways to evaluate offensive performance. Among the sabermetric crowd, there are BRAA, RCAA, OPS+, etc. Fans who are more traditional prefer, well, more traditional measures such as batting/on base/slugging average, runs and RBI. For myself, when I look at big-time production I have my own little system. It’s my way of looking at middle-of-the-order hitters. I call it “The 300 Club” or the “triple-triple.”

It is pretty straightforward. In the interest of full disclosure, it is more a fun measure than a hard analytical system. The beauty is that you cannot have a triple-triple during a poor year. It requires a beast of a season offensively to accomplish it. A lot of baseball legends never enjoyed such a year—Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner and Frank Robinson are among them. A number of current greats like Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Vladmir Guerrero are outside the 300 Club.

What is it? It is a season in which a batter hits triple digits in three offensive statistics: runs, RBI and base on balls. That is why it’s the 300 Club: You need at least 100 in each of those categories. To have such a season generally requires that you get on base and hit with power. This is why it’s best suited to examine a team’s 3-4-5 hitters.

First, a little background. The 100/100/100 level wasn’t breached until Babe Ruth did it in 1919. During the dead-ball era, Ty Cobb came tantalizingly close when he scored 144 runs, walked 118 times and drove in 99 in 1915.

Ruth would be the only player to accomplish this until Lou Gehrig joined him in 1926, the year the Bambino was polishing off his sixth such season.

Since 1901, a player has reached the century mark in all three areas 175 times, with 68 players accounting for all of them. Since 1919, when Ruth first did it, there have been 26 seasons where nobody pulled it off. In that period, the longest drought was four years in—to nobody’s surprise—the 1960s (1963-66). In the 34 seasons spanning 1957-90, only 15 featured a triple-triple.

Since the strike, AKA the “silly-ball” era from 1995-2002 (prior to steroid testing coming into the game), 54 of the 175 300 Club seasons occurred. In other words, almost 31% of triple-triples achieved since the advent of the American League happened over an eight-year span. The three seasons from 1999-2001 had 30.

Not long ago it was fairly uncommon. From 1980-90 hitters were shut out in seven years, and save for 1987—when offensive totals spiked—only a single batter did it when it happened at all. In 1987, Jack Clark, Dale Murphy and Dwight Evans reached it; otherwise just Will Clark (1988), George Brett (1985) and Mike Schmidt (1983) enjoyed a triple-triple in that period.

Another note: Only once (1938), were there six or more 300 Club entries in a single season from 1901-1996. From 1996 to 2002, it happened five times.

Thirty-one players have accomplished the feat more than once. Almost half are 1B/DH types…

Babe Ruth (12 times, seven in a row 1926-1932).
Lou Gehrig (11 times, four year streak: 1929-32; five in a row: 1934-38).
Barry Bonds (10 times with a four-year run from 1995-1998).
Frank Thomas (nine times including eight in a row, two of them strike-shortened years).
Ted Williams (eight times including four straight from 1946-49).
Jim Thome (eight times with five straight years from 1999-2003).
Jimmie Foxx (seven times, three straight from 1934-36).
Jeff Bagwell (six times with five straight years from 1996-2000).
Ralph Kiner (five times including four straight from 1948-51).
Mel Ott (five times).
Mike Schmidt (five times).
Carlos Delgado (four times, consecutively from 2000-03).
Jason Giambi (four times, consecutively from 1999-02).
Edgar Martinez (three times, consecutively from 1995-97).
David Ortiz (three times, consecutively from 2005-07).
Gary Sheffield (three times).
Mark McGwire (three times).
Bobby Abreu (three times).
Adam Dunn (three times).
Mickey Mantle (three times).
Stan Musial (three times).
Dolph Camilli (three times).
Hank Greenberg (twice).
Charlie Keller (twice).
Eddie Matthews (twice).
Todd Helton (twice).
Lance Berkman (twice).
Jim Edmonds (twice).
Troy Glaus (twice).
Sammy Sosa (twice).
Harmon Killebrew (twice).

…and finally, once each: John Olerud, Chipper Jones, Albert Belle, Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Brian Giles, Rafael Palmeiro, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Jason Bay, Travis Hafner Will Clark, Jack Clark, Dale Murphy, Dwight Evans, George Brett, Darrell Porter, Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, Darrell Evans, Ken Singleton, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie McCovey, Frank Howard, Sal Bando, Norm Siebern, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Duke Snider, Al Rosen, Vern Stephens, George Selkirk, Harlond Clift, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane and Hack Wilson.

The number of players reaching the triple-triple is dropping; in three of the past five seasons, three or fewer players have accomplished the feat. There was a spate of columns regarding Jim Thome’s Cooperstown unworthiness after he slugged his 500th home run. If the longball milestone no longer has any luster, well, how about the fact that only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas have enjoyed more seasons in which they breached the century mark in runs, RBI and walks?

As I mentioned, it’s not an ideal tool for hard analysis, but instead another way of appreciating a player’s tremendous season or career. A year-by-year breakdown of the 300 Club can be found here.

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