The Story of the Only Triple That Was

First there was man, and then there was baseball. Soon after baseball there were baseball statistics, because there’s no sense in male competition if you don’t have a record of who’s good and who’s not. Baseball was played in ballparks, and in time people came to notice that different ballparks affected the game in different ways. Eventually people put numbers to park factors, and after there were park factors, there were park factors broken down by handedness. This is where we are today, with the focus being on how specific environments affect specific players. Later on, we’ll know a lot more than we know today, but today we know plenty, relative to what we knew just a few years ago.

As we’ve come to understand park factors, we’ve come to understand the importance of sample sizes. Many prefer multi-year factors over single-year factors, because single-year factors can be misleading. That’s when you’re dealing with events that happen a lot, like walks or strikeouts or singles. Even with multi-year factors, you can observe wild swings with events that happen more rarely. I’m talking here about park factors for, say, hit batters, or park factors for triples. With that in mind, the updated righty park factor for Progressive Field for triples could end up looking a little silly. Let me explain.

In 2010, right-handed batters collected 3,120 plate appearances in Progressive Field. They posted a .687 OPS, and more importantly for our purposes, they hit 12 triples. That was roughly middle-of-the-pack, as handedness ballpark splits were concerned. In 2011, right-handed batters collected 2,616 plate appearances in Progressive Field, and they hit 10 triples. Low, but many were lower. There wasn’t any reason to think that anything weird was going on, or that anything weird would start to go on.

Tuesday afternoon, the Indians beat the White Sox in Chicago. They’ll wrap up the series on Wednesday, and then the Indians will return home for the final six games of the year. They’ll play three against the Royals and three against the White Sox, and over those games right-handed batters will collect a number of plate appearances. Should one of them end with a triple, only then will there have been multiple right-handed triples this year in Cleveland’s home stadium.

This year in Progressive Field, home and visiting righties have batted a combined 2,220 times. Relatively speaking, that is not many plate appearances for a handedness split, but it’s still more than a couple thousand plate appearances. To show for all those times at-bat, righties have hit 41 home runs and one triple. I don’t know why I mentioned the home runs, because all we care about here is the one triple.

I know this seems like a very specific and kind of meaningless statistic, and I’m not going to lie, it totally is, but what’s happening is also exceptionally rare. The last time a ballpark went a full season with so few triples by batters of a certain handedness was 1975, when lefties hit one triple in Dodger Stadium. Progressive Field is six games away from that, and in 1975 lefties batted just 1,984 times in LA.

In case you’re still with me for some reason, you might be wondering which righty authored Progressive’s one triple this year. The answer is Alex Rios, and he did it all the way back on May 8, in the tenth inning. Rios turned a 3-3 game into a 4-3 game when he tripled to the gap off then-nemesis Chris Perez. See, days earlier, Rios had taken exception to Perez’s celebrations in the infield. Progressive Field in 2012 has seen one triple hit by a righty, but it was a dull and insignificant triple by no means. There was win-probability significance, and there was dramatic context.

Here is that triple, because if you’re still reading, you must be incredibly interested:

If you’re like me, you might note how close this triple came to not being a triple. Now, in fairness, there was no throw. And, in fairness, probably the majority of triples are close to just being doubles, or outs. Hell, everything in baseball comes very close to being something completely different. A human is throwing a spherical ball and a hitter is hitting the ball with a cylindrical bat. It really is a game of millimeters.

But anyway, Rios hit a line drive to the gap that just barely cleared a leaping Jason Kipnis:

And then there was a minor misplay against the wall by Shin-Soo Choo:

Choo, of course, is renowned for his arm, and if he comes up with that ball cleanly, perhaps Rios doesn’t stretch for three, or perhaps Rios gets thrown out. Rios is a very fast runner and we can’t make any assumptions here, but there are questions. Progressive’s one righty triple was not necessarily a clean, textbook triple.

As the Indians play the Royals and White Sox, this statistical quirk could get thrown in the dumpster. As things stand, a righty has tripled one time in Progressive Field all season long, and that one triple came very close to not being a triple at all. You have to go back to 1975 to find a season split like this one. Is it meaning you want? No, there’s not a lot of meaning here. But there are articles that are meaningful and there are articles you find interesting, and if you’ve gotten this far, you must’ve found this one interesting. There’s no other explanation that I can think of.

On June 5, against the Tigers, Indians righties hit a pair of triples in Comerica Park.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Well-Beered Englishman
Well-Beered Englishman

Why yes, I did find this article very interesting indeed.

But god, Hawk Harrelson is a terrible announcer.