I suspect that until about a week ago only Royals fans, and maybe Brazilian baseball fans had heard of Paulo Orlando. He is a 29-year-old rookie, which is usually a pretty good indication that he was not on any top prospect lists. The Royals were not worried about service time when they decided to break camp with Orlando on their 25-man roster. Well, his relative obscurity changed over the last month when he started roaring around major league base paths. It has been argued that the triple is the most exciting play in baseball, if that is true then it seems reasonable to suggest that Orlando has been the most exciting player in the game over the last month. 15.2 percent of Orlando's 33 plate appearances (3.9 percent of pitches seen) have ended in a triple. Orlando has as many or more triples than all but five teams (obviously excluding the Royals). Only the Giants exceed Orlando's tripling prowess, and the Tigers, Padres, Athletics and Rockies can merely match it.
Orlando's five trips from home to third in his first 8 games played have earned him the (arbitrary endpoint) record of most triples in the first 10 games of a career. And, as noted Orlando only has 8 games played so far, so he still has two games to further separate himself from the pack. Part of Orlando's excitement is that he has not stopped at second base on his hits. While he has 164 minor league doubles (in 4,093 PA), in the major leagues he has yet to tally a double. He also does not go past third base on his hits, as he has yet to hit a home run. Right now Orlando's .345 isolated power (ISO) - which is higher than his batting average (.267) - is driven by his speed.
So how is he getting these triples? Often, a triple is a result of cavernous outfield (think Fenway's triangle in centerfield), a ball being misplayed by an outfielder and a batter with speed. Basically it is partly the batter, and partly the ballpark/defense. Orlando has speed, but how have the other parts influenced his outcomes? Park factors can help reveal if he has been tripling in typically triple-fortunate parks. Three of Orlando's five triples have come at home in Kauffman Stadium, which because of its expansive outfield is triple-friendly relative to other parks (36 percent higher than average in 2014). But Orlando's two other triples came in Anaheim, which is relatively triple-unfriendly (24 percent lower than average in 2014). So the park has likely helped on three of his triples, but not on the other two. The hit chart for his triples shows that 4/5 of the them were hit to center or the right-center gap, where getting the throw to third would be the most difficult:
I should note that the two triples in unfriendly Anaheim (the one down the left-field line, and one to center [third from left on the hit chart]) were slightly misplayed by Angels' outfielders Matt Joyce and Mike Trout (gasp!). So the defense made up for the lack of the park's help. The hits were not egregiously misplayed, as you can see in the videos below the ball bounces off the wall away from the fielder enough that the speedy Orlando could avoid having to rest on his enemy, the second base bag.
Joyce gets a little too close:
Trout nearly makes a leaping play:
So there is evidence of some good fortune for Orlando on his triples via home ballparks and awkward defense. What about the pitches? Commonly, opposing pitchers will throw rookies fastballs until they show they can hit the fastball. Locating a fastball is easier for the pitchers. With this in mind, perhaps Orlando bashed meaty, mislocated fastballs into the gaps for triples, and opposing pitchers just need to avoid doing so to slow him down. Turns out that is not really the case. Orlando has not been at all biased in the pitches he is willing to hit for a triple. His five triples have come on an 89.7 mph fourseam fastball, 87.7 mph fourseam fastball, 89.6 mph sinker, 81.7 mph changeup, and a 75.2 mph curveball. Hard, offspeed and breaking pitches have each been knocked to the fence while Orlando makes his way to third base safely. The one constant among the pitches Orlando has turned into triples is that all five were located in the strike zone:
Up, down, inner-half or outer-half, it has not mattered. Orlando can knock it for a triple. In fact, thus far he has shown a knack for making contact when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone (96.9 Z-Contact%); league average is currently 87.3 percent (87.5 percent in 2014). He has also been above average on connecting with pitches outside the strike zone; he has a 75 O-Contact% (league average is 63.4 percent). Now, he has only seen 129 pitches (47 inside the zone, 82 outside), so I will avoid making grand statements about what his numbers to date mean for his contact talent, but making a lot of contact can certainly be beneficial for a player with the speed Orlando possesses.
Situations like the one that Paulo Orlando presents are part of the reason that baseball is so great. A 29-year-old from Brazil finally gets to the major leagues and does something that we have never seen before, and the thing he is doing, hitting triples, is extremely exciting. Whether Orlando can keep up his torrid triples pace remains to be seen. Clearly, he will not continue to have 15 percent of his plate appearances end in a triple, but if his rate drops to a reasonable level (say 2-5 percent) he will still be very interesting to watch. His issue will be playing time. Given his status on the Royals roster, he will need teammates to stay on the disabled list in order to accumulate enough plate appearances where he could challenge the single season triple record (36 by Chief Wilson in 1912) or the rookie single season triple record (25 by Tom Long in 1915). Even if he does not challenge these numbers there are more interesting possibilities that could emerge. Maybe he will never hit a double. Unlikely, sure, but since 1901 only 199 players have hit 5 or more triples and had fewer doubles than triples in a season. Fifty-six of those players were rookies. For now, Orlando is on the list, if he stays on it then that will be an interesting factoid to attach to his rookie season. Regardless, Paulo Orlando has been a fun part of the still young 2015 season.
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