In discussing the merits of a No. 2 hitter, I hit on the value of setting the table. Because Nick Johnson gets on base at a better clip than the other candidates, he’ll create more opportunities for Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to hit with men on base. But, while getting on base factors prominently into the quality of a No. 2 hitter, other issues can change the situation. For instance, what if the No. 2 hitter, who gets on base at a high clip, also grounds into a lot of double plays? Wouldn’t that sap his value?
About a year ago, while he was working with Team USA, I made a further argument for Derek Jeter the leadoff hitter. Beyond the reasons we’d heard a thousand times — Jeter got on base more than Damon while Damon had more power than Jeter — I thought another factor played prominently. In 2008 Jeter hit into 24 double plays, the highest number of his career. Many times, I’m sure, these double plays came after Damon reached safely. Damon, though, is historically good at avoiding double plays. Flipping the two, then, seemed obvious.
Just a few days after that post, Joe Girardi announced that he would make that very flip. The results, as we saw, reflected the projection. Jeter hit into fewer double plays. Damon hit into more, but that’s going to happen when the guy in front of you gets on base 40 percent of the time. This raises an interesting point. We don’t learn much from raw GIDP numbers, because they’re not placed in any context. What we seek is some kind of rate for GIDP — how many times the player hit into a double play when presented the opportunity. That seems like relevant information for a No.2 hitter.
Thankfully, Baseball Reference does have information about double play opportunities (under More Stats, then Situational Hitting).* So, among Johnson, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, who has hit into the most double plays per opportunity? We’ll add in Damon for comparison.
*When I originally wrote this article, I had no idea this existed. Thanks to B-R founder Sean Forman for pointing me in the right direction. This table is totally accurate.
Does Johnson’s GIDP propensity offset his better on-base skills? Sound like a good idea for another follow-up article.