The discussion of optimized Yanks batting order was a good one last week, even though an optimal batting order vs. the worst possible batting order only nets a team maybe one win over the course of a year. Still, this isn’t about being right; it’s about looking at an aspect of the game and talking about it, seeing where conventional wisdom goes astray and where it makes sense. Today, though, we’re talking about an aspect of lineup creation that could have a greater impact on run creation.
Last week, John Walsh of The Hardball Times wrote an article on the double play and its detriment to a rally. After recalling Bill James’s argument that Darren Daulton was particularly adept at avoiding the DP, Walsh makes an important notation: we should be looking for GIDPs vs. GIDP situation. That is, just because a player has a good GIDP to at bats ratio, as did Daulton, doesn’t mean he’s particularly adept. The reason is that some players simply come up more often in DP situations.
Derek Jeter grounded into 24 double plays last year, fourth most in the AL. This comes at a high cost to the team because he hits second. The leadoff hitter, Johnny Damon, posted a sparkling .375 OBP, but a few of those on base instances were wasted because of Jeter’s propensity to hit into the twin killing. Of course, Jeter could turn it around this year, but he’s in his age 35 season and has shown a higher GIDP per at bat ratio than he did earlier in his career. Unfortunately I’m not able to find his number of GIDP situations, but considering his spot in the batting order I’m fairly certain it hasn’t changed much over the years (but could easily be wrong).
Many have suggested this off-season that the Yanks flip Jeter and Damon in the order. The logic goes that Jeter’s grounders won’t cause two outs and kill a baserunner. But what about Damon? Yes, his GIDP rate is low, but is that a function of his being a leadoff man? One might think so at first, but a look at Walsh’s article shows that this is not the case. In fact, Johnny has one of the best all-time GIDP per situation ratios. In his career he’s faced 1,373 opportunities to hit into a DP, but has done so only 75 times for a rate of 0.055. That’s good for the fourth best rate on Walsh’s chart, behind all-time leader Joe Morgan, Mickey Rivers, and Darryl Strawberry. This has led to 79 double plays avoided, sixth all time.
As I mentioned in the open thread, there’s a bit Bill James has noted about Jeter that factors in here. His batting average on groundballs has steadily increased since 2002, up to .291 in 2008. Yes, that’s a career high BA on groundballs despite a career high in GIDP. Could Jeter hitting in the leadoff spot, where guys won’t be squeezing the middle, possibly raise his groundball BA by affording him more hits up the middle? Perhaps. Given the available data I don’t think you can draw a definitive conclusion. It’s something to consider with this argument though. (Plus, his rising BA on groundballs might be a product of hitting around fielders who are squeezing for the DP…who knows?)
Given Jeter’s increased GIDP rate over the past two years and Damon’s ability to avoid the twin killing, would it then make sense to flip them in the order? Given the available evidence, I’d say yes. Not that it would ever happen — and, just to make a point clear from the last discussion, this isn’t written with the intent of mailing it to Cashman and Girardi. It’s just an exercise in baseball knowledge. If you guy who hits into a lot of double plays and a guy who is historically among the best at avoiding them, wouldn’t you want the latter hitting in back of the former, rather than the other way around?