Double Play Depth

The pitcher’s best friend is a twin killer. It sounds like the opening statement of a court case, but it also opens any discussion about the double play. It can be a life-saver for a pitcher in trouble and a thing of beauty to watch, but for some reason, it goes relatively unwatched as a statistic. Even the OPS+ enthusiasts, VORP prognosticators, and UZR/150 hawks let the GIDP maintain an under-the-radar existence.

Say it aint so, Mo...

So, I’m assuming that you can give me most or all of the top 20 home run leaders, but probably just one or two of the double play leaders. Now, imagine with me what type of batters should populate this list. Mo Vaughn, Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez- bigger, slower guys from the muscle-90’s who made their share of contact. Well, the top 20 has some surprising qualities:

  • 4 shortstops and 1 third baseman
  • 9 players with 100+ stolen bases (including 5 with 200+)
  • 8 players with fewer than 300 home runs
  • 7 members of the 3000 hit club
  • 8 players with a career average of .290 or better
  • 11 who debuted in either the 50s or the 60s

Cal presumably celebrating being the Double Play King.

We have a pretty eclectic group of guys, from the stereotype-confirming Tony Perez (18th) to the speedy Dave Concepcion (19th). There are plenty of icons on the list: Cal Ripken (1st), Hank Aaron (3rd), Carl Yastrzemski (4th), Brooks Robinson (11th), and Roberto Clemente (15th).

As for the statistical merit of the GIDP, there is a little debate. On one hand, it’s important enough to warrant consideration when calculating WAR (never more than half of a win plus or minus, but it’s there). Sabermetricians know the value of outs, so taking up 2 with one swing is a nightmare. On the other hand, it is heavily dependent on forces outside of the batter’s control. All a hitter can control is his ground ball percentage, and the rest is determined by his teammates being on base, the bounces dictating if it’s a hit or right at a fielder, and the deftness of the opposing infielders. Avoiding double plays is not necessarily a “skill.”

That notwithstanding, what if we started counting the actual impact of a double play for hitters? As in, if two outs are recorded for a pitcher, we drop his ERA accounting for both outs. What if we started counting a hitter’s batting average as hits divided by (at-bats PLUS GIDP)? So, an 0-for-1 with a double play would increase the denominator by 2, not just 1. After all, he did account for 2 of his team’s outs.

This change would have a significant impact on the career averages of many people on this list. Here’s how three of their averages would drop:

  • Hank Aaron (.305 down to .297)
  • Pudge Rodriguez (.298 down to .287)
  • Roberto Clemente (.317 down to .3o8)

Hammerin’ Hank would lose his coveted .300 average (he would be looking up at John Kruk), and the other two would drop 11 and 9 points, respectively. I had no idea that the impact was so substantial- maybe it’s time to hold somebody accountable for all of these twin killings!


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