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double played

mulder: 14-1, 1.88 at night.

say it with me, people: just go with it.

i've stopped watching him pitch, mostly; he has me as baffled as most of the hitters he faces. like them, i take mighty swings at mulder's junk, which is just sitting there as if on a tee; then i go back to the bench wondering how i missed. anyway, enough of that; from now on i think i'll just look at the guy's line after the game. better not to know (caution: mixed-metaphor impending) how he's manufacturing this sausage; just enjoy the taste . . . . .

and hope the shit doesn't kill you down the road.

the cards turned another two DPs behind mulder last night, one of them on an incredibly brilliant, heads-up defensive play by so taguchi, who pretended not to know how many outs there were in the bottom of the 3d and thus duped a baserunner into trying to score from 2d on a sac fly. he was out by a mile; way to go, gooch!

the cardinals are now on pace to turn 206 double plays, which would be the highest total by any major-league team in the last 15 years, and surely one of the highest totals of all time. (if anybody knows where i can find a list of the highest single-season team dp totals, please post a link.) only two teams have topped 200 dp since 1990 -- the 1997 rockies and 2001 kc royals. but the cardinals' feat would be far more impressive, because they have so many fewer double-play opportunities than either of the other 200-dp clubs. both the rockies and the royals had bad pitching staffs that allowed a lot of baserunners, whereas the 2005 cards have an obp-against of just .317, 2d-best in the national league. which makes stl's dp ability that much more freakishly good.

Update [2005-8-23 11:43:3 by lboros]: ryan of the diaspora reports that the record for double plays in a season is 215, held by the 1966 pittsburgh pirates. our boys seemingly would have an outside shot at that . . . .

how much are all those dps worth? i'm going to take a quick stab at quantifying it. there's a lot of math involved, so i'm putting the rest of the post below the fold as a courtesy to the numerically averse. read on, brave ones . . . . .

through sunday's games, national league teams had turned 1919 double plays. the cards had turned 157 of those. subtract them out, divide up the remainder, and we get a per-team average of 117 dp for the other 15 nl teams. so the cards are 40 dp above average.

also through sunday, nl teams had allowed 25,052 baserunners (hits plus walks plus hbp). subtract out stl's 1455 baserunners, avg out the remainder: the other 15 nl teams have yielded an avg of 1573 baserunners. so the avg nl team in 2005 has turned 117 double plays per 1573 baserunners, a rate of .074. that is, nl teams erase 7.4 percent of all baserunners on double plays.

the cardinals have 157 dp per 1455 baserunners, a rate of .108. they are erasing 10.8 percent of their baserunners on dp. that comes out to 49 double plays above average -- that is, if the cards turned double plays at the league rate (7.4 percent of baserunners), they would only have 108 double plays.

so the cards are between 40 and 50 double plays better than average. next question: what's a double play worth?

that's a difficult one, because some double plays are worth more than others. a double play with one out and the bases loaded kills a potentially game-changing rally; a double play with one out and a man on first probably doesn't make a big difference. the best way i know of to quantify this is via tangotiger's expected run matrix, which tells us the run-scoring potential of various base-out states. to use the examples above: with the bases loaded and one out, the run expectancy -- the runs we would expect to score from that point through the end of the inning -- is 1.65. with a man on first and one out, the run-scoring potential is more than a run lower, 0.57.

let's keep going with that first example. with the bases loaded and one out, a double play ends the inning and erases all of the run-scoring potential -- 1.65 runs. so we might say that the double play is worth 1.65 runs. but a more conservative assessment would only measure the value of the second out -- ie, the value of a double play over a simple force out. if an "average" team attempts a double play but only gets a force out at second base, then a run scores and the inning continues with men at 1st and 3d and two outs, which situation has a run-scoring potential of 0.54. the cardinals turn the double play and get out of the inning unscathed. so a double play in that situation saves the cards 1.54 runs over an average team -- it keeps a run from crossing the plate and averts the 0.54 runs that would be expected to score if the inning continued. in equation form:

expected runs after forceout (1.54) - expected runs after dp (0) = 1.54 runs saved

is anybody still with me after all that? ok both of you, let's take another example: men on first and second with nobody out. that situation carries a run-scoring potential of 1.57. average team gets a forceout, leaving men at first and third with one out, a run potential of 1.24. cards turn a double play, leaving a man on third with two outs, a run potential of 0.39. so:

expected runs after forceout (1.24) - expected runs after dp (0.39) = 0.85 runs saved

another: man on 1st, nobody out; expected runs are 0.95. with a forceout, the expected runs drop to 0.57; with a double play they drop to 0.12.

expected runs after forceout (0.57) - expected runs after dp (0.12) = 0.45 runs saved

the reality is surely far more complex than the either/or i am postulating here. in some cases, the cards are getting double plays on balls that might be a base hit for the "average" team. in other cases, the cards -- whose pitchers have an extreme ground-ball orientation -- are inducing ground balls where an "average" team might get a strikeout or popup or line drive. better minds might be able to account for all those things, but i can't. for that matter, a more diligent blogger would go back through all the box scores and tally up the run expectancy for all 157 of the cardinals' double plays this year. i ain't a-gonna do that either. i'm just going to slap a generic value of 0.6 runs on every double play and call it good. if someone can show me why that's a terrible value, i'll adjust accordingly; otherwise just go with it. (that phrase again . . . . )

based on my quasi-wild-ass assumption, the cardinals have saved between 24 and 30 runs this year on double plays. that's three, maybe four wins -- a hell of a significant number, insofar as the cards are only 16 wins above average (ie, 16 wins better than a .500 team). and my estimate is based on some pretty conservative assumptions; the actual value of all those double plays might be five wins, or even (dare i?) six.

not bad for a team with a below-average defensive shortstop and a second-string third-baseman. credit the cardinal pitching staff and its incredible 1.7 groundout/flyout ratio. credit mark grudzielanek's quick release and strong, accurate arm in the pivot.

this kind of puts grudk's staph infection in a more urgent light now, doesn't it? get well soon mark.