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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Turning two: the best double-play infields

By Ben Jedlovec, Baseball Info Solutions

From veteran managers all the way down to high school coaches, everyone loves a good double-play combination. It’s one of the few artistic expressions left in the game that doesn’t actually hurt your team (see: “Bunt, The Sacrifice”). Even in the “Moneyball Era”, we’re dazzled by the nice glove flip/barehanded pivot play when one shows up on Web Gems. The days of Trammel/Whitaker and even Alomar/Vizquel are past, so who are the contemporary wizards of the double play?

At Baseball Info Solutions, we record several pieces of information on each play. For each batted ball we record a hit location, type (grounder, line drive, etc.), and velocity (hard, medium, soft). Using this information, we can determine the difficulty of individual plays. For instance, we can look at all hard groundballs hit in double play situations at the angle 27 degrees off the first base line (roughly at the second baseman in double play depth). We find that 68% of the time the infield turned a double play, only one out was recorded 15% of the time, and there was no out on the play 17% of the time.

I did this for each potential double play groundball and found the number of double plays above what we would expect the average team to turn given the same ground balls. Here are the top and bottom five teams:
The Angels infield of Aybar-to-Kendrick/Izturis-to-Morales topped all last season (not quite as poetic as Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, is it? Just give it time...). Let’s expand to include fielder’s choice plays where only one out is recorded; after all, one out is better than none (but worse than two):
It’s interesting to note that several of the bottom teams sustained injuries to key middle infielders (Mets, Athletics, Rays) while the teams at the top had more stable keystone combos.

Who was the top double-play team dating back to 2002? The immortal 2007 Kansas City Royals, at 40 outs more than expected. How about the worst? The 2005 Royals, at -42. How can a team go from so bad to so good?

Two words: Mark Grudzielanek.

The Royals were below average from 2002-05, jumped to +16, +40, and +10 during the three seasons Grudzielanek covered second base, then dropped back to -38 last year. Who knew?!?