Triple Play Trivia and Oddities

I was lucky enough to be in attendance for last night’s game between the Rays and Red Sox, where I got to see something rather rare: a triple play. In the fourth inning of the game, the Rays had runners on first and second with no outs, and Sean Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder right to Jed Lowrie at third base. Lowrie took two steps to the base and then started an easy 5-4-3 triple play. But as fate would have it, this play wasn’t even the first triple play turned this week. The Brewers turned an impressive 4-6-3-2 triple play on Monday against the Dodgers, the first time that sort of triple play has happened since 1972.

So naturally, these two plays have now turned my mind toward all things triple-play-related. Looking for some odd tidbits of information on these triple plays, or on triple plays in general? I’ve got you covered.

Rarity. As it turns out, the triple play is a much rarer event than I had thought. There have been 626 triple plays in baseball’s history, dating all the way back to 1876. That might seem like a large number compared with the amount of no-hitters (272) and perfect games (20) thrown over that time, but it’s worth remembering that in each game there are only two opportunities for a no-no or perfecto, but there are 17-18 opportunities for a triple play.

When you look at triple plays in this light — how often they have occurred based on the number of opportunities they have had to occur — they are around four times as rare as no-hitters. Of course, as fans we only really care what the odds are that we’re going to see an event in person (in which case, no-hitters are still more rare). But I figure it’s worth driving home the point that triple plays are actually very unique, uncommon events that simply have more opportunities for occurring than other rare events.

Organization Histories. Last night’s triple play was the first time the Red Sox have turned a triple play since July 8th, 1994 versus Seattle. It was the second triple play the Rays have hit into in their franchise’s history; their first one was on June 11, 2006 versus Kansas City. But for such a young franchise, the triple play isn’t a terribly rare event for the Rays. They have turned two triple plays themselves, one in 2002 and one in 2006, while it took them until last season for them to finally throw their first no-hitter.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have been involved in 61 triple plays — 33 against them and 28 turned by them.

Back-to-Back. The last time two triple plays happened on consecutive days was back on May 22-23, 1981. The Mariners started things off with a 6-6-3 triple play against the Rangers, and the next day the Indians pulled off a 5-4-3 triple play against the Yankees.

But none of that compares to what happened on July 17, 1990, when the Twins pulled off two triple plays in the same game against the Red Sox. Man, talk about squeezing yourself out of jams…although the Red Sox still won the game.

Bad Day at the Office. Sean Rodriguez was the unlucky soul that hit into the triple play, but that was only one part of his day: he also got hit by a pitch twice yesterday, once in both games of the doubleheader. And oddly enough, this dual plunking might actually have been the most rare feat that Rodriguez’s accomplished yesterday. According to Plunk Everyone, there have only been eight players that have been hit by a pitch in both games of a doubleheader since 1989. Over that same time, there have been 87 triple plays.

Obviously doubleheaders are rather infrequent occurrences these days — so my earlier distinction about “rarity” holds true — but still, I find it somewhat fitting that Rodriguez “accomplished” both these dubious feats in the same day. Talk about adding pain to…well, more pain.

Does any of this information serve any real purpose? No, except to fill up brain space you could be using on actual important stuff like, you know, your social security number. But now you have some facts that can make you one of the coolest — AKA, nerdiest — people at the dinner table, which is all that really matters.

A big hat tip to SABR for this amazing triple play database. And a hat tip to Baseball Nation for finding the above video.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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You neglected to mention that the previous triple play executed by the Red Sox was an unassisted triple play. L6-6u-6u.

I figure that’s noteworthy enough to overcome the usual attitude against “but you didn’t mention X” comments.