The Toronto Trio

Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are on an historic pace ... well, kind of

AP Photo

You can play around with baseball numbers in such a way as to make any point you want. I use my “Duane Kuiper for the Hall of Fame” argument to prove this point. Duane Kuiper was my hero when I was growing up in Cleveland. He is best known now for being a fantastic broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants and for hitting one home run in his career. He also would dive for just about every ground ball hit in the greater metropolitan area. Man, I loved Kuip.

And so I have made the argument that Kuiper belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame because he:

— Has a higher career batting average than Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt or Pee Wee Reese.

— Has more career stolen bases than Ernie Banks or Cal Ripken.

— Hit more triples than Frank Thomas, Johnny Bench, Orlando Cepeda or Harmon Killebrew.

— Had a better career on-base percentage than Andre Dawson, Brooks Robinson or fellow second baseman Bill Mazeroski.

— Had the same fielding percentage as Mazeroski (supposedly the greatest fielding second baseman ever!) and a better fielding percentage than Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins and Frankie Frisch!

With that sort of resume, it’s very hard to see how my pal Duane has been kept out of the Hall of Fame. We can only hope that wrong will be righted at some point very soon.

So, yeah, you can do all sorts of voodoo with numbers. Today’s point is to show just how amazing the Blue Jays trio of Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarancion and Jose Bautista has been. They have been amazing. The Blue Jays are scoring by far the most runs in baseball, and that trio is putting up historic numbers.

To prove this, of course, you can just show the numbers for each of the three. The numbers (entering Thursday) are really good and tell their own story:

Josh Donaldson: .301/.371/.574, 40 doubles, 39 homers, 117 runs, 120 RBIs.

Edwin Encarnacion: .277/.371/.550, 31 doubles, 35 homers, 86 runs, 105 RBIs.

Jose Bautista: .250/.373/.527, 36 homers, 102 walks, 103 runs, 105 RBIs.

Stunning, no? But the trio – let’s just call them DEB (Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bautista) — deserves more than that. DEB deserves a statistic it can call its own. I mean, how often does it happen where three players on the same team hit 35 home runs, right? It’s crazy; seriously, how often does that even happen? How often?

Well, actually … yeah, how often does that happen?

First attempt: DEB is just the 14th trio on the same team to each hit 35 homers. The last group to do that was the 2006 Chicago White Sox trio of Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome.

Well, that’s a pretty good starting point. Here’s something: The Yankees have never have three 35-home run hitters on the same team, which is interesting considering that no team has the history of power the Yankees have.

Then again: Maybe it’s not that interesting. In 1961, for example — the year Roger Maris hit 61 homers and Mickey Mantle hit 54 — New York’s Moose Skowron hit 28 and a couple of of other guys hit 20-plus. That team hit 240 home runs, more than the Blue Jays are likely to hit this year. So, yeah, that team had plenty of power as did plenty of other Yankee teams.

But this gets to the statistical voodoo we were talking about. So much of this is where you set the line. As anybody who has ever tried to get Duane Kuiper in the Hall of Fame will tell you, line-setting is very important. For DEB, I set the line at 35 homers. That (conveniently) happens to be EXACTLY how many Encarnacion has, and Bautista has 36. So the number 35 works perfectly for them.

It doesn’t work nearly as well for a team like the 2009 Phillies, They had had FOUR players (Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley) hit 30-plus homers. But only two managed 35-plus (Ibanez hit 34, Utley 31). So they’re not on this list. But they could lead a whole other list if they were the point of today’s column.

Anyway, line-setting or not, DEB is one of 14 trios to each hit 35 homers. You’ve got a couple of mid-1990s Rockies teams in there, a couple of Braves teams, an old Redlegs team with Frank Robinson, Ted Kluszewski and Wally Post on the list. You even have the 1998 Blue Jays on there with Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green. So that’s pretty good.

But we’re not looking for pretty good. We’re looking for something that will mark DEB as unique. So we look a little closer – all three of DEB have 100 RBIs. What if we add 100 RBIs to the formula?

Second attempt: DEB is just the 12th trio in baseball history to each have 35 homers and 100 RBIs. The last group to do that was the 2006 Chicago White Sox trio of Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome.

Ugh. We only eliminated two teams by adding the RBI filter. I guess that makes sense – when someone hits 35 homers he tends to drive in 100 RBIs. In fact, of the 640 players in baseball history who have hit 35 homers in a season, 556 of them (or 87 percent) have driven in 100 runs. So, forget the RBI filter.

What next? Well, look, all three of them have on-base percentages that are .370 or better. That’s a good OBP – I’ll best most hitters who hit 35 homers do not have that high an on-base percentage. Let’s try that one.

Third attempt: DEB is just the third trio in baseball history to each hit 35 homers and have on-base percentages of .370 or better. The last was the 2006 Chicago White Sox trio of Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome.

OK, now we are getting somewhere. We’re all the way down to three – the Blue Jays, that stubborn White Sox team trio that keeps reappearing and the 1973 Atlanta Braves with Henry Aaron, Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson. This is pretty good, but I’m pretty sure we can do better.

We can eliminate the Braves with the RBI filter – neither Aaron (99) nor Johnson (99) finished up with 100 RBIs. Perfect place to draw the line.

But that doesn’t help us with the White Sox. All three of them had 100 RBIs. They’re tricky. We can use speed stats to eliminate them – they were REALLY slow. Konerko had one stolen base, Thome zero and neither hit a triple – but using speed numbers is a particularly sneaky way of manipulating numbers as I showed above with Duane Kuiper’s stolen base and triple numbers. I mean, John Lowenstein has more stolen bases than Babe Ruth.

So with the White Sox we’re going to have to use OPS+. That’s measures a hitters’ OPS against the league average (100 is league average) and adjusts by ballpark The 2006 White Sox played in a very good hitters park, while this year’s Blue Jays are playing in a more neutral park. That means the Blue Jays hitters will have slightly higher OPS+ than the White Sox hitters with more or less the same numbers.

So here we go, we have our final statistic:

Final attempt: DEB is the first trio in baseball history to each hit 35 homers with 100 RBIs and each have at least a .370 on-base percentages and 140 OPS+.

Isn’t that amazing? Well, isn’t it?

Of course, we could just say that Donaldson, Encarnacion and Bautista are having fantastic seasons for the best offense in baseball. But what fun would that be?