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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The most ignored stat in baseball

By David Schoenfield

OK, maybe that's overstating things a little bit, but one statistic that rarely gets mentioned is a batter's double plays grounded into. You hear a lot of talk about pitchers with ground ball tendencies (and thus the ability to induce more double plays), but not much about hitters who have a propensity to ground into double plays. If you ground into a lot of them, this affects a player's hitting value in a way that doesn't show up in a triple-slash line.

Three players in particular are grounding into a lot of double plays this season: Torii Hunter has 18 GIDPs (a pace of 38 for the entire season), Albert Pujols had 17 before his injury, and Adrian Gonzalez has 16 (a pace of 35). Here's the complete GIDP leaderboard.

What kind of pace are those guys on? The bad kind. Only 16 times has a player grounded into 30 double plays in a season -- including three by Jim Rice, who holds the top two single-season marks of 38 in 1984 and 35 in 1985. Billy Butler grounded into 32 last season, tied for third-most all time with Miguel Tejada (2008), Ben Grieve (2000), Cal Ripken (1985) and Jackie Jensen (1954).

A double play doesn't count against your batting average or on-base percentage, even though you're responsible for making two outs. Take Gonzalez, for example. Heading into Wednesday's game, he was hitting .350/.403/.603. He had 330 PAs. What if you added an extra 16 "outs" to his ledger? That line becomes .332/.384/.573.

Compare that to Miguel Cabrera. I've argued that Cabrera is having a better season at the plate than Gonzalez, due to a higher on-base percentage and similar power numbers. Those who disagree point to Gonzalez's higher batting average and RBI total. Cabrera entered Wednesday hitting .323/.445/.567. He's grounded into nine double plays, "changing" his line to .312/.433/.548.

It's another reminder that a hitter's key objective is to not make outs. Gonzalez has created about 67 runs this season based on his hitting statistics. He's done that while using 213 outs. We have a stat on our site called Runs Created per 27 outs -- you can view it as how many runs per game a lineup of nine Adrian Gonzalezes would produce. Gonzalez's RC/27 is 8.2. Miguel Cabrera, based on his hitting statistics, has created about 66 runs -- but has used up only 186 outs. So he's created as many runs as Gonzalez but used up 27 fewer outs. His Runs Created per 27 outs is 9.2. My view is Cabrera has been the slightly more valuable hitter. (Remember that RBIs are team-dependent.) I'm not saying Cabrera is the better player -- Gonzalez has a huge advantage with the glove.

Anyway, double plays are a main reason Rice is one of the most overrated players of recent generations, and why many statheads were against his Hall of Fame induction. Rice produced a lot of runs, but did it with the help of a good hitter's park, but also did while consuming a large number of outs. His on-base percentages were always high since he didn't walk much and he compounded that by grounding into a ton of double plays in some seasons -- 38, 35, 31, 29.

By the way, three players with at least 500 plate appearances have grounded into ZERO double plays in a season since 1950 (GIDP data not available for all seasons prior to that) -- Craig Biggio (744 PAs in 1997), Dick McAuliffe (658 PAs in 1968) and Rob Deer (511 PAs in 1990). Obviously, some of that is opportunity: A cleanup hitter is going to have more men on base than a leadoff hitter. But as you would surmise, fast left-handed hitters ground into fewer DPs than slow, right-handed sluggers. (Ichiro Suzuki has had seasons of 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4 and 5 GIDPs, with a career-high of 8.)

Follow Dave on Twitter @dschoenfield.