According to my Baseball Reference pull, a player has hit three home runs in a single game 468 times in the history of baseball. That is solid amount, more than the 300 total no-hitters, but still a rare occurrence considering only a percent or two of all players ever have been able to do it. There are also enough events (way more than hitting 4 home runs in a game, for example) to dig into the numbers a bit and give Derek Dietrich some more appreciation during this wildly awesome and annoying week.
I will start with a simple question, is Derek Dietrich a surprise player to notch a three-dinger game? The answer is probably no. And definitely not as surprising as Scooter Gennett hitting four home runs in a game.
The tables below show the career averages for each grouping of players based on how many times they have hit three homers in a game, with Dietrich’s current numbers for reference. Keep in mind that Dietrich still has some years left, so his counting stats will improve while his rate stats may decline.
I cut out all players will less than 200 plate appearances (which was something like 11,000 players!) so the grouping of players with no 3-HR games is a bit more manageable. Derek clearly outpaces the non 3-HR game group, besting them in all categories. Only a serious aging decline on the rate stats and WAR would make those close.
Moving to the group with one 3-HR game we can clearly see that Dietrich fits nicely among the group of 187 players that have accomplished the feat one time. If he plays a few more years, his games played will be right around average, and presumably his total home runs as well. His career slugging and wRC+ are right in line with this group as well. He was almost the perfect candidate to join the club! WAR is a little low and probably will not hit 24, which is a high average.
Staying in this group for a bit longer, I would be remiss if I did not call out Jose Ortiz, a former 2B from the early 2000’s that played in 136 career games and hit 14 career home runs. Yet he was somehow able to pull of a 3-HR game. Hammering Hank hit 755 in his storied career, but never once accomplished what Jose Ortiz did. And that is a perfect explanation of the randomness of baseball.
The jump from one game to two games cuts a lot of fat as the numbers get quite a bit better. Only 69 players with really nice careers were able to repeat their 3-HR performance. Dietrich certainly lags behind on the average, but there are still some outliers on the lower end that Derek can claim dominance over. Two of my favorites are Dusty Rhodes and Darnell Coles. Rhodes only played in 576 games and hit 54 total home runs, but somehow managed two separate 3-HR games. Coles played in nearly 1000 games and is the only member of the 2-time 3-HR game club to accumulate negative WAR (-0.6) for his career. In terms of overall offensive production (wRC+), Dietrich (113) outperforms three former Reds players on this list; Aaron Boone (93), Brett Boone (101) and Gus Bell (101).
Three 3-HR games is where Dietrich can no longer hold his own. Here are some of the closest comparisons:
- The lowest career home run count for players accomplishing this three times is 232 by Andrew McCutcheon (although Mookie Betts has accomplished this four times with only 119 career dingers). I am not sure Dietrich will be passing those two any time soon.
- The lowest WAR totals are 19 by Cecil Fielder (3 times), 16.9 for Larry Parrish (4 times) and 17.1 for Joe Carter (5 times).
- Dietrich has a slightly better wRC+ than Alfonso Soriano (3 times, 111 wRC+), but that is in about a third less games than the former Yankee and Cub. Joe Carter (5 times, 102 wRC+), Steve Finley (4 times, 104 wRC+) and Larry Parrish (4 times, 105 wRC+) are the only other players Dietrich can claim an advantage over.
- Former and current Reds are represented very well in this group. Johnny Bench, Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto are all card-carrying members with three 3-HR games.
- Only two players in history have 6 (!) 3-HR games; Sammy Sosa and Johnny Mize. They combined for 968 home runs and 128.7 WAR. Some names on this list seem a bit random, but certainly not these two.
Derek Dietrich may not have been the most likely to join the 3-HR game club this season. But now that he is here, he seems to fit in pretty well, especially considering he is hitting dingers at an all-time rate
I wouldn’t count on him doing it again, but the Reds do play the Pirates nine more times this year. So I wouldn’t bet against him either.