Mike Trout and the "Super Cycle"

Harry How

Looking at cycles and "super cycles" throughout MLB history.

Mike Trout hit for the cycle on Tuesday night. This is cool, and further evidence that Trout is the greatest human being to ever live. There were also some interesting tidbits that came out about the cycle:

But being the Play Index sleuth that I am, I found something that was even more interesting (to me, anyway, and that’s what really matters): Mike Trout became just the 17th player in MLB history to hit for the cycle and steal a base in the same game (the table below shows only those since 1947).

Player Date Tm Opp PA R 1B 2B 3B HR SB WPA RE24
Jackie Robinson 29/08/1948 BRO STL 6 3 1 1 1 1 1 0.206 2.815
Mickey Mantle 23/07/1957 NYY CHW 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 0.384 3.757
Rod Carew 20/05/1970 MIN KCR 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 0.303 3.277
Lou Brock 27/05/1975 STL SDP 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 0.221 1.63
Charlie Moore 01/10/1980 MIL CAL 5 3 1 1 1 1 2 0.385 3.128
Oddibe McDowell 23/07/1985 TEX CLE 5 3 2 1 1 1 1 0.299 3.931
Ray Lankford 15/09/1991 STL NYM 4 4 1 1 1 1 1 0.151 2.916
Rondell White 11/06/1995 MON SFG 7 5 2 2 1 1 1 0.339 4.207
Carlos Guillen 01/08/2006 DET TBD 5 3 1 1 1 1 1 0.173 2.338
Ian Kinsler 15/04/2009 TEX BAL 6 5 2 2 1 1 1 0.249 6.54
Carlos Gonzalez 31/07/2010 COL CHC 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 0.425 1.814
Aaron Hill 29/06/2012 ARI MIL 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 0.18 4.049
Mike Trout 21/05/2013 LAA SEA 5 2 1 1 1 1 1 -0.012 3.742


While this feat has been accomplished five times since 2006 (see the table above), it’s still an incredibly rare performance in historical terms. It’s a Super Cycle, if you will, a five-feat cycle more akin to hockey’s Mario Lemieux cycle in the sense that it’s a) much more rare and b) takes five accomplishments.
To illustrate how rare this "Super Cycle" is, check out the table below.

Cycle Type Instances Average WPA Average RE24
Cycle 239 0.221 2.76
Cycle+SB 17 0.194 2.60
2000s Cycles 57 0.269 4.02
Trout Cycle 1 -0.012 3.74

What’s crazy is that Trout’s cycle is the first cycle in 170 instances where WPA is available to have a negative win probability added, as Drew outlined in the piece linked above. In terms of RE24, it was an "above average" cycle but below average for the 57 cycles that have occurred since 2000.

In fact, cycles have become far more valuable in the last decade and a half, which made me curious about the "history" of the cycle.

I pulled the league average rates for singles, doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases going back to 1947 (when we first have RE24 and WPA available) and plotted them below, hoping to show the changing rarity of a cycle over time.

Graph_1_cycle_components

*Note: Numbers are per 100 plate appearances (Cpa).

This is a little messy, though it’s striking how far singles have dropped, with an accompanying rise in doubles and home runs over time. To try and clean it up, this second graph shows cycles by year, the total run environment by year, and the number of super cycles.

Graph_2_cycles


Well, that’s not really any cleaner, I suppose. Let’s just look at run environments against the value of a cycle, though, to see if they trend together.

Graph_3_runs_and_cycles


We don’t really see a trend here, which isn’t surprising – cycles are so rare that it would be unrealistic to expect them to reflect the run environment of entire seasons. Likewise, the fact that "Super Cycles" are no more valuable than regular cycles speaks to the rarity of cycles, not the actual value of having such a great game. There are simply too few cycles for them to accurately reflect their value in a statistically significant way.

Mike Trout, however, joined some elite company, regardless of era or WPA. Trout became just the 17th player to hit for the cycle and steal a base in the same game, the first player to ever have a negative win probability added while hitting for the cycle, and is the youngest American Leaguer ever to hit a single, double, triple and home run in the same game.

Trout is, was and will continue to be awesome. One "super cycle" doesn’t make him any better, just like one negative WPA game doesn’t make him any worse.

With that said, Trout isn’t in the top-30 for WPA and is "just" sixth in RE24 right now. Maybe give us a few more cycles to enjoy, and get yourself back on that MVP track (instead of, you know, being just a really, really, really damn good player)?

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