Turning Two

Double plays are called the pitcher’s best friend for a good reason. I think we’re all familiar with the huge swing in win expectancy that takes place when a pitcher wiggles out of a one-out, bases loaded jam with an inning ending double play. And it is a skill for infielders; some are clearly better at turning DP’s than others. It takes talent for a shortstop to field the ball quickly and cleanly, transfer to the second baseman, the second baseman must pivot, throw accurately and quickly to first base…you get the idea. Your routine 6-4-3 double play is probably a lot harder than it looks.

One of the components of UZR for infielders is DPR, or double play runs. It is simply (and I’m quoting word for word from the site glossary) “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, based on the number double plays versus the number forces at second they get, as compared to an average fielder at that position, given the speed and location of the ball and the handedness of the batter.”

I definitely am the wrong person to get into the nitty gritty details of such things, but I can sort through leader boards with the best of them. I wanted to look at just some of the leaders and laggards of the keystone combos. One note before we jump in (and someone correct me if I’m mistaken) but it appears to me a typical shortstop or second baseman is usually about a maximum of plus or minus three runs in pivot or starting double plays, or in other words, the difference between a very good middle infielder and a very bad one is really only about ten double plays a year. So we can say that the ability to turn a double play can be pretty overrated. Range is much, much more important.

Your 2009 Top DP Combo thus far:

Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. Hey, we talked about these two yesterday. Wilson has been worth 1.7 DP runs, Sanchez 1.4, for a total of 3.1 runs saved in turning the double play. Compare this to…

Your 2009 Worst DP Combo:

Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla: These two are a pitcher’s worst enemy. Hanley Ramirez has been a -1.4, Dan Uggla an ugly -2.2. That’s -3.6 runs for those of you scoring at home.

Getting back to Jack Wilson for a moment, FanGraphs has UZR data dating back from 2002. Wilson is by far the leader at double play runs with +15.6. Michael Young has been the worst at -7.8, and he wasn’t moved full time to shortstop until 2004.

A word about Dan Uggla — the man is in some sort of DP slump, as the three seasons prior (2006-2008) he led all second baseman with +6 runs. In fact, his ability to turn the DP is what salvaged his defensive value. DP’s aside, Uggla was a -6.7 UZR during those seasons. Brian Roberts was the worst second baseman at -6.1. Roberts was worth 7.7 UZR before factoring DPR, so his lack of ability to turn two offset what other defensive value he added. He’s the anti-Uggla.

Finally, the best keystone combo between 2006 until now was Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez of the Mariners, who were combined for +9.8 runs, or a full win. The fact that it took one DP combo to total a whole win over three and a half seasons drives home the fact that while that the ability to turn two is important, it is not nearly as important as we might have thought. Being that Yuniesky has been so brilliant at DP’s and yet so bad at everything else is also a reminder that range is waaaay more important.

Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

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