Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fielding Redux: Double Plays 

As I noted Wednesday in my first addendum to my thoughts on the Phils 2006 Fielding prospects, this is going to be the year of the glove. The Phillies are going to sink or swim based on how they do defensively. Wednesday I talked about Rowand, Burrell and Abreu's arms.

Now I'm going to talk about double plays. The double play is probably the biggest and most important play on defense (okay, after a triple play). The double play erases an base-runner allowed by the defense or pitcher either ends an inning or pretty much terminates it: a team with a runner on first and no outs has a .9227 run expectancy for the inning. A team with nobody on and two outs has a .1160 run expectancy for the inning, according to Baseball Prospectus.

A double play knifes a team’s scoring chances in the heart. Anecdotally: back in '00 I had gone to the Vet with my grandfather to watch a game against the Rockies. The Phils led 3-2. The Rockies had a runner on first with one out. (That’s a situation with a .5536 run expectancy, for those keeping score at home.) A sharp hit goes to Desi Relaford manning short, who grabs it and bobbles it, making a weak throw to second, where Morandini can’t make the force or the relay to second. Instead of losing out on an opportunity to score, the Rockies position has improved (.9001 expectancy now) dramatically. The next Rockies batter clocks a two-run double. Final score, Rockies 4-3. Desi’s bobble virtually guaranteed that the Rockies were going to score the game-tying run, and they ended up getting the game-winner as well. (Here is the Retrosheet entry for the game, by the way.)

So how did the 2005 Phillies do in turning the double play? … Not so good. The Phils ranked 19th of 30 teams:

Opportunities / GDP / Pct.
1. St. Louis: 375 / 180 / .480
2. Minnesota: 300 / 140 / .467
3. Cleveland: 300 / 137 / .457
4. White Sox: 319 / 143 / .448
5. Oakland: 309 / 137 / .443
19. Phillies: 287 / 111 / .387

This is a very surprising result to me because John Dewan’s The Fielding Bible ranked the Phillies infield as being the best in baseball. The Phillies corner infield had a Plus / Minus rating of +57 (22 better than the second-place Cardinals). The Phils middle infield, the shortstop and second-baseman, were +50, 20 better than the Arizona D-backs. So how did the Phillies do so badly at turning double plays? (Note: the D-backs weren’t great either, ranking seventeenth at .394…) Honestly, I’m a little mystified.

Let’s look at the numbers: The problem doesn’t seem to lay with Jimmy Rollins, the Phils SS and current holder of a 38-game hitting streak. Check out J.Roll's numbers:
Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
2005: 127 / 76 / .598 (14th)
2004: 130 / 82 / .631 (3rd)
2003: 140 / 89 / .636 (5th)
’03 – ’05: 397 / 247 / .622 (5th of 31)

By the way, Derek Jeter ranked 28th (.551) and Nomar Garciaparra ranked dead-last (.488) over the 2003-2005 time-period. The Braves new shortstop, Edgar Renteria ranked 23rd, while their old one, Rafael Furcal, was 10th.

Anyway, J.Roll did well starting the double play. I’d also note that he executed the pivot (the throw from second to first on a double play) well, ranking fourth (.682) during the 2003-2005 period. J.Roll seems to have the arm-strength and speed to be a great 6-4-3 guy.

Does the difference lay with Chase Utley? Note that 2005 was the first time that Chase ever really got to play a whole season:
Innings Played at 2B …
2003: 302.0
2004: 410.3
2005: 1,195.3

Placido Polanco has been the Phillies regular second-baseman since he joined the team in 2002, although injuries in ’03 and ’04 limited his playing time and gave Chase an opportunity to learn how to play second. Who was the better defender? The 2005 plus / minus numbers give the edge to Chase: +26 vs. +13 … Chase also bested Placido in Relative Range Factor: 1.073 vs. 1.058 … But turning the double play is an area where Polanco still has an edge:
Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
2005 (Utley): 144 / 64 / .444 (34th of 36)
2005 (Polanco*): 158 / 90 / .570 (6th of 36)
* With the Phils and Tigers.

Further back … Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
2004 (Utley): 54 / 26 / .481 (unranked)
2004 (Polanco): 138 / 67 / .486 (19th of 33)
2003 (Utley): 47 / 29 / .617 (unranked)
2003 (Polanco): 130 / 67 / .515 (13th of 33)

Overall … Opportunities / GDP / Pct. (Rank)
’03 – ’05 (Utley): 245 / 119 / .486 (17th of 25)
’03 – ’05 (Polanco): 426 / 224 / .526 (9th of 25)

I’m surprised by Chase’s struggles with the Double Play in ‘05. Although his terrible .444 is close to the .481 he posted in ’04, Chase ranked second in plus / minus amongst second basemen in 2005. So he’s a pretty darn good player, whatever his struggles with the DP. Chase improved with the Pivot, which is important because the second baseman is the pivot man in the 6-4-3 DP:

Opportunities / Pivots / Pct. (Rank)
2005 (Utley): 69 / 44 / .638 (22nd of 36)
2005 (Polanco): 90 / 58 / .644 (21st of 36)
2004 (Polanco): 76 / 54 / .711 (5th of 33)
2003 (Polanco): 68 / 44 / .647 (15th of 32)
’03 – ’05 (Utley): 116 / 76 / .655 (11th of 25)
’03 – ’05 (Polanco): 234 / 156 / .667 (9th of 25)

Naturally, I assumed that the Phils problem was with Chase when I began and looked at the 2005 numbers, but Polanco wasn’t that much better and he’s a pretty handy guy with the glove. Chase’s ability to turn the pivot on the 6-4-3 wasn’t bad at all. Bottom-line, I’m not entirely sure why the Phillies turned so few GDPs. I think of it mostly as growing pains for Chase at second: he was able to get by on speed in 2005. His speed and instinct gave him the tools to post a strong + / - rating because he was able to fly around the infield and get to the ball. I think that time to develop his skills- remember he played fewer than 800 innings at second before the season -will improve his ability to work the pivot and convert the GDP. I think he and J.Roll will turn in a great season working the 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 this season.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about bunting …

A word about last night's 4-3 loss ... much better performance although two things bothered me: Bullpen did a big-up job of nearly losing the game: Ryan Franklin gets two outs at the top of the eighth and then loads the bases because getting a third out. On to the ninth, when Tom Gordon enters the game and gives up the game-winning hit. Pretty bothersome stuff.

Charlie Manuel's decision to bunt J.Roll over after the double has to be second-guessed. Runner on second base with no outs: 1.1629 run expectancy for the inning. Rowand bunts J.Roll to third: 0.9790 run expectancy now. Abreu gets J.Roll home on a sac fly, but it illustrates a point: when you sacrifice outs to score runs, you run yourself out of an inning. So when Pat Burrell followed Bobby with a single, his efforts were wasted: a runner on second with two outs has a 0.2445 run expectancy for the inning.

Growl. More tomorrow.

I touched upon Chase's failure to turn the DP in my blog on Monday's loss to the Cards. In the 4th, we got one instead of 2, which really started the bleeding. Throw in Rowand's failure to grab the fly ball which turned into a triple, and that's the big inning right there.

Utley, whatever his strengths, needs to work on his pivot abilities.
The pivot is Chase's one glaring weakness.

As for the sacrifice bunt I disagree it was the wrong decision. It was the right one precisely because it was unexpected from the Phillies.
Tom: we'll have to agree to disagree. My POV is that there was no threat of a DP, and you had the heart of the order coming up. Instead of playing for a 1-0 lead, they should have been playing for a 3-0 lead.

I think we can all agree about Chase's abilities turning the 6-4-3...
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