Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oh Those Double Plays

They don't show up any differently from a routine out in batting average and OPS. You can't find them in strikeout/walk ratios, and any look at a box score will not show any demerits for grounding into a double play unless you think to look in the section below the batters' statistics. Yet, double plays are inning killers. Those that watched the eighth inning of last night's game saw Magglio Ordonez bounce into a double play, transforming the inning from a first/second with nobody out situation to a runner on third with two outs. According to the win expectation charts, the Tigers' chances of winning dropped from 32.1% to 11.4%.

The Tigers' batters seem to be grounding into a lot of double plays, but I wanted to quantify this observation and see if it was really a problem. Baseball Prospectus calculates several statistics for double plays. Double Play Percentage, calculated by dividing the amount of double plays by the amount of double play opportunities, is one of the statistics. The denominator is the key here: double play opportunities. A double play opportunity is a situation where a runner is on first base and there are less than two outs. While totaling up double plays and dividing by at bats would be nice, a player who always bats with two outs isn't going to be hitting into a lot of double plays.

I checked all players with at least 50 plate appearances, and the highest Tiger was Magglio Ordonez at 24.1%, good for 34th in the Majors. While no players are standing out, the Tigers' team double play rate of 15.7% is second to the Blue Jays in the Major Leagues. Here's a list of all of the Tigers with at least 50 PA:

Ordonez 24.1%
Jones 23.1%
Sheffield 22.6%
Rodriguez 19.2%
Cabrera 18.8%
Guillen 18.2%
Renteria 16.2%
Polanco 9.5%
Inge 5.6%
Thames 0%
Granderson 0%
Thomas 0%

It's a bit troubling when one of your big RBI guys is topping this list, but Ordonez hit into double plays at a more acceptable rate of 14.7% last season. If there was any doubt about Sheffield's problems making solid contact, his double play rate has risen from 7.8% last season to 22.6% this season. Curtis Granderson is probably the team's best at avoiding double plays. He posted a 6.1% last season, and has a big goose egg so far. Ordonez and Sheffield will have to improve their double play rates if this offense is going to start clicking.

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