Summiting Doubles to Dingers Mountain

By June of 2013, Baltimore’s beat writers had established their favorite in-season stat to track: Manny Machado’s rapidly rising doubles count.

A collage of tweets from Baltimore beat writers marveling about how many doubles Manny Machado was hitting early in 2013

Machado was in the midst of his first full season in the majors and on pace to make a run for the single-season doubles record. He finished the season with 51 (a several-way tie for 51st all-time), but in the moment, he represented a rookie with sky high potential, standing in the shadow of a mountain representing his own potential peak.

As he dumped double after double into the outfield, Orioles broadcasters noted for fans that the 20-year-old Machado was still developing physically, so his power tool was poised to level up as his career progressed, and when it did, some portion of those 51 two-baggers would convert to round-trippers. The Doubles to Dingers developmental arc is a real phenomenon. After hitting a double once every 14 plate appearances and a home run once every 50 in 2013, Machado followed up that performance in ’14 by doubling just once every 25 PA while upping his homer rate to once every 30. More recently, the current Baltimore broadcast booth has applied the Doubles to Dingers arc to Gunnar Henderson, another promising second-year player on the left side of the Orioles’ infield. However, as Henderson has increased his home run rate in his second full season by over 50%, his doubles rate has held steady, suggesting he’s leveled up his hit tool alongside the power surge, which doesn’t quite fit this narrative arc.

So which players have best exemplified the Double to Dingers storyline, and how did their stories play out afterward? We don’t need to rely on broadcasters, who have a tendency to fuel fan optimism, because this is extremely quantifiable. To identify players on this path, I started the search in 1988 and looked only at players who at the time had three or fewer seasons of at least 100 PA in the majors. I compared their ratio of dingers to doubles during the season in question to their career ratio for all seasons prior. Only samples of at least 300 PA were considered when calculating the ratio. Players also needed to be hitting doubles in at least 4% of their PAs prior to unlocking the next level of power, and after leveling up, their new homer rate should settle in above 2% of PAs (thresholds chosen are round numbers at or just below league average because this really only matters for hitters producing at a baseline level of competency in both key categories). To further ensure that the change in their dingers-to-doubles ratio is caused by a somewhat proportional change to the frequency of both doubles and dingers, their homer rate needed to increase by at least half a percent; likewise, their doubles rate must have decreased by at least half a percent.

The title for Most Rapid Single Year Ascent Up Doubles to Dingers Mountain belongs to Adam Dunn. Over a combined total of 962 PA across 2001 and ’02, Dunn doubled at a 4.8% clip and homered at 4.7% clip. In 2003, the 23-year-old Dunn hit doubles in 2.6% of his PA, but homered in 5.8%. His dingers-to-doubles ratio was 0.98 entering 2003, and he finished that season with a 2.25 ratio, a year-over-year difference of 1.27.

In second place on the podium is Chris Hoiles, who in 1992, after parts of three seasons in Baltimore, grew his home run rate to 5.4% from a 3.0% career mark. His doubles rate dropped from a career rate of 4.0% to 2.7%, growing his dingers-to-doubles ratio from 0.73 to 2.00, a difference of 1.27 (or to add precision and justify the second place position, 1.267).

The third place medal goes to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who entered 2021 hitting doubles 5.2% of the time and homering 3.2% of the time, then flipped the switch and hoisted his homer rate to 6.9%, while his doubles rate dwindled to 4.2%. The change spiked Guerrero Jr.’s dingers-to-doubles ratio from 0.62 to 1.66, a gain of 1.04. (Vlad’s dad also made the leaderboard in 23rd place for increasing his ratio by a margin of 0.53 in 1998).

The leaderboard’s top 30 is listed below. Machado ekes in at no. 27 with a ratio increase of 0.50 in 2014, the season after the beat writers were buzzing.

YOY Increase in Dingers-to-Doubles Ratio
Player Season Ratio Increase
Adam Dunn 2003 1.272
Chris Hoiles 1992 1.267
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 2021 1.040
Ryan Howard 2006 1.026
Juan Gonzalez 1992 0.998
Khris Davis 2015 0.985
Derrek Lee 2000 0.977
Ben Grieve 1999 0.887
Brad Fullmer 2000 0.821
Trevor Plouffe 2012 0.819
Nick Swisher 2006 0.802
Reggie Sanders 1993 0.788
Michael Conforto 2017 0.750
Carlos González 2009 0.747
David Ortiz 2001 0.720
Brandon Phillips 2007 0.654
Hunter Renfroe 2019 0.654
Teoscar Hernández 2019 0.646
Mark Teahen 2006 0.616
Aubrey Huff 2002 0.545
Raul Mondesi 1995 0.538
Hideki Matsui 2004 0.531
Vladimir Guerrero 1998 0.527
Chris Carter 2014 0.512
Eric Chavez 2000 0.511
Whit Merrifield 2017 0.503
Manny Machado 2014 0.501
Miguel Cabrera 2004 0.493
Benito Santiago 1989 0.491
Hanley Ramirez 2008 0.481

In truly artful Rule of Three fashion, the three players atop the leaderboard provide examples of the three trajectories a player’s career can take after summiting Doubles to Dingers Mountain. Experienced hikers know that mountain trails share common features, among them, the false summit. In hiking, this is a bad thing because it happens during the most arduous part of your hike, when you’ve already eaten all of the Uncrustables and hard-boiled eggs in your pack, and you had to rally your buddy after he tried to take a nap under a shrub, and you’re getting a liiiiiiitle light-headed thanks to the gain in elevation. Then, after all of that, at the very moment when you think you’ve finally reached the mountain top, you pop out above the treeline, and while a nice view awaits, your gaze fixates on yet another set of switchbacks, the sight of which makes you hate your past self for thinking you could drag your useless bag of bones up this mountain. That is the cruelty of the false summit for hikers. But as a metaphor for baseball development, reaching the false summit is a sign of growth and a promise of more to come. Most players climb Doubles to Dingers Mountain between the ages of 22 and 26, which is to say, before hitting their prime. So while they’ve experienced sharp growth, it’s reasonable to expect another bump in production before actually summiting their potential.

A line graph drawn over a cartoon mountain with a cartoon hiker, falsely exclaiming he's reached the top of the mountain.

The False Summit is one option among possible post-power-spike trajectories. Another option is that the spike led to the player’s actual summit. We’re not making this a proper noun like The False Summit because this is the underwhelming option, the one to which no one should aspire, and therefore, it doesn’t need a fancy, capitalized name. This is the summit that you reach without any trickery. There’s not a lot of open space to sit and enjoy the view, so you perch yourself on a rock that’s a little too pointy to actually be a comfy seat and rummage through the bottom of your pack hoping for a few stray peach rings; then you take a few photos as a memento — beyond the blisters currently bloodying your sock — and climb back down the mountain. The descent is easier, so you take your time to enjoy the view while it lasts, but you do need to make it back to the trailhead before night falls and darkness envelops you. This is the option for players who set their career-high home run rate as they scale Doubles to Dingers Mountain. They might be productive players in subsequent years and have respectable careers, but their power is never what it was that one golden day at the top.

A line graph drawn over a cartoon mountain with a cartoon hiker grumbling about how tired he is after reaching the top

As promised there is a third option. Sometimes Doubles to Dingers Mountain is actually a mesa. Instead of a peak that’s pointy and inhospitable, a mesa peaks with a plateau, a flat spacious surface where you can set up camp and stay awhile. There’s no second summit coming for players in this category, but they’re able to sustain and enjoy their hard won power gains. These players largely maintain their new homer rate. Maybe they dip down to check out a cool flower, or pick up a rock shaped like the bat signal, but they mostly stick to their homebase atop the butte, until the effects of erosion and aging start to eat away at their production.

A line graph drawn over a cartoon mesa with a cartoon hiker deciding to stay on the plateau awhile

Adam Dunn, gold medalist in the Dingers to Doubles vault event, lands safely on the plateau. His home run rate in 2003 was 5.8%, and across the next 10 seasons it sat at 5.7%. There’s an argument to be made that Dunn’s 2003 season was a false summit because his dinger pace did improve by about a percent in ’04, but that’s not the defining characteristic of his career path. Dunn’s post-2003 dinger rate settled in around that ’03 mark and held steady for the bulk of his career. With the exception of a rough 2011 season, Dunn’s home run rate hovered between 5.6% and 6.7% from ’04 to ’13 before dipping to 4.3% in his final season. Dunn was a butte-dweller till the very end.

Silver medalist Chris Hoiles ran into a false summit on the trail, kept climbing to the peak, then began the more gradual descent down the backside of the mountain. After posting a 5.4% home run pace in 1992, Hoiles homered at a 5.8% clip in ’93, but it was mostly downhill from there, dropping to 4.7% the following year, and bottoming out at 3.1% in ’98. Maybe years of catching drained the energy resources that otherwise could have been allocated toward his power potential, but Hoiles instead posted five seasons as an above average hitter, just with less power than he flashed for a couple years there.

Bronze medalist Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still on the trail and could opt to wander down an unmarked fork, rather than proceeding on his current path. But as it currently stands, Vlad Jr. hit the summit, decided he did not care for the queasiness caused by the thin air, and proceeded to head straight down that mountain. In 2022, his homer rate dropped from 6.9% the prior season to 4.5%. In 2023, it dipped further to 3.8%, and so far this season, it sits at 2.9%. Vlad Sr. settled on the plateau before beginning a gentle decline over the last few years of his career, lending hope to the idea that Vlad Jr. is simply taking a more circuitous path to the mountaintop, where he will hopefully post up for several years to come.

Many players summit the mountain, and while the act of summiting may not tell us the specific shape the rest of their career will take, it does usually bode well for their overall production on offense. Hikers post, on average, a career wRC+ of 112, and an overwhelming supermajority of them clock in at or above 100. So even if the summit of Doubles to Dingers Mountain is the peak of a hitter’s power production, sunny skies still cover the trail ahead.

Kiri lives in the PNW while contributing part-time to FanGraphs and working full-time as a data scientist. She spent 5 years working as an analyst for multiple MLB organizations. You can find her on Twitter @technical_K0.

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27 days ago

Great writing, Kiri!