is one that was devastating for the club in 2012 and – since nothing can or will be done about it – should remain a cause for concerned and lower expectations for the offense. Double plays. The Tigers grounded into 156 of them last year, worst in the majors, and are adding two GIDP-prone hitters in Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young combined for 32 double plays last year, but I expect to see Martinez and Hunter match or exceed that. Lot of people pondered why the high-octane Tigers offense wasn’t scoring more runs – the Tigers had a higher OPS than the Red or White Sox but scored fewer runs than either. It was right in front of us: double plays. Depending on how you crunch the numbers, another double play leads to somewhere between a half of a run and a full run lost. 30 more double plays, 20 fewer runs, 2 fewer wins.
So why were the Tigers so bad at this – and likely to continue being so bad at this? It isn’t that the Tigers hit an unusually large number of ground balls – their ground ball percentage was only 22nd in the MLB at 44.3%. There are 4 big causes: the Tigers are slow, the Tigers hit the ball hard, the Tigers put the ball in play and the Tigers get on base. We know they are slow, they were last in baseball in steals and last in “infield hit percentage”. The result is that lumbering guys can’t break up double plays or beat them out – and also that if Leyland feels the need to “create offense” on a team with no speed he sends the lumberer running into a strike-em-out-throw-em-out, which is a separate issue. In terms of “guys on base”, the Tigers 6th from the top of the MLB in plate appearances with men on base last season – the result of an on-base-percentage that trailed only the Yankees and Cardinals [you could say that the Tigers were unlucky in that sense - teams like Cleveland and Minnesota wound up with more scoring chances despite much lower on-base percentages.]
I would expect – if hitting balls hard on the ground increases your double play risk – that we would see a statistical link between BABIP on ground balls and GIDP, after controlling for speed. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough annual data to do any kind of statistical test for this (one year is far from enough, given the noise in BABIP data and so on) but I can observe that the Tigers had the third highest BABIP on grounders in baseball last year, despite having the fewest infield base hits. Not proof that they’re grounding into double plays because they’re hitting hard grounders, but it’s certainly suggestive. As for putting the ball in play – you’d probably expect that the Tigers would strike out a lot, given the type of players on the roster. You’d be wrong, though. The Tigers 18% strikeout rate was actually 7th best in baseball, and hence did make some contribution to their disproportionately large number of GIDP.
Of course, leading the league in GIDP was only half of the Tigers double play problem – they also failed to record enough on the defensive end. Tigers defenders recorded only 128 double plays in 2012, 5th worst in baseball. The Twins managed to get 190! There were a bunch of causes for that, too. Not all of it is the gloves at second and short… Tiger pitchers were in the bottom third as far as GB%. They were also fairly easy to run on, allowing the 4th most steals in baseball – if a double play is a danger, just send the guy over. No more danger. I can tell you that it wasn’t Cabrera – Tiger third baseman started an above-average 29 DP. I’d like to tell you that it was not Omar Infante – but I can’t do that. Infante did well (numbers-wise) for the Marlins last year as far as double plays started and turned, but not as a Tiger. Among Tiger second sackers, he was better than Raburn et al. but not nearly so good as Ramon Santiago. That may not be his fault, though… it’s possible that some of that blame ought to fall on Peralta (and we shouldn’t forget that Santiago is actually a very good second baseman). For Infante to start one, typically Peralta has to turn it and Fielder has to finish it – or it never gets recorded as a double play. I don’t have any numbers, unfortunately, on could-have-been or should-have-been double plays – just the ones that actually got completed. Tiger shortstops – primarily Peralta – were second to last in the majors in double plays started with a measly 34 though DP turned was middle-of-the-road for them. For the other guys that can possibly start a double play, Fielder was average with 11 as were Tiger pitchers with 10.
Luckily, this is an area that the Tigers could improve – by replacing Peralta. Peralta has been consistently poor at this as a Tiger shortstop, coming in around 10 double plays started and 10 double plays turned (per season) lower than his totals back when a younger version of himself played short for Cleveland (and had a bit more range). Don’t expect that to solve all of the Tigers problems in this respect, though, and remember that Peralta does have other positive traits. Stephen Drew does not seem like an especially good shortstop, in this respect, either.