Amazing triple play! What are the mathematical odds?


Philadelphia Phillies' second-baseman Eric Brunlett made an amazing and unassisted game-ending triple play against the New York Mets. The extremely rare play came in the ninth inning with the Mets trailing by two runs but threatening with runners on first and second base and no outs. Both base runners were stealing on a 2-2 pitch when the Mets batter hit a line drive right to Brunlett, who caught the ball for the first out, stepped on second base for the second out, then tagged out the runner from first. It's only the 15th unassisted triple play in major league history, and only the second to end a game. The poor Mets. The odds of this happening must be astronomical, but I'll let someone else figure that out.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Thor's picture
Thor says:

Just following the time code on the video...the three outs are made in the span of about three seconds from the time the batter swings until the final tag is made. That's amazing!!!

posted on Mon, 08/24/2009 - 8:28am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I don't think Eric was even aware of what he had done until the umpire explained it to him.

posted on Mon, 08/24/2009 - 10:07am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The odds aren't that hard to figure out. Since the American League was formed and baseball's modern era began, there have been around 160,000 games. (Give or take--strikes wiped out parts of several seasons.) That gives us one unassisted triple play every 11,000 games or so.

What I find interesting is the distribution. There was one in 1909. Then none until the 1920s, when there were six. There were two on two consecutive days -- May 30 and 31, 1927! Then, over the next 65 years, only 1, in 1968. Then, since 1992, we've had 7.

I don't know how to explain that. Perhaps there is no explanation--it's just random. The 1920s were the decade when baseball was transitioning out of "small ball" -- low-scoring games with lots of singles, bunts and stolen bases -- to long ball -- higher-scoring games with more home runs. Triple plays happen when a batter hits a sharp line drive on a hit-and-run play, and I can see that happening a lot in the '20s. But why it's happening more now, I couldn't say.

posted on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:56pm
DO's picture
DO says:

Yes, this could be a random event given that there could be assumed to be an equal chance in every game. However, the better denominator to calculate the odds would be the number times there are 2 on with noone out thus making a triple play possible. Even with all the stats baseball collects doubt that that would be available. Why do we see more now than in previous decades? Twice as many teams each playing more games per year. On the other hand, what about the 30's, the 40's etc? Hav'nt got an answer or conjecture for that one!

posted on Fri, 09/18/2009 - 3:33pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

You're right -- I hadn't thought of expansion increasing the number of games. Good catch!

I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere, it was possible to determine the number of game situations where a triple play is at least possible. And I wouldn't be surprised if it held pretty steady over the years. For a rough approximation, we can look at things like batting average and on-base percentage. These took a dip during the 1060s (the "pitchers' decade"). But, they were very high in the '30s and '40s, with no triple plays. It is a puzzlement.

posted on Sun, 09/20/2009 - 5:02pm
violet's picture
violet says:

it kind of interesting.

posted on Tue, 01/31/2012 - 1:24pm

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