In terms of baseball feats, recording a cycle may be last in the pecking order in terms of coolness, rarity, and utter value. They are not as unique, don’t hold the same gravitas of a no-hitter, and also require a big dose of luck. However, what we saw on Friday, August 14th added a new layer in the modern history of cycles. Playing in the friendly air of Coors Field, Matt Kemp started his day innocently enough with a homer, followed by a single and then a double, only to enter his at-bat in the ninth with a shot at making history. The baseball gods smiled upon him as Kemp pushed a deep drive to center, which bounced off the wall and allowed him to earn a clean triple, and thus a cycle.
Kemp’s cycle was the 306th in major league history, and the 64th since the year 2000. And yet, it has become the first one in San Diego Padres history, after 7,443 games played in the history of the franchise. While the cycle in itself may not erase Kemp’s lousy season and the disappointment experienced by the Padres in 2015, it was undoubtedly a cool feat for a franchise that was in desperate need of good news. It also capped a week in which we saw a unique day in which all home teams won, a no-hitter by Hisashi Iwakuma, and then Kemp’s good day at the office.
With Kemp’s cycle in mind, today we take a look at the last 20 cycles accomplished in MLB, and rank them according to their importance and the value they represented to their team. While it is clear that all of these players had at least 10 total bases and were mostly part of winning teams, some were a bit more clutch than others.
#20: Mike Trout – Angels – May 21, 2013 – Win 12-0 – 4/5, 2R, 5RBI – WPA= -.012
The negative WPA is not a misprint, it is just a product of Trout having most of his offensive contributions after the game was already out of hand for the Angels, who already led 5-0 by the time Trout had his first RBI. The star of this game, at least by WPA, was starter Jerome Williams, who shut down the Mariners for 8 innings. However, with Trout’s skill set, it is almost a lock that he will challenge the major league record of 3 career cycles at some point in the next decade.
#19: Brock Holt – Red Sox – June 16, 2015 – Win 9-4 – 4/5, 2R, 2RBI – WPA= .062
In his brief career as a super utility player, Brock Holt has more triples than homeruns. Still, they both found a way to coalesce in a day in which Holt hit from the leadoff spot and still was able to complete the cycle. Despite his accomplishment, he was considered as only the fourth-most valuable Red Sox hitter on this day, as he earned his most devastating hits by the time the game was already in Boston’s pocket.
#18: Felix Pie – Orioles – August 14, 2009 – Win 16-6 – 4/5, 3R, 3RBI – WPA= .123
Once a huge prospect for the Cubs, Felix Pie has not been part of an MLB squad since 2013. He owns a career -1.8 WAR, and could never translate his tools to become a serviceable major leaguer. However, 2009 was his best season in the bigs, highlighted by this day against the Angels and Jered Weaver. But even on this day, his contributions were outlasted by other teammates who added more value to the Orioles, especially since Pie batted 8th in the lineup.
#17: BJ Upton – Rays – October 2, 2009 – Win 13-4 – 5/5, 3R, 6RBI – WPA= .214
It may be hard to remember now, but BJ Upton was once one of the best young players in the American League. Hitting from the 7th spot, he enjoyed a career day versus CC Sabathia and the Yankees, finishing with 11 total bases and earning the only WPA above .100 in the game. The Yankees got the last laugh, though, by plowing ahead and winning the World Series.
#16: Jody Gerut – Brewers- May 8, 2010 – Win 17-3 – 4/6, 3R, 4RBI - WPA= .226
Did you know that Jody Gerut hit the first homerun in Citi Field history? Well, a year later he added another feat to his otherwise indistinct career, hitting for a cycle in Chase Field. In the blowout win by the Brewers, Gerut completed the cycle in the top of the ninth with a double in a game that was already 14-3 at that point. At least he was the most valuable batter for Milwaukee on that day.
#15: Alex Rios – Rangers – September 23, 2013 – Win 12-0 – 4/4, 3R, 4RBI – WPA= .117
Rios has had an oscillating career ranging from high-quality hitter to replacement level without any rhyme or reason, so it makes sense in a way that he’s hit for a cycle. Taking advantage of Houston’s weak pitching staff, he completed an easy cycle and was Texas’ most productive hitter for the day. However, the day was highlighted by Derek Holland’s complete game shutout that included 9 strikeouts.
#14: Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks – June 18, 2012 – Win 7-1 – 4/4, 3R, 1RBI – WPA= .116
In the second-best year of his career, Hill managed to produce 5 WAR and earn a few MVP votes, while also hitting for two cycles in a span of 11 days. The first one was not that impressive, as the Dbacks coasted to an easy Interleague win over the Mariners, with Hill falling second in WPA to Justin Upton among Arizona batters. He finished the season with a nice 133 OPS+.
#13: Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks – June 29, 2012 – Win 9-3 – 4/5, 2R, 3RBI – WPA= .180
With his second cycle in 11 days, Aaron Hill established a new National League record with the shortest time between two cycles. The second one was a bit more impressive, albeit in another easy win by Arizona. Hill was the most valuable hitter for the Diamondbacks, and added a rare stolen base to boot. So while none of his cycles stands out by itself, the rarity of his combination does.
#12: Brandon Barnes – Astros – July 19, 2013 – Loss 10-7 – 5/5, 3R, 2RBI – WPA= .288
In the first game after the All-Star break, little-heralded Brandon Barnes completed the best game of his career playing for a terrible Houston team, which naturally lost. Barnes was the only Astro hitter with significant offensive contributions during this game, but it was not enough to overcome Bud Norris’ terrible pitching line. Barnes is still active with the Rockies, but has only gotten 214 plate appearances in 2015.
#11: George Kottaras – Brewers – September 3, 2011 – Win 8-2 – 4/5, 2R, 2RBI – WPA= .173
As a career journeyman backup catcher, Kottaras never got a real chance to hit regularly in the big leagues. However, he timed one of his only three career triples perfectly to coincide with his best day at the plate and complete a full cycle. His low WPA on the game comes from a balanced Milwaukee attack, as two other batters also had a couple of RBI, including current Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
#10: Scott Hairston – Mets – April 27, 2012 – Loss 18-9 – 4/5, 3R, 4RBI – WPA= .314
On a wild, typical Coors game, the Mets led 6-2 entering the bottom of the 5th, only to promptly allow the Rockies to score 11 runs in the frame via a complete meltdown by reliever Manny Acosta. The Mets recorded 17 total hits on the day, but the only three extra-base knocks were delivered by Hairston. They also combined for six errors, and yet 16 of the 18 runs allowed were earned. Despite the loss, Hairston’s WPA was only 2 points behind Carlos Gonzalez for the best hitter in the game.
#9: Adrian Beltre – Rangers – August 24, 2012 – Win 8-0 – 4/4, 1R, 3RBI – WPA= .151
As one of the most important hitters of his generation, it comes as no surprise that Beltre holds three cycles to his name. The second one was accomplished against the Twins, completing it with a single in the 7th. Beltre was, by far, Texas’ key batter in this game, but the highest individual WPA came from starter Matt Harrison, who pitched 8 shutout innings of 2-hit ball.
#8: Kelly Johnson – Diamondbacks – July 23, 2010 – Loss 7-4 – 4/4, 2R, 3RBI – WPA= .600
It is hard to hit for a cycle in the middle of a losing effort, but Johnson did just that. Facing the eventual champion Giants, Johnson and the Dbacks were not able to overcome San Francisco’s bullpen in the final innings, while Arizona committed two costly errors. While Johnson was perfect at the plate, his teammates combined for 14 strikeouts and 1 RBI.
#7: Shin-Soo Choo – Rangers – July 21, 2015 – Win 9-0 – 4/5, 3R, 3RBI – WPA= .217
Again, here comes the theme of taking advantage of Coors Field and its very friendly conditions. But like it happened with Kemp, Choo’s cycle at least serves as a feel-good story for a player who has seen a steep decline in his batting abilities. In a day in which the Rangers combined for 8 extra-base hits, Choo was the day’s best hitter, but still not as impressive as Texas’ pitching staff, who earned a rare Colorado shutout.
#6: Pablo Sandoval – Giants – September 15, 2011 – Win 8-5 – 4/4, 1R, 2RBI – WPA= .235
Despite his burly physique, the Panda does have 20 triples over his career, so we can’t call this cycle completely unexpected. However, he gets penalized a bit for yet another Coors cycle. Sandoval got his four hits against starter Jhoulys Chacin, and added an intentional walk to have a day in which he didn’t make an out. He had the Giants’ highest WPA by a hitter, though the pitching also added a lot of value.
#5: Adrian Beltre – Rangers – August 3, 2015 – Win 12-9 – 4/5, 2R, 3RBI – WPA= .232
In what was his record-tying third cycle, Beltre was part of an entertaining Texas-sized slugfest between the Rangers and Astros, who combined for 22 runs and 28 hits. Beltre ended up as the game’s top hitter, proving to be the difference in a game the Rangers led 11-3 by the third inning. Despite Houston’s attempted comeback, Beltre and the Rangers were just too much.
#4: Michael Cuddyer – Rockies – August 17, 2014 (2nd game) – Win 10-5 – 4/5, 3R, 3RBI – WPA= .239
In the first game of the double-header, Cuddyer went 1-for-5, but on the nightcap, he completed his second career cycle. Despite his big frame, Cuddyer has averaged 5 triples per 162 games over his career, so it wasn’t a complete shock. Still, it was yet another Coors cycle. Cuddyer’s day was not the most valuable by a Rockie, as Corey Dickerson posted a .313 WPA after his 7th-inning homer gave Colorado the lead.
#3: Carlos Gonzalez – Rockies – July 31, 2010 – Win 6-5 – 4/4, 2R, 2RBI – WPA= .425
In an unusual game in which Carlos Zambrano pitched in relief for the Cubs, CarGo took advantage of his home park by hitting for his first career cycle. While it would seem unremarkable for a hitter of his caliber to do it, the way he accomplished it made it all the more special. Already with a single, double, and triple, Gonzalez stepped up in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 5, only to hit Sean Marshall’s first pitch out of the park and win the game.
# 2: Matt Kemp – Padres – August 14, 2015 – Win 9-5 – 4/5, 2R, 4RBI – WPA=.415
Aside from the significance of Kemp’s cycle for Padres history, it was also an essential part of them winning this particular game, as his WPA was the second-highest in a cycle for the purpose of this exercise. Also, the sheer enjoyment of San Diego’s announcers has to count for something. This leaves the Marlins as the only franchise that hasn’t seen a player hit for the cycle, and now the Padres only have to take care of their first no-hitter.
#1: Bengie Molina – Rangers – July 16, 2010 – Win 8-4 – 4/4, 1R, 4RBI – WPA= .463
The oldest of the Molina brothers finished his career with six triples over 5,159 plate appearances. Just by that fact alone, his may be the weirdest cycle of all time. And as much as it was special, it was also quite valuable, as all of his at-bats were essential for the Rangers to win a close game in Fenway Park. By WPA, he was responsible for almost half of Texas’ win.