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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cardinals On Pace To Shatter MLB Record for Hitting Into Double Plays

Posted By on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 12:07 PM

click to enlarge Would you believe this was the cleanest image I could find to go along with this article?
  • Would you believe this was the cleanest image I could find to go along with this article?
No, the DP Blues is not what an adult film starlet gets after a particularly taxing week at work. The DP Blues is what the Cardinals have right now, and have had ever since Albert Pujols grounded into not one, not two, but three double plays on Opening Day

So far this year the Cards have been hitting into double plays at an historic rate. Following Wednesday night's loss, in which Matt Holliday grounded into a game-ending double play (and Colby Rasmus lined into another, but I don't think that goes into the stats the same way), the Cardinals have grounded into 42 double plays. In 31 games. 

At this rate, the Cardinals are on pace to not just set new records for double plays, but to shatter the old marks. The all-time National League record for team GIDP is 166 times, a mark set by the 1958 St. Louis Cardinals. (Interesting side note: the Cardinals also hold the record for fewest in a season, with just 75 in 1945.) The American League (and MLB), record is 174 by the 1990 Boston Red Sox

The 2011 Cardinals? They're on pace to ground into 219 double plays this year. 

The biggest single offender to this point has been none other than Albert Pujols, who started the season of the DP off with such a bang and hasn't really looked back since. He's already hit into 10 on the season (in 30 games), which puts him on pace for roughly 52 double plays this year, depending on his exact playing time from here on out. That number would easily break the old record of 36, set by Jim Rice in 1984 with Boston. (The NL record belongs to Miguel Tejada in 2008, when he hit into 32 with the Astros.) 

Yadier Molina has been a big offender as well, perhaps unsurprising considering his marked lack of speed and propensity for putting the ball in play. He's hit into 4 in 25 games. Matt Holliday's game-ender last night was his fourth of the season as well. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), considering his speed, Colby Rasmus has hit into four. Ryan Theriot has hit into five, despite his supposed speedy leadoff-ness. 

Skip Schumaker may be the worst offender of all, with three double plays grounded into. Oh, sure, that's not as many as lots of others on the roster. The difference, though, is that Skip hit into those three in just fourteen games. Extrapolate it out and he'd be right up there with Albert, only without the power numbers and other positive stuff. Of course, considering the fact Skip hits a grounder to the second basemen three out of every four times up (note: statistic may not be accurate), it shouldn't really be too shocking to see him getting doubled up on a regular basis. 

So what can we glean from all this double play trouble? Is it a real problem, or just a weird statistical quirk? 

Well, first off, such a high number of double plays is actually indicative of something pretty positive. Hitting into a ton of double plays is a direct result of the Cardinals having an enormous number of men on base. The Cards currently lead all National League teams in hits, runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. They're third in walks, second in at-bats, first in total bases, and even first in hit by pitches with twelve. When you put as many hitters on base as the Cardinals do, there's just more opportunity for double plays to happen. 

​Second, you could look at a lack of team speed as part of the issue. Pujols doesn't run very well. Molina looks like an optical illusion heading down to first. When either of them put the ball in play on the ground there's a chance they could be doubled up. Same with Schumaker, who looks like he should have fast player skills but just doesn't. 

Even more than a speed issue, though, the high number of double plays is probably indicative of players hitting the ball hard. Notice Colby, despite having good speed, has hit into several already. The reason? He's been hitting the ball hard, even on the ground. Same with Holliday, who has been absolutely blistering the ball this year. When he hits one of those screaming one-hoppers at a fielder there's plenty of time to execute the double play. 

High contact rates play a part, too. Theriot makes contact with everything, Molina does the same. Pujols hardly ever swings and misses, meaning there's lots of contact coming off his bat. What's worrisome about Pujols is that he's hitting a higher percentage of grounders in 2011 than he ever has before. (He's hit 48% of his balls in play on the ground this season, compared to just over 40% for his career.) 

So what we have here is a team with more baserunners than any other team in the league, lots of hard contact, and mediocre speed at best. To be honest, as frustrating as it is watching the Cards hit into so many double plays, I would argue the high number of DPs is actually a positive sign, rather than a negative one. Sure, it sucks to see opportunities go down the drain, but lots of double plays actually seems to me to be an indication of a healthy, robust offense putting tons of scoring chances together. 

Will this crazy pace continue? Well, probably not. They're on an historic pace, and I could definitely see this team coming close to the records, but it will almost certainly slow down. At the very least, Pujols should see his batted-ball profile regress more toward his career rates and his GIDP numbers should go down. 

In the end, though, I would argue that if the Cardinals do manage to break some double play records in 2011, it might actually be the best sign of just how good this offense is. That doesn't mean I won't complain about it, though. 

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