The homeruncentricity trifecta:  1989-2007

In our previous chapters, we’ve employed a just-for-fun measure of how comprehensively home run-centric a batter’s stat line can be. To qualify for the homeruncentricity trifecta, a batter has to be extremely home run-heavy from the perspective of his batting average, his on-base percentage and his slugging average. The criteria are as follows:

- HR/H greater than or equal to BA. This is the first element of homeruncentricity, which we call HRC A.

- HR/BB greater than or equal to OBP. This is the second element, called HRC B.

- Total bases of home runs as a proportion of total bases (that is, HR*4/TB) greater than or equal to SLG. This is HRC C.

To hit the trifecta, a batter must achieve all three; a negative result in any of these categories throws him out, no matter how high he might score in the others. The sum of these three positive elements, HRC A + HRC B + HRC C, is the total homeruncentricity trifecta score: HRC TR.

In considering trifecta achievers, we’re requiring a playing time minimum of 400 plate appearances in a season.

Today we’re ready to consider the trifectors from 1989 up to the present day.

Deer tags

Year Player          Club  L B   AB  2B  3B  HR  BB   BA  OBP  SLG  HRC A  HRC B  HRC C  HRC TR
1989 Rob Deer        MIL   A R  466  18   2  26  60 .210 .305 .425   .056   .128   .101    .285
1989 D. Strawberry    NY   N L  476  26   1  29  61 .225 .312 .467   .046   .163   .056    .265
1989 Mark McGwire    OAK   A R  490  17   0  33  83 .231 .339 .468   .061   .059   .108    .227

1990 Rob Deer        MIL   A R  440  15   1  27  64 .209 .313 .432   .085   .109   .137    .330
1990 Cecil Fielder   DET   A R  573  25   1  51  90 .277 .377 .591   .044   .190   .011    .245
1990 Jose Canseco    OAK   A R  481  14   2  37  72 .274 .371 .542   .007   .143   .025    .175

1991 Kevin Mitchell   SF   N R  371  13   1  27  43 .256 .338 .515   .028   .290   .051    .369
1991 Lance Parrish   CAL   A R  402  12   0  19  35 .216 .285 .388   .003   .258   .100    .361
1991 Cecil Fielder   DET   A R  624  25   0  44  78 .261 .347 .513   .009   .217   .038    .264
1991 Jay Buhner      SEA   A R  406  14   4  27  53 .244 .337 .498   .029   .172   .037    .238

Among all the repeat trifecta achievers in history, none—not even The Great and Powerful Kong, Ruler of all of Homeruncentricity Land—put up a consistently lower batting average than Rob Deer. Nor did any other strike out as frequently as Deer: He fanned, after all, 65% more often than he got a hit. In any discussion of homeruncentricity, Deer’s name deserves not just prominent mention, but solemn and reverent tone.

Deer had eight major league seasons of 400 plate appearances, and he hit the trifecta in five of them. Like Kingman, Gorman Thomas, Ron Kittle and Steve Balboni, Deer’s career totals achieve trifecta status, with an HRC TR figure of .218.

Yet in the one season of Deer’s that boggles the mind like no other, his 1991 campaign in which he somehow managed to balance 448 at-bats, 25 homers, 175 Ks, and a .179 (yes, one-seven-nine) batting average on the same stat line, Deer didn’t perform the trifecta. This stunned me when I was performing these calculations; that particular season was one in which I eagerly anticipated the slam-dunk trifecta result it would yield, but I was completely wrong. It misses. It misses because Deer drew 89 walks that year, thus putting up a non-disastrous .314 OBP despite his appalling BA, and thus scoring a not-even-close -.056 on HRC B.

Indeed, though Deer’s ability to make contact was execrable, his strike zone judgment was consistently good-to-excellent. Thus, while his offensive profile was unusual in the extreme, Deer’s overall offensive effectiveness wasn’t bad at all: His career OPS+ was 109, certainly not star quality for a right fielder (with decent defensive ability, by the way), but definitely worthy of the level of regular play he was accorded.

In our first installment in this series, we examined the case of Pat Seerey, the pioneer trifector of the 1940s. Adjusting for era conditions, Seerey and Deer emerge as remarkably similar talents, in style and quality. Yet Seerey was deemed a major league failure, discarded forever following his age-25 season. Deer, on the other hand, while he was tossed away for essentially nothing at age 25 by otherwise-excellent Giants GM Al Rosen, was picked up by Milwaukee GM Harry Dalton, and made into a regular by Brewers’ manager George Bamberger, and kept in that role by Bamberger’s successor Tom Trebelhorn.

Kudos to Dalton, Bamberger and Trebelhorn, and to Tigers’ GM Joe McDonald and field manger Sparky Anderson, who subsequently signed Deer as a free agent and stuck with him through his .179 odyssey in 1991. They comprehended the value of what Deer could do, in proper perspective against what he couldn’t, and thus the Pat Seerey of the 1980s/1990s was allowed to contribute his very solid, respectable major league career.

The late 1980s marked the appearance of the celebrated, if notorious, Bash Brothers in Oakland—Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Each would present a long career, full of prodigious slugging but frequently disrupted by injury. McGwire would achieve the trifecta in five seasons, and Canseco in three. McGwire would also hit the trifecta for his career, with a mark of .196, but Canseco, a pretty good doubles hitter, wouldn’t make it.

In 1990, 26-year-old Cecil Fielder returned from a season in Japan and won the starting first base job for the Tigers. He then blasted more homers than any American Leaguer since 1961, while turning in the first of three trifecta performances.

Jay Buhner hit his first trifecta season in 1991. He would do it again in 1995, and he would achieve a third in 2000, at age 35.

Juan Gone and the Carson Crusher

Year Player          Club  L B   AB  2B  3B  HR  BB   BA  OBP  SLG  HRC A  HRC B  HRC C  HRC TR
1992 Juan Gonzalez   TEX   A R  584  24   2  43  35 .260 .304 .529   .023   .925   .028    .976
1992 Matt Nokes       NY   A L  384   9   1  22  37 .224 .293 .425   .032   .302   .115    .449
1992 Rob Deer        DET   A R  393  20   1  32  51 .247 .337 .547   .083   .290   .048    .421 
1992 Mark McGwire    OAK   A R  467  22   0  42  90 .268 .385 .585   .068   .082   .030    .179

1993 Dave Henderson  OAK   A R  382  19   0  20  32 .220 .275 .427   .018   .350   .064    .432
1993 Phil Plantier    SD   N L  462  20   1  34  61 .240 .335 .508   .067   .222   .071    .360
1993 Dean Palmer     TEX   A R  519  31   2  33  53 .245 .321 .503   .015   .302   .002    .318
1993 Rob Deer     DET-BOS  A R  466  17   1  21  58 .210 .303 .386   .005   .059   .081    .145

1994 Matt Williams    SF   N R  445  16   3  43  33 .267 .319 .606   .095   .984   .031   1.110

1995 Jay Buhner      SEA   A R  470  23   0  40  60 .262 .343 .566   .063   .324   .035    .421
1995 Mark McGwire    OAK   A R  317  13   0  39  88 .274 .441 .684   .175   .002   .035    .212

In 1992, at the age of 22 Juan Gonzalez put together a season in which he led the major leagues with 43 home runs while drawing just 35 walks and hitting just 83 singles, putting up an HRC TR of .976. It appeared as though one of the all-time great trifectors might be in our midst. Alas, though he would remain a top-notch home run hitter and would never develop much plate discipline, Gonzalez would soon blossom into a fine hitter for average. He would never reach the trifecta again.

Another one-year-wonder trifecta man was Matt Williams. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Williams was on pace to break Roger Maris’s home run record despite sporting an OBP of .319. Though he was a bona fide slugger, that year was out of the ordinary for Williams, who otherwise never led the league in homers, and would never even reach the top 10 after ’94.

The crest

Year Player          Club  L B   AB  2B  3B  HR  BB   BA  OBP  SLG  HRC A  HRC B  HRC C  HRC TR
1996 Sammy Sosa      CHI   N R  498  21   2  40  34 .273 .323 .564   .021   .853   .005    .880
1996 Tony Clark      DET   A B  376  14   0  27  29 .250 .299 .503   .037   .632   .069    .738
1996 Greg Vaughn    MIL-SD B R  516  19   1  41  82 .260 .365 .539   .046   .135   .051    .231
1996 Todd Hundley    NY    N B  540  32   1  41  79 .259 .356 .550   .034   .163   .003    .200
1996 Cecil Fielder   DET   A R  591  20   0  39  87 .252 .350 .484   .010   .098   .062    .170
1996 Ron Gant        STL   N R  419  14   2  30  73 .246 .359 .504   .045   .052   .065    .162

1997 Jose Cruz Jr. SEA-TOR A L  395  19   1  26  41 .248 .315 .499   .017   .319   .029    .366
1997 Mark McGwire  OAK-STL B R  540  27   0  58 101 .274 .393 .646   .118   .181   .019    .318
1997 Melvin Nieves   DET   A B  359  18   1  20  39 .228 .311 .451   .016   .202   .043    .262
1997 Jose Canseco    OAK   A R  388  19   0  23  51 .235 .325 .462   .017   .126   .052    .195

1998 Jose Canseco    TOR   A R  583  26   0  46  65 .237 .318 .518   .096   .390   .091    .576
1998 Henry Rodriguez CHI   N L  415  21   1  31  54 .251 .334 .531   .047   .240   .033    .319
1998 Ron Gant        STL   N R  383  17   1  26  51 .240 .331 .493   .043   .179   .057    .279

1999 Sammy Sosa      CHI   N R  625  24   2  63  78 .288 .367 .635   .062   .441   .000    .502
1999 Todd Hundley     LA   N B  376  14   0  24  44 .207 .295 .436   .101   .250   .150    .502
1999 Ruben Rivera     SD   N R  411  16   1  23  55 .195 .295 .407   .092   .123   .144    .359
1999 Greg Vaughn     CIN   N R  550  20   2  45  85 .245 .347 .534   .089   .182   .079    .350
1999 Mark McGwire    STL   N R  521  21   1  65 133 .278 .424 .696   .171   .065   .020    .256
1999 Shane Andrews MON-CHI N R  348  12   0  16  50 .195 .295 .367   .041   .025   .133    .199
1999 Barry Bonds      SF   N L  355  20   2  34  73 .262 .389 .617   .104   .077   .004    .184
1999 Matt Stairs     OAK   A L  531  26   3  38  89 .258 .366 .533   .019   .061   .004    .084

The first season in major league history in which three hitters achieved the trifecta had been 1959. On a per-team basis, with 16 big league teams in operation at the time, the rate of trifecta achievers per team was 3/16, or .188.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, that rate was never matched. Even in 1983, when for the first time four batters hit the trifecta, given that there were 26 teams, the 4/26 rate was .154, falling short of 1959′s mark. But finally in 1985, as the trifecta bell was rung by no fewer than six hitters, a new per-team standard was set, at .231.

The following years, 1986 and 1987, were both strong trifecta years, at .192 apiece, but couldn’t match ’85. For the rest of the 1980s, and into the 1990s, the rate of trifectors fell back.

Then in 1996, for the second time in history six hitters achieved the homeruncentricity trifecta. With 28 franchises now on board, the per-team rate of .214 fell short of 1985′s, but it set a second-place mark. In 1999, new records were set, both for total number of trifecta achievers (eight) and for trifections per team (.267).

It was no coincidence that trifecta rate records should fall in this period, as the late 1990s witnessed a general home run boom of unprecedented proportions. Indeed, in 1996 an all-time record was set for home runs per game, and that record was broken in 1999, while 1994, ’95, ’97 and ’98 were all very close to the record as well.

Slammin’ Sammy Sosa achieved his first of four trifecta seasons in 1996. Other repeaters in this period included Greg Vaughn (1996 and ’99), Ron Gant (’96, ’98) and Todd Hundley (’96, ’99). Another notable achievement was made in 1999 by both Ruben Rivera and Shane Andrews: They hit the trifecta while posting a batting average of below .200; no one else, not even Rob Deer nor the mighty Kong himself, has ever pulled that off.

One interesting name appearing among those 1999 trifectors is none other than Barry Bonds. In his elbow-surgery-marred season, both Bonds’ batting average and his walk rate fell to levels not seen since early in his career, despite his managing to deliver home runs at a career-best pace. It would be the only time Bonds would come close to the trifecta.

The sudden trough

Year Player          Club  L B   AB  2B  3B  HR  BB   BA  OBP  SLG  HRC A  HRC B  HRC C  HRC TR
2000 Jay Buhner      SEA   A R  364  20   0  26  59 .253 .361 .522   .029   .080   .025    .134
2000 Ray Lankford    STL   N L  392  16   3  26  70 .253 .367 .508   .009   .004   .014    .028

2001 Richie Sexson   MIL   N R  598  24   3  45  60 .271 .342 .547   .007   .408   .003    .418

2002 Russ. Branyan CLE-CIN B L  378  13   1  24  51 .228 .320 .458   .050   .151   .096    .297
2002 Sammy Sosa      CHI   N R  556  19   2  49 103 .288 .399 .594   .018   .076   .000    .094

2003 Jeromy Burnitz NY-LA  N L  464  22   0  31  35 .239 .299 .487   .041   .587   .062    .689
2003 Adam Dunn       CIN   N L  381  12   1  27  74 .215 .354 .464   .115   .011   .146    .272
2003 Charles Johnson COL   N R  356  20   0  20  49 .230 .320 .455   .014   .088   .039    .142

2004 Jose Valentin   CHI   A B  450  20   3  30  43 .216 .287 .474   .093   .411   .089    .592
2004 Sammy Sosa      CHI   N R  478  21   0  35  56 .253 .332 .517   .036   .293   .050    .380
2004 Mike Cameron     NY   N R  493  30   1  30  57 .231 .319 .478   .032   .207   .030    .270

2005 Andruw Jones    ATL   N R  586  24   3  51  64 .263 .347 .575   .068   .450   .030    .548
2005 Troy Glaus      ARI   N R  538  29   1  37  84 .258 .363 .522   .009   .077   .005    .091

2006 Frank Thomas    OAK   A R  466  11   0  39  81 .270 .381 .545   .040   .100   .070    .210
2006 Andruw Jones    ATL   N R  565  29   0  41  82 .262 .363 .531   .015   .137   .016    .168
2006 Troy Glaus      TOR   A R  540  27   0  38  86 .252 .355 .513   .027   .087   .035    .150
2006 Jonny Gomes      TB   A R  385  21   1  20  61 .216 .325 .432   .025   .003   .050    .077

Then something strange happened. The 1999 season had seen an all-time record for home runs in general, as well as record rates of trifectors. In 2000, the overall home runs per game record was broken yet again—but the number of trifecta achievers dropped to just two. As a proportion of trifecta hitters per team, this 2/30 (.067) rate was the lowest seen in a non-strike-shortened season since 1988.

The 2000 home run rate remains the record, but though no season since has matched it, the rate of home runs being hit remains extremely high by historical standards, consistently within the record-setting ranges first established in the mid-to-late 1990s. Yet the incidence of homeruncentricty trifecta performers has dropped off. In 2001 there was just one: at .033, a per-team mark lower than any since 1974, the last season in which no one managed the trifecta. The highest rate since 1999, the .133 (4/30) of 2006, was routinely exceeded in the 1980s and 1990s.

I’m frankly at a loss for an explanation. It may well simply be a vagary of chance, but perhaps some sort of new unspoken standard of offensive well-roundedness has taken hold. In any case, the only repeat trifecta achievers to have emerged so far in this decade are Andruw Jones and Troy Glaus.

As for the 2007 season, it might be a good year for the trifecta, but that isn’t definite. As of this writing, six hitters—Jones, Adam Dunn, Jermaine Dye, Ryan Howard, Carlos Pena and Richie Sexson—are on track to reach the trifecta, but none is doing so to a strong degree. It’s quite possible that a few won’t make it, and there’s an outside chance that none will.

Since Kingman’s arrival in the major leagues in 1971, and through the subsequently overlapping careers of Thomas, Kittle, Balboni, Deer and McGwire, there had always been at least one active batter who would achieve the homeruncentricity trifecta with his career stats. Since McGwire’s 2001 retirement, no one, so far, has continued to carry that torch. The seasons ahead will reveal whether extreme homeruncentricity is a mode of offensive contribution that has come and gone, or whether the decade of the 2000s has simply presented a temporary lull.

References & Resources
A note on methodology:

The criterion for HRC B (HR/BB >= OBP) is, one might say, not as “pure” as that of the others. A version more conceptually consistent with HRC A and HRC C would be: HR/(H+BB+HBP) >= OBP. However, when I employed that formula, it was just too restrictive, subjectively; it excluded several of the seasons I feel belong in such a discussion, including all of Mark McGwire’s.

I tinkered with a few other more complicated versions, but none delivered what I was looking for, and besides I wanted to keep it simple. So, HR/BB >= OBP it is!

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