Detroit Tigers: Double Plays Haven’t Killed the Offense


The Detroit Tigers have grounded into more double plays than anyone else in baseball, but they’re not killing offensive production.

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Double plays are bad. Ideally when a player takes his turn at the bat he would record zero outs. But if one was to presuppose that an out must be recorded on the play, a single play (as it were) would be preferable to a double play (which would, in turn, be preferable to a triple play). This is baseball, explained.

The Detroit Tigers have grounded into an awful lot of double plays this season. In fact, sorted team leaderboards would indicate that they’ve grounded into the most double plays in all of Major League Baseball whether it be by raw total or on a percentage basis.

This is not an exciting development for Detroit Tigers fans. According to estimates, all those double plays have combined to cost the team 4.2 runs this year. Or, to be more accurate with that statement, double plays have cost the Tigers 4.2 runs more than they have cost the average team (all teams ground into some number of double plays, you see). This is contrary to the preference which, in any statistical category, is to be better than average.

But the fact that the Detroit Tigers happen to be notable for grounding into double plays doesn’t necessarily mean those double plays are killing the team’s offense.

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  • The Tigers exited the holiday weekend ranked first in Major League Baseball in on-base percentage at .341. That means when a Detroit Tigers batter was at the plate, zero outs were recorded on the play more frequently than with any other club’s batters (65.9% of the time). That number overestimates the Tigers’ ability to avoid outs because, as we’ve discussed, the team grounds into double plays more frequently than any other team.

    But, even adjusting for those double plays, one finds that the Tigers remain in the top five in avoiding outs on batting events. Including those double plays, the Tigers have hit into .688 outs per plate appearance. That’s the fifth-best mark in all of baseball (the Los Angeles Dodgers are at the top with 0.681 outs per plate appearance) and well above the league average of .705 outs generated per plate appearance.

    One could rightly wonder how a team who is top in on-base percentage and top-five in slugging could score so relatively few runs (to be fair, they’re still top-ten in run scoring). Double plays are part of the answer, but it’s not the entire answer. It’s not even most of the answer. According to a metric called cluster luck, the sequence of the Tigers’ hitting events have cost the club 23.9 runs — nearly six times as many runs as double plays have cost — making them the unluckiest team in baseball in this respect.

    It’s frustrating to watch double plays kill a rally before it begins, but, even considering the hefty double play total, the Tigers have plenty of traffic on the bases. They’ve had some issue driving those remaining runners home, but we can reasonably expect better luck in that regard as we go forward.

    Next: Video of Each of Miguel Cabrera's 2015 Home Runs

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