Many of us are already well aware that one of the worst things a hitter can do is ground into a double play, or triple play for that matter but as cool as they are they are also incredibly rare. There are some players that are incredibly inept at avoiding the double play while others are actually pretty damn good at it. Generally, when evaluating whether a player is double-play prone or not, we look at just two metrics which are total number of double plays hit into and then double play percentage.
Sure, looking at those two metrics may tell us something about the players we’re looking at but it doesn’t actually tell us much in the way of how effective, or ineffective, they are in double play type situations (a runner on first with less than two outs). Take a look at what the top 10-ish players look like when we look at only total double plays hit into (only players with 500 or more plate appearances were considered for this piece).
We have 13 total players on this top 10 list because of a few ties at the bottom there but looking at this list you can see that Triple-Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera is the worst offender of them all, followed by Michael Young and a few other players that you may or may not have expected to be near the top.
What about if we view this issue from the perspective of percentage of double plays hit into? That seems like it would offer a more accurate representation of who does what with their plate appearances.
Well look at that, the order changes up somewhat and we introduce five new players to the top 10 and eight players (from the 13 originally) fall off completely. Those eight players on the top 10 total double plays hit into list that fell off were Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano, Carlos Santana, J.J. Hardy, Billy Butler, Ryan Zimmerman, Jhonny Peralta, and the one and only Delmon Young. The five newbies on our list, now that we’re using percentage of double plays hit into relative to the number of opportunities they actually had to hit into one, are David Freese, Ian Desmond, Dayan Viciedo, Mark Reynolds, and Brandon Phillips.
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure I’d want to change the order of my lineup just a touch if I knew which of my players were hitting into more double plays in those situations, not to mention pinch hitting situations where there’s a runner on first with less than two outs – can’t say I’d want Young or Jeter hitting in a situation where it’s bottom of the ninth, my team is down by a run, and a double play ends the game.
At this point you’re probably thinking “Wow Lance! You’re so smart, thank you for shedding light on using double play percentage as a tool that’s a better indicator of who the real double play artists in MLB are”. Okay, so maybe you weren’t thinking that because we all know that looking at a total number of anything can be fairly useless if not held in proper context, which is why using a percentage based metric is a touch better overall.
Dammit…I forgot my line.
But wait! There’s more!!
Yeah, there we go. Now you’re hearts are pumping faster and little sweat beads are forming over your brow due to the excitement and higher levels of interest I just piqued with that infomercial statement.
There’s actually a metric, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus (funny how those guys tend to get cited for various things), that is far more useful at determining which players are the worst when it comes to hitting in double play situations. That metric is called NETDP and this is what it is:
The number of additional double plays generated versus an average player with the same number of opportunities. Negative NET DP indicates that fewer double plays than average were produced.
Now using the NETDP metric to evaluate who the worst offenders are in double play situations (SIT_DP) we get a much clearer picture of who should be taken out of those situations in critical, late-game situations.
Two things stick out to me when looking at the data from this perspective; first, the players with the three highest double play percentages are also the top three in NETDP. Whether that’s due to the fact that they each had relatively the same number of double play situations they were hitting in or that they simply were tops in baseball as far as double plays hit are concerned I don’t know. That’s something that will require a bit more research on my part, separate from what we’re doing for this exercise.
The second thing that sticks out to me is that the number of SITDP each batter on this list encountered is not unusually high for any of them, with exception to Cabrera. He was actually fifth in all of baseball in total SITDP, but no other hitter on the above list for NETDP is in the top 10 for most SITDP. As a matter of fact, Prado is the next highest on the above chart but is actually 37th overall for total number of SITDP.
At first thought it would stand to reason that the players who encounter the most opportunities to hit into a double play would also lead the league, or be among the immediate league leaders, in total number of double plays hit and also the percentage of double plays overall. Looking at the top 10 list of players who encountered the largest number of those situations in 2012 reveals that not to be true at all, except for in the case of our Triple Crown winner – he seems to be the exception to our dataset for the sample I’m looking at.
Matt Holliday had the most opportunities to hit into a double play and he actually hit in 2.51 less overall than the average hitter in those situations. Robinson Cano was only a few behind him and ended up hitting in just 3.85 more double plays last season than the average hitter in those situations. The rest of the list is fairly bunched up between 141 and 148 but Jason Heyward really sticks out as he hit in 10.13 fewer double plays than what was really expected.
Even though the data that I’m looking at is only accounting for the 2012 season and it’s not a very large sample size to make any significant findings on, at least not for my purposes, it’s still interesting to note that encountering more situations in which the “opportunity” of the double play presents itself doesn’t necessarily mean that players will hit into more double plays.
What’s the secret? Is there a particular hit tool or trait among those players that are simply able to avoid hitting into the double play? How much of it has to do with the spot in the lineup in which they hit? How much of it has to do with whether they are guys with above average or below average power, fly ball or ground ball hitters, etc.?
These are all questions that I need answers to and thus my quest for those answers begins. While I gather more research material and expand my data set you can check out this piece that John Walsh wrote about the matter back in 2009 for the Hardball Times.