Double plays becoming a real issue

ANAHEIM – After Sunday’s 9-0 loss to Vin Mazzaro and the Kansas City Royals, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked to explain why his fading squad has been hitting into so many double plays – five in the game, the most they’ve had in seven years, and now an American League-leading 65 on the year.

And right fielder Torii Hunter’s 18 double-play balls lead the majors. So Scioscia, normally quite the quick-thinker, paused for nearly 15 seconds before saying anything, clearly contemplating what is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for the Angels.

His answer was sort of jumbled, too.

“I think, sometimes, in some situations, like with Torii – he’s been a little out of sync, and he’s had a lot of rollovers to the left side and obviously they’ve converted some of them into double plays,” Scioscia said. “I mean, we scorched a couple balls today that were double plays. With our team speed and setting guys in motion, it really should minimize that.”

He’s right – it really should. Eight of the nine hitters in the Angels’ lineup Sunday have to be considered at least as fast as the average major-leaguer at their position. But that hasn’t helped much of late, although the Angels did go two straight games without hitting into a double play Friday and Saturday against the Royals.

Still, they’re hitting into almost one a game, on average, a pace that can’t contribute to any sustained success.

“It’s a sample size that we hope will correct itself as we move forward into the middle of the season, but sometimes there’s not as much rhyme or reason to anything, it’s just the way things work out,” Scioscia said Sunday. “If you look at our time coming into this year, we definitely felt like that was going to be something we could contain and control.”

Sunday’s five, all started by Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar, an ultra-slick fielder: Hunter grounded a down-and-in pitch straight to short after Maicer Izturis led off the game with a single, Hank Conger lined a ball hard but aimed at him in the second and Howie Kendrick, Mark Trumbo and Bobby Abreu all grounded out to short with some speed on the ball in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

None of the at-bats lasted longer than five pitches. None required Escobar to make anything more than a routine play. None, of course, advanced any runners or produced any sort of positive effect. Again, not necessarily the worst at-bats in the world, but bad all the same.

“I mean, what are you gonna do about it?” Trumbo said. “There’s not much to say. You drive a ball and get everything right and then everything wrong happens.”

Sunday’s game was a perfect example of why double plays can be so damaging. The Angels didn’t score a run, but it wasn’t like they were being completely fooled by Mazzaro – they didn’t strike out against him all day and they actually were hitting the ball fairly hard.

Trumbo called it an “extremely strange” game, and it was. The Angels walked six times – twice their normal output – and added a hit batter, yet couldn’t go on the board.

The numbers don’t quite compute, even with the five hits.

Through 67 games this year, the Angels have failed to produce a single run nine times. For comparison’s sake, through 67 games last year, they failed to do so only once.

And then there are the AL-leading 65 GIDPs. Entering into Sunday, the major-league average was 48, meaning the Angels are a hefty 31 percent above the norm. And, for more comparison’s sake, a year ago the Angels hit into 125 double plays. The pace they’re currently on is a 25-percent increase from last season’s numbers.

Even so, it’s not the foremost thought on the minds of Scioscia and other members of the team’s braintrust. The manager said Sunday he’s more worried about strikeouts and hitting with runners in scoring position, and both figures are certainly worth that worry.

The Angels lead the American League in strikeouts, too.

Is it possible the double-play balls are an aberration, simply an indicator of a hard-luck team pressing for some hard hits and getting even more unlucky in the process?

Yes, certainly. And, yes, double plays are bad, but traditionally bad hitters don’t typically lead the league in them. It’s more of a struggling-power-hitter type of statistic.

“They’re all probably hard-hit balls,” Hunter said Saturday, before he passed St. Louis’ Albert Pujols for the major-league lead. “What can you do? You hit it hard and they’re tailor-made double plays.

“It’s frustrating, don’t get it twisted. I’m mad, but I try and stay positive. I can’t think about that all the time.”

Neither can the Angels.