Not too many homers, too many double plays

Once again, Yanks are tops at working the count
The RAB Radio Show: May 10, 2011
(Bill Kostroun/AP)

Home runs produce runs. Double plays prevent them. This the story of the Yankees first 32 games this season. They have hit 54 home runs, 13 more than the next closest team, despite having played only 32 games, fewest in the league. At the same time they have grounded into 41 double plays, which is second most in the league. The only team ahead of them, the Cardinals, have played three more games (and have grounded into three more double plays). Anyone can see that cutting the latter will do wonders for the offense, but I’m far more interested in the why. Why are the Yankees grounding into so many double plays?

The most obvious explanation is that they simply find themselves in more double play situations than other teams. We know the Yankees as a team that gets on base at a healthy clip; they have led the league in OBP the last two seasons. This year they’re second, and first in the AL. Their 265 hits and 130 walks (leading the league) in 1210 PA make it more likely that they’ll have have a man on first with zero or one outs. But we can rule out this explanation right away. If you go to Baseball Prospectus and check out their Balls In Play data, you can see that the Yankees are fourth in the league with a double play in 17.6% of their situations. That is, the Yankees might get into more of those situations, but they still ground into double plays more often than the others, too.

Are they hitting the ball on the ground more, then? That would go some way in explaining why they’re hitting into so many double plays. This year they’ve hit the ball on the ground 46.4 percent of the time, which ranks 11th in the majors. This is slightly higher than last year, when they were at 44.9 percent (14th) and 2009, when they were at 43.1 percent (19th). Yet the Yankees hit ground balls less frequently with runners on base. That rate is only 44.7 percent, which ranks 19th in the league. So while their ground ball rate is a bit higher, the increase comes mostly with the bases empty.

At The Yankee Analysts yesterday, William made an interesting observation: perhaps it’s the teams lack of willingness to run that is causing their double play totals to flourish. To quote: “In order to maximize home runs, the team has stopped running, which in turn has led to more double plays that have left fewer chances to hit a home run.” This is certainly plausible, but I’m not sure it works out. The Yankees have attempted 26 steals this season in 32 games, or 131.6 per 162 games. They attempted 133 last year and in 2009 they attempted 149. That’s not to rule out the possibility, since there is more detail to be examined here. But it’s a pretty quick way of showing that it probably isn’t the main reason.

What is it, then? What is causing the Yankees to hit ground balls to infielders in those precise situations when a ground ball hurts the most? Much as I hate to say it, luck has to play a predominant role here. Just as the Yankees are getting lucky in some regards with their 17.3 percent home run to fly ball ratio, they’re getting unlucky with their double play rate. As one evens out I expect the other will, too. Which is perfectly fine. They’re not in 1:1 proportion, but as they slow down creating runs via the homer, so they will create more runs via double play avoidance. That’s good news for a team that leads the league in runs per game.

email
Once again, Yanks are tops at working the count
The RAB Radio Show: May 10, 2011
  • Rick in Boston

    Nice work Joe.

    I’d agree that the lack of running could be an issue worth further examining, especially since the Yankees return almost the same exact team as last year.

    One number that would be interesting to see is how often a ground ball is hit that the opposing team fails to turn a DP against the Yankees. Using my completely useless eyes, it feels like every ground ball is hard just hard enough that the defender has time to start the play but not giving the Yankees enough time to break it up.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    I agree about luck being the main reason for all the double plays. As frustrating as it is to watch, a lot of it is the matter of a ball going right to the 2B or SS instead of a few feet to the left or right. Many of the double play balls are smoked. It’s something that I’d expect to even out over the course of the season, as the BABIP gets back up to a normal level.

  • Monteroisdinero

    ” What is it then?” The inability to bunt.

    /Joe Girardi

  • http://Facebook.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

    Yawn

  • MONKEYJAW

    If the Yankees have grounded into 41 DP’s, it seems like Jeter has been responsible for 40 of them. There is no bigger culprit in that line-up than the captain. To be fair, he has been driving the ball a bit better these past few days but there seems to be a mechanical issue with his swing that is causing him to swing over just about everything. As evidenced by Sunday’s performance, he still has the bat speed to generate power but there’s still a hitch in his swing that needs to be corrected. Until it is, he will be frustrating to watch with men on base.

    • pat

      There is no bigger culprit in that line-up than the captain

      Except:
      Russel Martin
      Robinson Cano
      Alex Rodriguez
      Mark Teixeira
      Jorge Posada

      /fin

    • RL

      Facts don’t back this up. Martin has 8 GDPs, while Jeter had 3. 5 Yankees have hit into more DPs than Jeter (so far).

    • Rick in Boston

      Actually, Jeter “only” has 3 GIDP. Russell Martin is pacing the club with 8 GIDP, Robby Cano has 6 and A-Rod has 5. The only Yankees yet to ground into a DP have been Nunez and Gus Molina.

      • CS Yankee

        Gus’s streak is safe.

  • Chris

    Just as the Yankees are getting lucky in some regards with their 17.3 percent home run to fly ball ratio, they’re getting unlucky with their double play rate.

    The difference is that the HR/FB rate is highly skill dependent. The DP/GB rate is not. Once you hit a groundball with a runner on 1st, the chances of it being a DP is relatively fixed. The HR/FB rate will be different for hitters depending on their relative power.

    • Ryan

      well using your argument that HR/FB will be different for hitters depending on their relative power, the DP/GB rate will be different for hitters depending on their relative speed

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        I think it’s safe to assume that there’s a bigger power difference amongst various MLB batters than there is a speed difference amongst various MLB baserunners.

        Gardner is fast and Posada is slow, but a routine groundball still results in a GIDP for both of them most of the time. The speediest of runners like Gardner only beat out double play balls on exceedingly slowly-hit grounders.

        JMHO.

    • tom

      “Once you hit a groundball with a runner on 1st, the chances of it being a DP is relatively fixed.”

      It actually varies quite a bit based on whether the infielder gets to it. Early on in that grand-slam inning Sunday, the ball Posada hit looked for all the world like it was going to result in a DP. Except it got past the infielders and became a base hit. Anecdotal observation this year is that an inordinately high percentage of such ground balls this year have not eluded the fielders — reflected in the low BABIP. And that includes a good many that have been scorched. That would appear to be luck that’s due to even out at some point over a long season.

  • The Oberamtmann

    How much is potentially due to a) speed of the runners (hi, Jorge!) and 2) speed of the groundball, i.e. a harder-hit GB is more likely to turn into a DP

  • Lisa

    I think the running game plays a part in DPs. Hit & run plays, stealing all help to reduce this trend. We can see this from teams that run a lot. They can even manufacture a run off of 1 hit using their feet.

    Prior to the last few days, Jeter hit into a lot of dribblers, managing to beat them out a few times for hits. With Gardner ahead of him, Jeter managed to avoid grounding into as many DP’s as he would have. Now it looks like he’s found his timing. :)

    I think Girardi wants the team to be more agressive on the bases & we have been on ocassion. Looking at the bottom of the lineup is where much of our speed has been. However, in the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed an increase in Posada getting “walks” to lead off an inning. It seems the majority of his walks come in lead off spot & the a lot of times he leads off he gets a walk (as of late). It happened like 2X a game for nearly 3-4 games in a row this past week.

    When this happens the running game comes to a complete hault with Gardner/Martin behind him. It’s difficult to move Posada with a bunt (as we’ve seen against the rangers). So if the players behind Posada hit a ground ball it’s like an automatic DP.

  • http://captnsblog.wordpress.com/ Will

    When I wrote the post, I did look at SB attempts and realized it was on pace with last season’s total, but I don’t think that’s a great proxy for the team’s willingness to run because it ignores things like sending the runner on a 3-2 count or using a hit and run. Anecdotally, it seems as if the Yankees have done little of either until recently. Perhaps their poor SB% success rate has played a role in that, especially if most of the CS have come on busted plays. It’s hard to pinpoint, but the Yankees’ baserunning metrics are generally poor right now, so it does seem as if the team is playing station-to-station partly by design.