8/25/09

Carlos Pena: The Real Triple Crown Winner?

Today we were actually reading the ESPN Power Poll - it was a slow day, don't be so quick to judge - and they dropped this little nugget: Carlos Pena has 34 HR and 35 singles on the year.

Well, then we found out that Carlos Pena just hit another home run, extending his total to a league-leading 35.  Of course, the corollary to this is that he now has as many home runs as he does singles.  This is fairly remarkable given that we're nearing the end of August, yes?  

Now, since he leads the AL in homers and has an equal number of singles, the natural question to ask is: where does he rank in singles?  We're glad you asked that natural question because we did some research.  Take a guess at the answer!

Go on, guess.

Well, of players with at least 350 PA, Carlos Pena ranks second to last in singles.  His 35 juuuuust outstrips Jason Varitek's 34.  Of course, Pena has 518 PA to Varitek's 365 (a 153 PA advantage, if you don't like math), so if we merely raise the minimum PA to 400, well, then Pena's the big winner (loser?).  If you look at the NL also, there's guys like Chris Young, Jay Bruce, Chris Iannetta, Kelly Johnson, and Jason Giambi (a Rockie now), but they have either served time in the minors or on the bench as a punishment for their lack of contact hitting ways.  So we don't feel bad doctoring the answer a bit to anoint Pena at least the AL Champion of Not Hitting Singles.  Boy, that's a fun title for the mantle.  Let's see if we can't give him a little more credit.

Well, gee, looking at Pena's Baseball Reference page, we find that Pena also leads the AL in walks and strikeouts, with 81 (leading Jason Bay's 79) and 149 (5 better than Russell Branyan's 144), respectively.  So, what we have here is a guy who is on pace to win the Three True Outcomes Triple Crown in the AL.  

The Three True Outcomes, for those of you who don't know, are a walk, a strikeout, or a home run.  They are so named because they do not involve the defense at all - unless, we guess, there's a dropped strike 3 or something and the catcher has to throw the batter out.  But, essentially, there you are: the only three outcomes of a pitch that depend solely on the contributions of the hitter and the pitcher.  

The mention of the TTO reminds us of an article the inimitable Dr. Rany Jazyerli wrote for Baseball Prospectus some years ago - in 2000, to be exact.  In it, he examined the guys throughout history who've posted the highest TTO% - defined as (HR+BB+K)/(AB+BB).  A simple enough formula, and it yields reasonable results.  As of the writing of that article, the highest career TTO% belonged to Dave Nicholson, clocking in at a tidy 52.1%.  Other notable names on the list include Rob Deer, Jim Thome, Bo Jackson, Mark McGwire, Mickey Tettleton, and Jay Buhner.  The highest single season TTO% (min. 100 AB), in case you were wondering, belongs to Russell Branyan, with a whopping 61.2%.  

We're going to do a small exercise similar to that, which we're going to call TTOTC.  Catchy, right?  Basically we're going to look at all the seasons from 01-08 and see who's finished among the top 10 in their respective league in walks, strikeouts, and home runs.  This sorting of the players allows us to see who can do each of the three at a level such as they might compete for the TTO Triple Crown, hence the TC part of the acronym.  Which, we might agree with you, is a pretty terrible acronym anyway.  But bear with us for a moment.  Here are the guys:

2001: Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado, Troy Glaus, Sammy Sosa

2002: Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome

2003: Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Richie Sexson

2004: Adam Dunn, Jim Thome, Jim Edmonds, Alex Rodriguez 

2005: Richie Sexson, Alex Rodriguez, Adam Dunn

2006: Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, Troy Glaus

2007: Carlos Pena, Jim Thome, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn

2008: Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Carlos Pena, Jim Thome

We don't know about you but we're disappointed Thome didn't quite make it in '05, and surprised to see Alex Rodriguez on there once, let alone twice.

We then went through and figured out those guys' TTO% in the years where they were among the top 10 in each category.  Here are the top 10 such seasons...

Cust 08: .576
Thome 01: .542
Thome 02: .520
Dunn 04: .516
Dunn 06: .514
Dunn 08. .510
Howard 06: .504
Thome 07: .501
Pena 08: .500
Thome 06: .496

How does Pena's 09 season stack up so far?  Well, he's TTO'ing at a .524 clip, which would be the third best mark of this decade after Cust's 2008 and Thome's 2001 campaigns.  But what's really remarkable is that none of those guys - not only the top ten list, but anybody from the longer, year-by-year list up there - led their respective league in homers, walks, and strikeouts.  So not only is he having one of the best TTO seasons by percentage, but he could be the first slugger of this decade to win the Three True Outcomes Triple Crown.  And that, if you ask us, is a title we'd be much prouder to show off on our mantle.  

TL;DR version: No one this decade has been as prolific in the Three True Outcomes categories as Carlos Pena, and if he keeps it up, he'll win the first TTO Triple Crown of the 00's. 



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