If you pay attention to certain nerdier things in life, there is an interesting battle taking place between the Angels and the Mets this weekend. A double plays battle. (I told you it was nerdy.) Going into Friday, the Angels led the American League in double plays grounded into; the Mets, meanwhile, were tied for last in their league for double plays turned. An instance of the completely permeable object meeting the easiest stopped force. Sometimes, when rooting for a less-than-.500 team, you have to look for these sorts of things.
As it turns out, it’s easier to ground into double plays than it is to not turn them. The Mets turned three double plays last night — 6-6-3, 4-6-3, and a 6-4-3 — separating them from the Cubs and moving them out of the basement and into 15th place in the NL in double plays turned. Small victories.
But this had me thinking: Are the Mets really that bad at turning double plays? Or is there something else going on?
So I messed around on Baseball-Reference for a little bit. As it turns out, the Mets really are that bad at turning double plays this season. Below is a chart with every team in the NL and their ground ball double play statistics:
You can click through to make it bigger. The explanations, if you’re unsure:
- “PA” is plate appearances for the opposition with a runner on first and less than two outs — that is, a double play opportunity.
- “GB in play %” is the pitching staff’s percentage of ground balls in play (i.e., 32% means that 32 out of every 100 batters a team faces will put a ground ball in play).
- “DP Opp,” double play opportunities, is an estimate of the number of ground balls generated in double play situations, based on the first two numbers (so the number of chances an infield had to field a ground ball and turn two).
- “GDP” is the actual number of ground ball double plays each team turned this season, while
- “Expected” is how many they would have turned if each team turned two at the average rate.
- “Difference” is the difference between the two numbers. Bill James does something similar in his Historical Abstract.
Not only have the Mets turned fewer double plays than any team but the Cubs, but they have had more chances to turn two than all but four teams. The Mets have had plenty of runner-on-first, less-than-two-out situations (because their pitchers walk so many batters), and those pitchers generate an average number of ground balls, leading to plenty of double play chances. They’re just not good at turning double plays. If the Mets turned double plays at the league average rate, they would have about 52 ground ball double plays; they only have turned 42, a figure 10 less than expected, and only the Cubs have been worse. You can see that it’s a bit more complicated than just counting double plays turned: Atlanta has turned 52 double plays, a high number, but they have an extreme ground ball staff that gives their infielders more opportunities.
The Mets’ struggles aren’t that difficult to pinpoint: They have used questionable defensive players at second base and a bunch of third basemen who can’t throw. Daniel Murphy acted as the pivot man in just two double plays during his 22 games at second base. Justin Turner is Mr. Clutch at the plate but Mr. Double Clutch in the field, and we all know about David Wright’s adventures in throwing, and the Mets third basemen are last in double plays. Stuck in the middle of all this is poor Jose Reyes, who has turned a relatively low number of 6-4-3 double plays against a relatively high number of 6-6-3 double plays — which I guess means he’d rather just take it to the bag himself.
The good news is that Ruben Tejada has already relayed more double plays at second base than all the other Mets second basemen — Chin-lung Hu, Brad Emaus, Murphy, and Turner — did combined. Which is one point in his favor for sticking around when and if Ike Davis and David Wright return. Whether or not his bat justifies that remains to be seen. But at the very least, as seen last night, the Mets look better turning double plays with Tejada at second.
(I might just rename this blog “Ruben Tejada blog.”)