Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leading the League in Triples and Homers

Curtis Granderson captivated Tigers fans with his quad twenty (20+ doubles, 20+ triples, 20+ homers and 20+ stolen bases) in 2007.  He is one of only four players in the history of the game to accomplish that feat.  I was looking at the American League batting leaders this morning and noticed that Granderson is currently tied for the league lead with six triples and is two behind Blue Jays masher Jose Bautista with 21 home runs.

One would think that not too many players would lead their league in both triples and home runs.  After all, home run hitters are generally big sluggers and triples hitters are usually speedsters and this power/speed combination is a rare thing to find in one player.  Perhaps more importantly, the spacious parks which are conducive to high numbers of triples are generally unfriendly to home runs.

So, I went to Baseball-Reference to see how many players have led the league in both triples and homers.  As seen in Tables 1 and 2 below, it has been done just eight times - twice in the American League and six times in the National League.  It might come to a surprise to some that the last hitter to reach this rare combo was Red Sox slugger Jim Rice in 1978.  He led the American League with 46 homers and 15 triples that year.  Some might not think of Rice as a a hitter who would get a lot of triples but he also had 15 in 1977 and 79 for his career.

Table 1: Players Who Led the American League in Both Triples and Homers

Year
Player
Team
HR
3B
1955
Mickey Mantle
New York
37
11
1978
Jim Rice
Boston
46
15

Table 2: Players Who Led the National League in Both Triples and Homers

Year
Player
Team
HR
3B
1880
Harry Stovey
Worcester
6
14
1891
Harry Stovey
Boston
16
20
1902
Tommy Leach
Pittsburgh
6
22
1904
Harry Lumley
Brooklyn
9
18
1928
Jim Bottomley
St. Louis
31
20
1955
Willie Mays
New York
51
13

Prior to Rice, Hall of Fame outfielders Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays led the American League and National League respectively in both categories in 1955. Because they both possessed great power and speed, Mantle and Mays are less surprising than Rice.

All the others on the list played before 1930 when triples were more plentiful and homers more rare and often inside the park. The least known name on the list even to those who follow the game's history closely is probably Brooklyn Superbas outfielder Harry Lumley. The Judge hit nine homers and 18 triples as a rookie in 1904.

Granderson is a long way from leading the league in anything this year. He is always a threat to lead the league in triples, but the home runs will be a little more difficult, even playing in cozy Yankee Stadium. If he continues to hit the long ball though, it will be an interesting item to follow.

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