Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Turning two: Twins killings

This is not a BIG thing. It's one of those little things.

Baseball announcers love to prattle about how important the little things are, and most of the time they are, to be blunt, wrong. "Productive outs" are just outs. You make a lot of productive outs, you make a lot of outs. The teams that make the most productive outs don't score the most runs, and they don't have particuarly good records in one-run games. A team gets 27 outs a game, and they are too valuable to squander.

But double plays aren't just outs. They're TWO outs. And some managers -- Casey Stengel and Gene Mauch, to name two fairly famous ones -- were very good at making the double play a big advantage.

Eduardo Escobar turns a double play earlier this month
against the Houston Astros.
On Monday morning I was poking around the Baseball Reference page for American League team stats, and I noticed that the Twins haven't grounded into a lot of double plays -- just 47 on the season. Only Seattle (among AL teams) has hit into fewer (42).

Defensively, the Twins have turned 64 double plays, which is a bit below the league average (67).

Still, this would appears to be an advantage of 17 double plays. I say "appear" because ... well, this stat isn't a zero-sum game. The offensive stat is, officially, "Grounded Into Double Play." It excludes the runner caught off base when a line drive is caught, or the baserunner thrown out trying to advance on a fly ball, or the ever-popular strike-em-out, throw-'em-out double play -- all of which are included in the defensive stat.

For the 30 MLB teams, there were 1,674 GIDP but 1,972 double plays -- almost 300 more double plays than double plays hit into. Thirty teams, nearly 300 extra defensive DPs -- call it 10. Each team should have 10 extra defensive double plays.

And of course they don't. The Twins, obviously, are +17. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has 68 GDP on offense and just 38 DPs turned, -30. Which helps explain their sorry record so far this year. The Rays have hit into the fourth most double plays in the game and turned the fewest.

In the AL Central, the first-place Tigers have the biggest edge -- 55 GDP, 77 DP, +22. The Twins are next, followed closely by the White Sox ( 57, 73, +16). Cleveland is +8 and Kansas City is -13.

This is a complex topic, really. A basic truth about defensive double plays: Bad teams tend to turn more double plays than good teams, because they allow more base runners. Good offenses often ground into a lot of double plays, because they have more base runners. Last year the Twins led all of baseball in defensive double plays and hit into the second fewest. They were +75, but that said more about what was broken about the team than about something that was right.

The Twins are turning fewer DPs this year, and that's to their credit.

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