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Revisiting the 9th-inning double play turn by Kolten Wong

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has committed six errors in 440 innings at second base in 2015—the second most among MLB second basemen behind only Addison Russell of the Chicago Cubs. Players strive to find their names at the top of league-wide leaderboards, but this is probably not the case regarding errors committed at their respective positions. That being said, the "error," by itself, is not an effective measure of a given players' defensive ability, and quite frankly, most of the time it is misleading, especially for players with above-average range (or better, i.e. Wong).

quick video search on MLB.com does a better job at portraying Wong's ability with the glove, recently showcased by the leaping play on Monday night and his diving stop on Sunday afternoon. While flashy plays are often more fun to talk about, Wong's double play turns at second base should not be taken for granted. In fact, they should be praised. While I do not believe there is a statistic regarding efficiency on double play turns (yet?), I would not be surprised, upon the creation of said statistic, if Wong found his name near the very top.

Wong wastes zero movement on his turns at second base. In all honesty, given his athleticism, agility, arm strength, soft hands, and instincts, Wong is a double-play-turning toolshed. Because of the confidence he possesses in his arm strength, Wong often does not even take a step on his turns, using second base as a shield from incoming base runners. Usually I don't like metaphors, but this seems like a pretty good situation to use one. Wong's turn on double plays mimics that of a bumper in a pinball machine. Oftentimes, the turn occurs so quickly that it does not even seem like Wong fully catches the ball.

For an example that is still fresh in our minds, let's revisit the ninth inning of last night's game with Trevor Rosenthal on the mound. Ryan Braun led off the inning with an infield single to Jhonny Peralta's right. Adam Lind followed by recording out number one on a harmless popup to second base, subsequently raising the Cardinals' win expectancy to 84.1% (from 73.8%). Next, Jonathan Lucroy singled down the right-field line, advancing Braun to third and lowering the Cardinals' win expectancy to 63.2%. As it so happens, notorious Cardinal killer, Aramis Ramirez (.308/.363/.518 versus St. Louis in his career), was up next. On a 2-2 count, Rosenthal threw Ramirez a 97 MPH fastball on the outside corner, resulting in the following:

Credit to @VanHicklestein for the GIFs

Off the bat, it appeared that this was going to be enough for the Brewers to tie the game at one. While Ramirez, who turns 37 years of age later this month, is very slow, the height of the chopped grounder mandated flawless execution by Carpenter (on the feed) and Wong (on the turn). Unfortunately, no angle exists to show just how far Ramirez was down the line at the time Wong received the throw, but the second GIF gives us enough information to produce a rough estimation.

When Ramirez reenters the frame, he takes two (maybe two and a half) strides. Using this information as a frame of reference, one could reasonably suggest that Ramirez was three and a half to four steps away from first base when Wong caught the ball at second. Think about that for a second. What goes largely unnoticed due to Wong's positioning and quickness on the turn is the fact that Lucroy had already begun his attempt at a breakup slide. Sure, Lucroy could have been a little more aggressive (a la Matt Holliday), but I am not sure if it would have even made a difference given how efficient Wong was on the turn.

Bottom line

Technically, the double play cannot be considered a "game-saving play" because the game would have only been tied should Ramirez have beaten the throw to first. However, it was a game-ending play nonetheless, one night removed from an extremely disappointing loss. Also, not enough can be said about the feed from Carpenter on this play. While I've heard some groans about his defense this season, this throw was perfect, and it wasn't a particularly easy play to make given the circumstances.

Credit to @VanHicklestein for the creation of these GIFs.