Picking the five best single-game performances by a hitter this season
On Tuesday night Adrian Beltre became just the fourth player in major league history to hit for the cycle for the third time in his career and the first to join that club since Babe Herman in 1933. Less significantly, Beltre became the third player and the second Ranger to hit for the cycle this season, along with Boston's Brock Holt and teammate Shin-soo Choo. Beltre is a great player who is finally swinging a hot bat again (.349/.413/.566 over his last 21 games) after a disappointing and injury-shortened first-half of the season, but his collection of cycles is more of a statistical fluke than a measure of his greatness.
To me, the cycle, while fun, is no more impressive and certainly no more valuable than any other game in which a hitter collects 10 total bases. While there have been just three cycles this year, there have been 36 games in which a hitter has accumulated 10 or more total bases. The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera has two of them, and the Mets' Lucas Duda has three, including two in a span of four days last week. But what have been the most impressive offensive performances of the year to this point? There’s plenty of room for this debate, but these five stand out, and they all share one thing in common: none involved a player hitting for the cycle.
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1. Adrian Gonzalez: April 8, 2015
Line: 4-for-4 (1 single, 3 home runs), 3 runs, 4 RBIs
Gonzalez is the only one of the seven players who have hit three home runs in a game this season to have also added a fourth hit. He launched solo home runs in his first three at-bats of the Dodgers’ third game of the season, then added a two-out RBI single in his fourth trip. Gonzalez’s 13 total bases in that game remain the most by any player in a single game this season. He was left on deck when the Dodgers, who beat the Padres that night 7–4, made their final out in the bottom of the eighth inning.
2. Josh Donaldson: May 26, 2015
Line: 4-for-4 (1 single, 1 double, 2 home runs), 1 walk, 5 runs, 4 RBIs
Of the 42 walk-off home runs hit this season, just two happened with the winning team trailing by more than a single run, and only one capped off a perfect 4-for-4 day. That honor belongs to Donaldson, who hit a three-run blast against White Sox closer David Robertson to give the Blue Jays a 10-9 win.
Donaldson actually reached base five times in that game, adding a walk to the 11 total bases he accumulated with his four hits, and he scored all five times. He homered in the first to open the scoring, doubled and scored in the third, walked and scored in the fifth and singled and scored in the seventh. In each of those innings he scored the go-ahead run. He did that one more time in the bottom of the ninth, when he hit an opposite-field, three-run homer for the walk-off victory.
3. Alex Rodriguez: July 25, 2015
Line: 3-for-4 (3 home runs), 3 runs, 4 RBIs
Perhaps no player on this list had a game as impactful as Rodriguez's. With Yankees trailing 5–0 against the Twins at Target Field, Rodriguez hit his first homer in the top of the fourth, a mammoth 464-foot shot, to get New York on the board. His second, a two-run shot in the seventh, brought the Yankees to within 5–3. His third, a solo shot into the batter’s eye in center off Minnesota closer Glen Perkins to lead off the top of the ninth, tied the score at 5–5, after which his teammates rallied to an 8–5 win.
Rodriguez’s win probability added—which credits a player for each incremental change he makes in his team’s chances of winning the game—was .411 for the day, tops among the seven three-homer games this season. It was also Rodriguez’s first three-homer game since 2010 and fifth overall, breaking a tie with Albert Pujols and Aramis Ramirez for the active lead and putting him one shy of the all-time record for such games held by Sammy Sosa and Hall of Famer Johnny Mize.
4. Kyle Schwarber: July 21, 2015
Line: 4-for-7 (1 single, 1 double, 2 home runs), 2 runs, 4 RBIs
Speaking of win probability added, no performance on this list tops the impact Schwarber had in the Cubs' 5-4, 13-inning win in Cincinnati. Schwarber actually made three outs in that game, the only player on this list to make more than one (Gonzalez and Donaldson made none), and his single in the third proved to be of no consequence.
But consider what his other three hits accomplished. His double in the fifth plated Chicago's first run to cut the Reds’ 2–0 lead in half, his two-run homer off J.J. Hoover in the ninth tied the game at four, and his solo shot off Nate Adcock in the top of the 13th proved to be the game winner. In total, Schwarber went 4-for-7 with three crucial extra-base hits that drove in four of the Cubs’ five runs and totaled 11 extra bases. His .830 WPA for the game, meanwhile, stands as the third-highest mark this season and the best number for any player with 10 or more total bases in a game (by way of comparison, Donaldson had a .768 WPA for his game listed above).
5. Brandon Phillips: July 30, 2015
Line: 4-for-5 (2 singles, 2 home runs), 2 runs, 7 RBIs, 2 SBs
Think the cycle is impressive? There have been 247 of those since 1914, but in a 15-5 win against the Pirates, Phillips became just the 15th player over that span to hit two home runs and steal two bases in a single game. Going 4-for-5 with those two homers, he collected as many total bases as a player who hit for the cycle, then added two more bags with his legs. Those steals came in quick succession in the fourth inning following his second single off Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett. In the span between Phillips’s performance and the last time a player collected two homers and two steals in a game (Ryan Spilborghs on May 2, 2009), there were 21 cycles.