Ivan Rodriguez, in what can only be described as a renaissance season, currently leads the National League in Double Plays Grounded Into.

But does that really matter?

The Double Plays Grounded Into statistic has been kept in the National League since 1933, and in the American League since 1939.

Obviously, double plays can hurt a team, because it involves going from at least one runner on base, with less than two outs to eliminating, the runner. They often end the inning. Double Plays are almost always rally killers.

While a double play is always bad, and any player who hits into one should hang his head on the way back to the dugout, I am still skeptical.

Does tallying the number of double plays a player hits into necessarily tells us something about that player?

Or, does it tell us something about his team?

It seems easier for teams to avoid hitting into double plays by stealing bases. Starting the runners with a hitter’s count, executing hit-and-runs, bunting guys over, or even balancing the lineup so that a lefty comes up behind a guy who gets on base frequently could impact the statistics.

The 1983 Red Sox provided the best example of double plays being attributed to a team, not a player.

On Sept. 28 of that year, Tony Armas grounded into his 31st double play of the season, which at the time was tied with Bobby Doerr for the second worst total ever. Jackie Jenson hit into 32 in 1954.

Four days later, on Oct. 2, Jim Rice matched Armas’ feat by grounding into his 31st double play.

So, who should be blamed for Armas and Rice’s astronomical double play numbers, in the same season no less. The players, or the team?

After all, double plays are a team effort, right?

A little investigation sheds more light on the issue. The ’83 Red Sox featured a 43-year-old Carl Yastrzemski, who could barely run, a 31-year-old Dwight Evans, who was hardly fleet-footed, Rice, never accused of being fast, and a 25-year-old Wade Boggs, who posted a .444 on-base percentage, comprised largely of walks and singles.

This Red Sox team was probably one of the most double-play-prone teams of all time. Of course, Armas and Rice hit into tons of them.

To be sure, let’s not give too much credit to either player—particularly Armas, who hit 36 home runs, but had a .707 OPS and a .254 on-base percentage.

At the same time, doesn’t this lineup explain more about why Rice and Armas were two of the worst double play batters of all time?

 Jim Rice’s career provides further information.

Prior to Boggs’s arrival in 1982, Rice’s career high for double plays was 21. He hit into 20 or more only once.

But, Boggs’ combination of high on-base percentage and no power made him the perfect lead-off guy in Boston, despite his lack of speed.

Suddenly, Rice had four of the worst double play seasons of all time, hitting into 29 in 1982, 31 in 1983, breaking the record with 36 in 1984, and narrowly missing the record again with 35 in 1985, despite missing 22 games.

The Red Sox were penciling a slow singles hitter in the lead-off position in the 1980s. That move was reflected in Jim Rice’s double play totals.

It is not like Jim Rice and Wade Boggs are the only example of a guy suffering a high double play number because of the player hitting in front of him.

We noted above that, after 1983, Armas and Rice were two of the four worst double play batters of all time, along with Bobby Doerr and Jackie Jenson.

Guess what those two guys had in common?

In 1949, Bobby Doerr set the then-major league record by grounding into 31 double plays while playing for the Boston Red Sox. In 1954, Jackie Jensen broke Doerr’s record by grounding into 32 double plays, also while playing for the Boston Red Sox.

Each of those players set the record for double plays grounded into while hitting behind Ted Williams, perhaps the best combination of on-base percentage and slow base-running.

Should Doerr’s and Jensen performances be considered a reflection upon them, or a reflection upon Ted Williams?

Williams and Boggs aren’t the only guys who indirectly created high double play totals for their teammates.

In fact, of the 59 different seasons in which a player has hit into 27 or more doubles, the vast majority of them came on teams that featured players with tremendously high on-base percentages.

Just take a look at the names of the guys who were teammates of the “27 or more double plays club.” Most of these guys are on the Who’s Who of great on-base machines:


Player GIDP Year Team Teammate High OBP
Jim Rice 36 1984 Boston Red Sox Wade Boggs .407
Jim Rice 35 1985 Boston Red Sox Wade Boggs .450
Ben Grieve 32 2000 Oakland Athletics Jason Giambi .476
Jackie Jensen 32 1954 Boston Red Sox Ted Williams .513
Cal Ripken 32 1985 Baltimore Orioles Eddie Murray .383
Miguel Tejada 32 2008 Houston Astros Lance Berkman .420
Tony Armas 31 1983 Boston Red Sox Wade Boggs .444
Bobby Doerr 31 1949 Boston Red Sox Ted Williams .490
    Johnny Pesky .408
    Dom DiMaggio .404
    Vern Stephens .391
Jim Rice 31 1983 Boston Red Sox Wade Boggs .444
Ivan Rodriguez 31 1999 Texas Rangers Rafael Palmeiro .420
    Rusty Greer .405
Brad Ausmus 30 2002 Houston Astros Lance Berkman .405
    Jeff Bagwell .401
Billy Hitchcock 30 1950 Philadelphia Athletics Ferris Fain .430
    Elmer Valo .400
Ernie Lombardi 30 1938 Cincinnati Reds Ival Goodman .368
Dave Winfield 30 1983 New York Yankees Butch Wynegar .399
Carl Yastrzemski 30 1964 Boston Red Sox Eddie Broussard .372
George Bell 29 1992 Chicago White Sox Frank Thomas .439
Jimmy Bloodworth 29 1943 Detroit Tigers Dick Wakefield .377
Frank Howard 29 1969 Washington Senators Mike Epstein .414
Frank Howard 29 1971 Washington Senators Don Mincher .389
Dave Philley 29 1952 Philadelphia Athletics Elmer Valo .432
    Ferris Fain .438
Jim Presley 29 1985 Seattle Mariners Alvin Davis .381
Jim Rice 29 1982 Boston Red Sox Wade Boggs .406
    Dwight Evans .402
Brooks Robinson 29 1960 Baltimore Orioles Jim Gentile .403
    Gene Woodling .401
Ted Simmons 29 1973 St. Louis Cardinals Bernie Carbo .397
    Joe Torre .377
Julio Franco 28 1986 Cleveland Indians Pat Tabler .368
Sid Gordon 28 1951 Boston Braves Earl Torgeson .375
George Kell 28 1944 Philadelphia Athletics Dick Siebert .387
Harmon Killebrew 28 1970 Minnesota Twins Tony Oliva .364
Paul Konerko 28 2003 Chicago White Sox Frank Thomas .390
    Magglio Ordonez .380
    Carl Everett .377
Magglio Ordonez 28 2000 Chicago White Sox Frank Thomas .436
Cal Ripken 28 1996 Baltimore Orioles Roberto Alomar .411
    Rafael Palmeiro .381
    Brady Anderson .396
Miguel Tejada 28 2006 Baltimore Orioles Kevin Millar .374
John Bateman 27 1971 Montreal Expos Ron Hunt .402
    Rusty Staub .392
Bruce Bochte 27 1979 Seattle Mariners Julio Cruz .363
Sean Casey 27 2005 Cincinnati Reds Adam Dunn .387
Julio Franco 27 1989 Texas Rangers Rafael Palmeiro .354
Carl Furillo 27 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers Jim Gilliam .399
    Duke Snider .399
Vladimir Guerrero 27 2008 Los Angeles Angels Chone Figgins .367
Billy Johnson 27 1943 New York Yankees Charlie Keller .396
    Bill Dickey .445
Eric Karros 27 1996 Los Angeles Dodgers Mike Piazza .422
Jason Kendall 27 2005 Oakland Athletics Mark Ellis .384
Carlos Lee 27 2007 Houston Astros Lance Berkman .386
Derrek Lee 27 2008 Chicago Cubs Mike Fontenot .395
    Ryan Theriot .387
    Aramis Ramirez .380
Sherm Lollar 27 1959 Chicago White Sox Nellie Fox .380
Victor Martinez 27 2006 Cleveland Indians Travis Hafner .439
Magglio Ordonez 27 2008 Detroit Tigers Carlos Guillen .376
Jay Payton 27 2003 Colorado Rockies Todd Helton .458
    Larry Walker .422
Mike Piazza 27 1999 New York Mets John Olerud .427
    Rickey Henderson .423
    Roger Cedeno .396
A.J. Pierzynski 27 2004 San Francisco Giants A.J. Pierzynski .609
    J.T. Snow .429
    Dustan Mohr .394
Kirby Puckett 27 1991 Minnesota Twins Chili Davis .385
    Kent Hrbek .373
Albert Pujols 27 2007 St. Louis Cardinals David Eckstein .356
Al Rosen 27 1950 Cleveland Indians Larry Doby .442
    Ray Boone .397
    Dale Mitchell .390
    Bobby Avila .390
Ron Santo 27 1973 Chicago Cubs Jose Cardenal .375
Ken Singleton 27 1973 Montreal Expos Ron Fairly .422
    Ron Hunt .418
Rusty Staub 27 1977 Detroit Tigers Ron LeFlore .363
Joe Vosmik 27 1939 Boston Red Sox Jimmie Foxx .464
    Ted Williams .436
    Joe Cronin .407
Carl Yastrzemski 27 1962 Boston Red Sox Pete Runnels .408
Michael Young 27 2006 Texas Rangers Mark Teixeira .371
    Gary Matthews .371
Todd Zeile 27 2002 Colorado Rockies Todd Helton .429
    Larry Walker .421


There is some really fun stuff here. For example:

– Elmer Valo and Ferris Fain of the Philadelphia Athletics combined to put two different guys on the list, Billy Hitchcock with 30 in 1950 and Dave Philley with 29 in 1952.

– Larry Walker and Todd Helton also combined to put two different guys on here, Todd Zeile with 27 in 2002 and Jay Payton with 27 in 2003.

– Rafael Palmeiro was a teammate to three of these guys: Ivan Rodriguez (31) in 1999, Cal Ripken, Jr. (28) in 1996, and Julio Franco (27) in 1989.

– Frank Thomas also appears to have put three players on the list: George Bell in 1992, Magglio Ordonez in 2000, and Paul Konerko in 2002.

– Lance Berkman put Brad Ausmus (2002), Carlos Lee (2007), and Miguel Tejada (2008) on the list.

– Keep in mind, my point is that a high-OBP teammate is often to blame; sometimes, like when Vlad Guerrero played on a team whose OBP leader was Chone Figgins with a .367, the batter has only himself to blame.

– Yaz hit into 30 double plays when the team-leading OBP was Eddie Broussard with .372.

– Ernie Lombardi’s 30 double plays in 1938 seem solely attributable to himself, as the team leader in OBP that year was Ival Goodman at .368.

There is, of course, a reason this is all important.

The value, or should we say damage, caused by a double play can be hugely different, depending on how we look at the double play.

If I tell you that Player A hit into 30 double plays, you might be inclined to think Player A isn’t a good player. You might be right, but you might be wrong.

If I then tell you that Player B has a .400 on-base percentage, but doesn’t run very fast, and hit ahead of Player A, and as a result Player A also had 130 RBI, you might say that the difference between the average number of double plays hit into and the number Player A hit into is the cost of doing business with a guy who gets on base 40 percent of the time—and I think you’d be right.

I think it might be a more telling statistic if we counted the number of times a player hit into a double play, but also the number of time a guy was the other out for another player’s double play. That way, we’d know whether a high number of double plays reflects the player or reflects the team.

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation—the total number of double plays doesn’t tell us nearly as much as the number of double plays divided by the number of double play opportunities would. If Jim Rice hit into 31 double plays but came to bat with a runner on first base 300 times in a season, I think we wouldn’t condemn him as much as a guy who hit into 25 double plays while batting third behind Juan Pierre and Neifi Perez.

Perhaps we’re looking at double plays as a counting stat when we should be converting it into a rate stat. That might be a bit more illuminating.


Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA and is the co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com .

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