The Meaningless Cycle

Brock Holt had a fun night on Tuesday, recording four hits in the Red Sox’ commanding 16-1 victory over the Yankees in Game Three of the ALDS. Even more notable than the number of hits recorded by Holt was the type. He followed a fourth-inning single with a fourth-inning triple with an eighth-inning double with a ninth-inning home run. Put all those together and the result is the first cycle in postseason history.

A cycle obviously isn’t the most potent collection of four hits a batter can record. Replacing the single with a double would technically represent a “better” night at the plate. Replacing all the hits with four home runs wouldn’t be so bad, either. A cycle is fun, though. It’s impressive for its offensive impact and unusual for the distribution of hit types.

Brock Holt’s cycle, specifically, occurred in a blowout, so most of the component hits had little bearing on the Red Sox’ win. We’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s take a look at why there have been no playoff cycles before this one.

For baseball to facilitate 100 years of postseason play without producing a single cycle seems odd. Consider, though, that the modern MLB season features around 2,400 games and that those 2,400 games have yielded only about three cycles per season this decade (and fewer in earlier eras). Meanwhile, there have been only about 1,500 playoff games. In other words, using historical averages, there’s still about a one-in-three chance of no cycles occurring across the entire swath of postseason history. Limiting the calculus to playoff games since 2010 — or roughly 300 postseason contests — there’s a two-in-three chance of zero cycles.

While Holt’s was the first official cycle, history has produced a number of close calls. A few searches of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index reveals 152 player games in which a batter finished one hit short of the cycle. Those hits are broken down as follows:

Of the near cycles, three-quarters were the result of missing a triple — which is to say, they weren’t actually that close to a cycle. (A triple is the rarest sort of hit.) There are three games in which a batter needed just a single at some point in the game for a cycle. In none of those three games did the player in question get to four hits, so there were not any situations where stopping short at first base at some point in the game would have meant the first cycle in playoff history. In only one of the three games, did the player come to the plate for the final time needing that single. Here are those games:

Single Short of Playoff Cycle
Player Game Outs Made
Andre Ethier 2009 NLDS Game 3 FO 1st, K in 5th
Kaz Mastui 2007 NLDS Game 2 GO in 1st, FO in 8th
Lou Brock 1968 WS Game 4 GO in 2nd GO in 6th
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

There are 39 games in which a player ended up either a double or home run short of the cycle. Of those 39 games, only 14 times did the player come to the plate for a final time with the potential to hit for a cycle. See the games a double short with a potential final PA below.

Double Short of Playoff Cycle*
Player Game Final PA
Garret Anderson 2005 ALDS Game 3 Single in 8th
Scott Brosius 1999 ALCS Game 1 K in 9th
Rickey Henderson 1989 World Series Game 4 GO in 9th
Alan Trammell 1984 ALCS Game 1 Walk in 8th
Elmer Smith 1920 World Series Game 5 GO in 6th
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*With the potential for a cycle in final PA of game.

Not mentioned above, but worth noting: Paul Molitor was a double short of a cycle twice in the 1993 World Series.

Finally, we get to the situation faced by Brock Holt, needing a homer in his final plate appearance.

Homer Short of Playoff Cycle*
Player Game Final PA HR in Season
Larry Walker 2004 NLCS Game 1 K in 8th 17
Milt Thompson 1993 World Series Game 4 GO in 7th 4
Billy Hatcher 1990 World Series Game 2 IBB 9th 5
Mariano Duncan 1985 NLCS Game 6 K looking in 9th 6
Kiko Garcia 1979 World Series Game 1 Single in 7th 5
Freddie Patek 1977 ALCS Game 4 FO in 9th 5
Irish Muesel 1923 World Series Game 5 GO in 9th 19
Buck Herzog 1912 World Series Game 2 GO in 10th 2
Red Murray^ 1912 World Series Game 2 GO in 9th 3
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*With the potential for a cycle in final PA of game.
^Murray was up to bat in 11th when runner on base was caught stealing to end inning.

While a lack of a cycle might seem unusual, there really haven’t been too many situations where batters have been that close. What makes Holt’s cycle even more remarkable is that he barely impacted the game at all. Here are Holt’s plate appearances throughout the game along his WPA for those PAs.

Brock Holt Cycle Plate Appearances
Inn Score Play WPA
2 0-0 Brock Holt grounded out to second. Rafael Devers advanced to 3B. -0.032
4 0-3 Brock Holt singled to center. 0.02
4 0-8 Brock Holt tripled to right. Xander Bogaerts scored. Steve Pearce scored. 0.012
6 1-10 Brock Holt grounded out to first. 0
8 1-11 Brock Holt hit a double. Rafael Devers scored. Ian Kinsler advanced to 3B. 0
9 1-14 Brock Holt homered. Ian Kinsler scored. 0

Holt’s most meaningful plate appearance of the game occurred with one out in the second inning with a runner on second base. His ground out decreased the Red Sox’ chances of winning by 3.2 percentage points. When he singled to lead off the fourth, the team was already up 3-0, so he only moved up the chances of winning by two percentage points. When he hit a triple later that inning, the game was essentially over. The graph below shows the WPA for every single that came up in a Play-Index search.

The only other cycles in history that accomplished less than Brock Holt’s were Max Carey‘s in a 21-5 win back in 1925 and Mike Trout’s in 2013 when he struck out in the first and every extra base-hit came after the Angels were winning 6-0. Even comparing Holt’s performance to other good playoff games offensively, it is unusual. The graph below shows every playoff game where the player’s RE24 was at least 2.0 — in the playoffs so far, 11 of 204 individual player games with at least four PA have at least a 2.0 RE24 — and the WPA of those games, per Baseball-Reference.

Most of the time, when a player has a game anywhere near as good as Brock Holt, that player has a significant impact on the game. Due to the Red Sox’ quick and decisive lead, Holt’s feat didn’t matter all that much to the outcome. For the game, the cycle was meaningless. In the record books, however, Holt stands alone.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

Yes, but it was SO MUCH fun to see those fans in NY with droopy jaws.

5 years ago
Reply to  Jim

The emptiness of the stadium after the 4th inning was beautiful.

tramps like us
5 years ago
Reply to  Jim

Especially after the “WE WANT BOSTON!” chant they were screaming in the 9th inning against Oakland in the play-in game. Yeah, that’s my idea of a good time.