One of the first things we learn about baseball is that outs are bad. Why? Well, it limits your team’s chances of scoring more runs. By this logic, then, making two outs at once is substantially worse. Three outs? You’re a one-man wrecking crew. Triple plays are pretty rare (unless you’re Brooks Robinson) , whereas a double play is a relatively frequent occurrence. Nothing knocks the wind out of a rally better than erasing a runner from the basepaths and making an out at the same time. Some run estimators account for grounding into a double play while others don’t. Pete Palmer, for instance, excluded GIDP in his original Linear Weights equation from The Hidden Game of Baseball—stating that,
“(…) The grounded into double play is to a far greater extent a function of one’s place in the batting order than it is of poor speed or failure in the clutch, and thus it does not find a formula applicable to all batters.” (66)
Now, let’s think about this for a second. There’s some merit to this argument. A hitter in the leadoff slot is going to hit in less double play opportunities than, say, a hitter in the third slot in the order. This is true. But how the player performs in the situation is another thing entirely. Not all players perform the same when presented with a double play situation. For example, here are the players faced with the most double play opportunities in 2009:
Name Team Opps GIDP GIDP% Ryan Zimmerman WAS 182 22 12.1% Mark Teixeira NYA 176 13 7.4% Aaron Hill TOR 174 17 9.8% Ryan Braun MIL 172 6 3.5% Albert Pujols STL 170 23 13.5% Johnny Damon NYA 160 9 5.6% Adrian Gonzalez SDP 154 23 14.9% Troy Tulowitzki COL 153 20 13.1% Brandon Inge DET 150 12 8.0% Ryan Howard PHI 149 11 7.4%
The discrepancy between the best (Ryan Braun, 3.5%) and the worst (Adrian Gonzalez, 14.9%) is an astonishing 11.4%. Mark Teixeira received only half a dozen less opportunities than Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, but he was quite better at avoiding the double play. This lends credence to the notion that some hitters do avoid the double play more than others, rather than it being a function of one’s slot in the lineup. We can change this into a plus/minus figure and convert it into runs pretty easily. Just look at a hitter’s GIDP opportunities and compare it to the league average. Subtract the player’s total GIDP from the expected double plays, and multiply by the run value*. It can be written as (Expected GIDP – GIDP) x run value.
And that’s all there is to it. If you’re familiar with Mitchel Lichtman’s Super Linear Weights or Sean Smith’s Wins Above Replacement, this should look pretty familiar to you. This tells you how many GIDP the player hit into above or below the league average, and we can identify which players were the escape artists or the escape hatch in the lineup with a runner on first.
Leaders in 2009:
Name Team GIDP% Runs Ryan Braun MIL 3.5% +4.1 C. Granderson DET 0.9% +3.4 Chase Utley PHI 3.7% +3.4 Ichiro Suzuki SEA 1.1% +3.1 Johnny Damon NYY 5.6% +3.0 Stephen Drew ARI 3.6% +2.7 Carl Crawford TBR 5.1% +2.7 Michael Bourn HOU 1.3% +2.6 Luke Scott BAL 3.8% +2.5 Grady Sizemore CLE 3.8% +2.4
A group filled of players with respectable (if not blazing) speed, which is what I expected. I’m not so sure about Luke Scott, though. I don’t ever recall hearing about him having good speed, but I could very well be wrong. With the exception of Braun, all of the players in the top ten are left-handed.
Name Team GIDP% Runs Edgar Renteria SFG 22.1% -2.8 Geovany Soto CHC 21.8% -3.1 Yunel Escobar ATL 20.8% -3.3 Jose Lopez SEA 18.9% -3.5 K. Kouzmanoff SDP 21.0% -3.9 Evan Longoria TBR 19.9% -4.0 Mike Lowell BOS 23.1% -4.1 Hunter Pence HOU 23.4% -4.3 Miguel Tejada HOU 23.2% -5.0 Yadier Molina STL 27.0% -5.2
No list that has any relationship to foot speed would be complete without a Molina brother near or at the bottom of it. In comparison, Curtis Granderson had 106 GIDP opportunities, six more than Molina. He hit into one double play—26 less than Yadier. An average hitter would be expected to hit into eleven, still less than half of his rate. That’s not good.
Unlike our leaders, our trailers are all right-handed hitters. In fact, if you look at the top 30 hitters in GIDP opportunities, 77% are lefties or switch-hitters. Conversely, 90% of the worst hitters in double play situations were right-handed hitters. Granted, this isn’t a rigorous analysis—but it seems as though lefties tend to avoid double plays better. This would validate common sense: we would expect a left-handed hitter to be more difficult to double up due to the fact that he’s closer to first base as he comes out of the batter’s box. And if you’re fast, you’re even better off.
And, of course, a look at the Major League teams in 2009:
Team GIDP% Runs PHI 8.0% +9.8 ARI 8.1% +9.5 FLA 8.6% +8.5 TBR 9.1% +5.7 TEX 9.3% +4.8 CIN 9.3% +4.7 COL 9.6% +3.9 MIL 10.2% +2.0 DET 10.4% +1.2 WAS 10.4% +1.0 TOR 10.6% +0.1 OAK 10.7% +0.1 ANA 10.7% +0.0 CHC 10.7% -0.1 SFG 10.7% -0.2 BOS 10.7% -0.2 SEA 10.9% -0.9 BAL 11.0% -1.2 STL 11.0% -1.3 LAD 11.0% -1.3 NYA 11.1% -1.8 CLE 11.1% -1.8 PIT 11.3% -2.3 MIN 11.5% -3.6 SDP 11.8% -4.1 ATL 11.7% -4.2 CHW 11.8% -4.3 KCR 12.0% -4.7 NYM 12.3% -6.3 HOU 14.4% -12.9
The difference between the best team (PHI) and the worst (HOU) in 2009 was 23 runs, or a little over two wins. That’s not nearly as large as the gap in baserunning (about three and a half wins), but it’s certainly noticeable.
Glancing through Smith’s historical WAR, the best single season performances from 1955-2009 are at +6 runs with hitters Mike Caruso, Nellie Fox, Cristian Guzman, Vada Pinson, Harold Reynolds, and Ichiro Suzuki (two times). Jim Rice is at the very bottom with -7, followed by Paul Konerko, Rocky Colavito, and George Bell at -6. Unsurprisingly, the best seasons consist of left-handers and the worst with right-handers. All in all, we’re looking at a swing of + 5 runs for individual hitters, or about a full win at the extremes. Hitting into or avoiding the double play isn’t as important towards player value as, say, baserunning—but it’s certainly something that we should keep in mind.
Data for all players can be found here.
*The run expectancy with a man on first and no outs is .883, and with the bases empty and two outs .106 (hitting into the double play). If the batter instead made a batting out and avoided the double play altogether, you’d be left with a man on first and one out, or an RE of .533. The double play in this situation costs the difference between the two, or .533-.106 = .427 runs. Do the same thing for a man on first with one out, and you get an added value of .223 runs. Average them, and you have +.325 runs: the run value of a batting out over grounding into the double play.