CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Happy Holidays! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 29

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Skewed Left: Dallas Ke... (05/22)
<< Previous Column
Baseball ProGUESTus: B... (04/25)
Next Column >>
Baseball ProGUESTus: F... (05/23)
Next Article >>
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (05/22)

May 22, 2014

Baseball ProGUESTus

An Ode to the Double Play Pivot

by Rocco DeMaro


Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers, and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

Formerly the pregame / postgame radio host for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rocco is now a freelance writer, broadcaster and podcaster. You may remember him from Episode 31 of the Up & In podcast. Follow his tweets here.

I feel like we take the double play for granted.

Not on the order of some other, way more important things...things like clean water, the postal service, and general relativity, which are all really great. But turning a double play in the majors is no mean feat. Just think about all the sssstuff that's happening on a given GIDP opportunity:

Contact. The initial catch. The initial throw. The second catch. The final throw. The final catch. All those things need to happen so fast, and with zero margin for error. That inherent complexity is the reason why only about 34.5 percent of double play opportunities grow up to become actual double plays. (More on that below.)

With appropriate respect for the double play established, I'd now like to unbury the lede and reveal our focus for today: The Transfer, the athletic sleight of hand that lies at the heart of most GIDPs.

***

The average major leaguer gets from the batter’s box to first base in 4.2 or 4.3 seconds, depending on handedness (lefties are closer, of course, and get there a hair quicker). The fastest guys in the league are generally in the 3.8-4.0 range.

So given that major-league infielders have about four seconds to work with, they've had to resort to some pretty neat tricks to successfully birth a twin killing. And that's where The Transfer comes in.

It's a bit magical, innit, The Transfer. The ball is fielded and thrown to a teammate…and then it is immediately headed in a totally different direction at great velocity. And accurately! Somehow.

Like magic.

Whether it's the shortstop or the second baseman, the recipient of that first throw needs to catch it with his left hand while simultaneously beginning his own throw to first base with the rest of his body. And he needs to do this as quickly as possible (while tagging second base with his foot) because a professional athlete has been paid by an enemy organization to careen at his legs at some great speed.

I've tried to measure, with a stopwatch, the amount of time it takes for a good pivot-man to make his catch-to-throw transfer, but it happens in fractions of a second. My fingers couldn't manipulate the stopwatch fast enough to aggregate reliable data.

As a scouting friend said to me, "We don't time it—it happens too quickly—but you know fast when you see it."

***

It's here that I'd like to fold into our discussion a man who's best known for a home run—which really isn't that crazy, given the magnitude of said home run. Still, in a just world, when someone heard the name “Bill Mazeroski',” the image it would summon to mind would be not this, but these.

There’s nothing wrong with being famous for a home run. And as home runs go, Mr. Mazeroski's is a pretty good one. (In fact, it’s the greatest home run ever hit.) But Maz, a Hall of Famer, didn't get into Cooperstown because of that swing on October 13, 1960. He got in because, as Bill James put it in his 1988 Baseball Abstract, "Bill Mazeroski's defensive statistics are probably the most impressive of any player at any position."

I've watched more baseball in my 36 years than most humans will in a lifetime. And I've never seen a second baseman with a catch-to-throw transfer as fast as Mazeroski's, as seen in the above videos. It's like Maz is a celestial body and the baseball is being slingshotted around him, using his gravity to accelerate in another direction. As Ben Lindbergh puts it, "The guys who are the best at it seem to just redirect the ball without ever really impeding its path."

So if Maz is among the best of all time on the pivot, who's carrying his torch today? We'll turn to the data hounds at Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) for some answers.

BIS has analyzed double play data from the past three years and come up with second base and shortstop pivot rankings. These don't specifically account for the speed of a player's transfer, mind you, but because a quick transfer is a big part of a successful turn, the player's skill there is fairly well baked into the data. We have a top 10 and a bottom 10 for each position. (BIS also offers this information in the form of "Double Play Runs Saved.)

Top 10s

Player

Pivot Pct

2B Rank

Dustin Ackley

75.0%

1

Emilio Bonifacio

73.6%

2

Ian Kinsler

72.5%

3

Ramon Santiago

71.4%

4

Danny Espinosa

70.9%

5

Dustin Pedroia

69.8%

6

Ben Zobrist

69.6%

7

Matt Carpenter

69.3%

8

Darwin Barney

68.8%

9

Donovan Solano

68.7%

10

Player

Pivot Pct

SS Rank

Brian Dozier

77.4%

1

Cliff Pennington

70.0%

2

Pete Kozma

69.0%

3

Marwin Gonzalez

68.9%

4

Ian Desmond

68.1%

5

Clint Barmes

68.1%

6

Adeiny Hechavarria

67.0%

7

J.J. Hardy

66.8%

8

Asdrubal Cabrera

66.7%

9

Ruben Tejada

64.5%

10

Bottom 10s:

Player

Pivot Pct

Chase Utley

0.552

Jedd Gyorko

0.558

Brandon Phillips

0.560

Logan Forsythe

0.561

Daniel Murphy

0.578

Aaron Hill

0.580

Robinson Cano

0.589

Jason Kipnis

0.593

Eric Sogard

0.593

Neil Walker

0.599

Player

Pivot Pct

Dee Gordon

0.468

Brad Miller

0.476

Jed Lowrie

0.500

Omar Quintanilla

0.517

Hanley Ramirez

0.524

Yunel Escobar

0.535

Jimmy Rollins

0.550

Didi Gregorius

0.566

Starlin Castro

0.568

Everth Cabrera

0.571

Some context: League average for second basemen is 63.9 percent; for shortstops, it's 60.8 percent.

Here's Doug Wachter of BIS to explain “Pivot Pct”:

Pivot Percent refers specifically to GIDP situations (ground ball is hit with a runner on first and less than two outs), when the player receives the ball at second. It is simply double plays turned as the pivotman divided by the amount of times he gets the throw at second to potentially turn the double play. So, for example, a grounder to short that the shortstop just throws to first for one out would not be considered, but a fielder's choice at second would.

With all that established, let's enjoy some more moving pictures.

Beginning with the shortstop rankings, we'll highlight Pirates SS Clint Barmes. To the eye, his transfer has always seemed really fast and smooth, and it's nice to see the numbers jibe with the eye test.

I'll sidestep a few of the top names on each list, as I'd like to avoid any sample size caveats. But Ian Desmond, for example, has a large body of work at SS over the past three years, and as Nationals fans would attest, he can do some work.

As for the second basemen, Ian Kinsler's transfer is for real. Not at smooth as Mazeroski's, mind you, but Kinsler is quite good.


Ben Zobrist has a nice transfer, too. Here's Jonah Keri, author, Grantland.com writer, and editor of my favorite baseball book, with a little more context.

Zobrist is one of the tallest second basemen I've ever seen, which he uses to great effect in standing tall (literally and figuratively) with a runner bearing down on him, such that he's able to field throws and then throw over anyone coming at him.

To Jonah’s point:

We've spent a lot of words on the double play transfer, a magical, yet under-appreciated little action that happens faster than a heartbeat. Probably enough words, especially given the lack of conclusions available about its potential market value.

Along those lines, my instinct tells me that a bell curve exists for this skill across the league, much as it does for any other. I'd also guess that the difference in a league-leading transfer vs. a league-worst would amount to tens of outs over the course of a season. We could be talking about a win here, in terms of spread. Unfortunately, measuring the damn thing is problematic. At least it was for me. In terms of playing some pivot-based Moneyball, I am an abject failure.

Thankfully, we have a happy ending to report, as help is on the way, courtesy of Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s new tracking technology. As an appetite whetter, please enjoy this video.

So, so much delicious data in there. Before you know it, we'll have empirical data on all sorts of difficult-to-measure things. And once the smart guys dig in, we'll be able to assign values even to The Transfer, one of baseball's most fleeting actions.

We've been saying this for over 30 years now, and it's always been true, but a richer, more informed baseball community is just around the corner.

Future quantitative delights aside, I began this piece as a celebration of the double play transfer, so I'd like to end on a similar note. My hope is that the next time you see a tough double play turned, or even just a lightning-quick, Mazeroski-esque transfer, you'll take a moment to appreciate the overlooked wizardry, deft skill, and alacrity taking place in that magical fraction of a fraction of a baseball second.

League-wide GIDP %, Courtesy of Baseball Info Solutions

Season

GIDP Pct

2014

33.2%

2013

35.3%

2012

34.3%

2011

33.5%

2010

34.9%

2009

35.5%

2008

34.7%

2007

35.3%

2006

35.4%

2005

34.8%

2004

33.4%

2003

34.8%

2002

34.5%

Thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller for his assistance with the embedded videos.

Rocco DeMaro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rocco's other articles. You can contact Rocco by clicking here

Related Content:  Double Play,  GIDP,  Pivot,  Bill Mazeroski

2 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Skewed Left: Dallas Ke... (05/22)
<< Previous Column
Baseball ProGUESTus: B... (04/25)
Next Column >>
Baseball ProGUESTus: F... (05/23)
Next Article >>
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (05/22)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Catching On to the Cub...
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Do Stars and Scrubs Lineup...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Puerto Rican Winter Lea...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Marlins Not Really Interested...
The Lineup Card: Seven Items That Tell the S...
Premium Article Ninety Percent Mental: What's Really Behind ...
Premium Article 2015 Prospects: San Diego Padres Top 10 Pros...

MORE FROM MAY 22, 2014
Premium Article Skewed Left: Dallas Keuchel Defies his Desti...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Wednesday, May...
Fantasy Article Free Agent Watch: Week Eight
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Representativeness, Valua...
Fantasy Article Closer to Me: Week Eight
Fantasy Article TTO Scoresheet Podcast: Running a Scoresheet...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Dallas Keuchel: Sell-High...

MORE BY ROCCO DEMARO
2014-07-22 - Notes About Baseball, 7/22
2014-07-14 - Premium Article Notes About Baseball, 7/14
2014-07-08 - Notes About Baseball, 7/8
2014-05-22 - Baseball ProGUESTus: An Ode to the Double Pl...
More...

MORE BASEBALL PROGUESTUS
2014-06-12 - Baseball ProGUESTus: The Physics of a Truly ...
2014-06-05 - Baseball ProGUESTus: Riding Top Prospects' C...
2014-05-23 - Baseball ProGUESTus: Fantasy Gets Impersonal
2014-05-22 - Baseball ProGUESTus: An Ode to the Double Pl...
2014-04-25 - Baseball ProGUESTus: Book Excerpt: Dry Land
2014-04-11 - Baseball ProGUESTus: Updating the Encycloped...
2014-04-10 - Baseball ProGUESTus: Projected Roster Core S...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2014-09-19 - Notes About Baseball: The Second-Hardest Par...
2014-07-14 - Premium Article Notes About Baseball, 7/14