Triples

A batter steps into the lefthand batter’s box. The pitcher winds and in comes a fastball out over the plate. The batter drives it into the right-centerfield gap, then bolts from the box. The ball rolls to the wall where the centerfielder picks it up without delay and sends it back towards the infield. The runner has neared second base and cuts the bag as if he were on rails. The relay throw arrives, but he slides head first into third base ahead of it. A triple.

This could be a description of any number of triples, but it happens to be an account of a triple authored by one of Aaron Gleeman‘s “favorite” players — Cristian Guzman. Guzman is an indifferent defensive shortstop and a hacker at the plate, but he’s an artist when it comes to triples.

The triple has been in decline since Babe Ruth convinced the baseball world that it was possible to hit the ball out of the park with some consistency. In 1985, major league baseball averaged 0.46 triples per game, about the same as it had for several decades before. With the mid-90s boom in homerun hitting, triples per game have dropped to about 0.38 per game. The slow passing of artificial turf into oblivion is probably the main factor in this decline, as fast turf allows more balls to split the outfielders and bounce to the wall. Another factor could be the extra time that some homerun hitters take to admire their long flies.

With the advent of the MLB.TV archives, it is now possible to study many aspects of play. Most games are archived and available in a condensed format — allowing the viewer to search for the plays that are of interest more efficiently. Using this vast library of games, I have embarked on a study of how long it takes a batter-runner to reach third base on a triple from the moment of contact.

The system isn’t perfect, since some triples occur in games for which there are no archives. For other triples, it is impossible to get an accurate measure because the camera was trained on some other aspect of play (usually a runner scoring) and not third base. Nevertheless, I have been able to time over 65% of the triples hit in major league baseball this season.

Nearly all triples take between 11 and 13 seconds, and most of those which take longer than 12.5 seconds are due to the batter-runner’s “laziness.” The slowest triple I’ve timed was one of three hit this season by Geoff Jenkins — 13.14 seconds. Jenkins isn’t that slow, so obviously he paused to admire his hit before realizing it wasn’t going to leave the park.

Mike Matheny has hit the slowest triple while running full out so far this season — 12.85 seconds. Some readers may be skeptical of a time in seconds given to two decimal places. For triples of 11.4 seconds or less, I recorded the time for each of nine replays of the event, thereafter excluding the two highest and lowest figures and averaging the other five. I’m confident of the results to within two hundredths of a second.

Here’s a list of the fastest triples for which I could get an accurate measure, on grass and turf playing surfaces:

Fastest Triples, Grass
PlayerTeam Date Inning Time(sec)
Cristian GuzmanMIN April 14th 3rd 11.03
Dewayne WiseATL April 14th 3rd 11.26
Aaron MilesCOL April 17th 9th 11.34

Fastest Triples, Artificial Turf
PlayerTeam Date Inning Time(sec)
Carl CrawfordTBD April 6th 4th 11.07
Kenny LoftonNYY March 30th 2nd 11.12
Lew FordMIN April 21st 7th 11.21
Chris WoodwardTOR April 5th 5th 11.30

There will be periodic updates throughout the season, leading to the crowning of two triples champions (one for grass and one for turf).

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