Say you were tasked with creating a pitcher who must lead the majors in double plays over the course of a simulated season, or else aliens would destroy Earth. What attributes would you provide him if you were limited to three at most? You’d probably start by making him an extreme groundball pitcher, for reasons that are easily understood. Then you’d ensure he held baserunners well, so he’d keep all his double-play chances in order. What else? How about controlling his quality of contact? You definitely wouldn’t want a bunch of hard-hit balls that leak through the infield, but you wouldn’t want him dealing exclusively in tappers and high-choppers either, lest you get only one out instead of two.

The last part sounds counterintuitive—weak contact is good contact—but consider the case of Aroldis Chapman, who is, for all intents and purposes, the antithesis of the pitcher created above. Chapman is such a non-threat to lead the majors in double plays (even on a rate basis) that he hasn’t coerced a standard groundball double play in more than a year. Here’s his most-recent one, from August 1, 2014:

Chapman has since taken part in the strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out and the at-’em-ball varieties, but not the classic, everyday kind whose scoring is so ingrained and familiar that it sounds like an area code. What’s more is he might not change that fact before the season ends.

You might ascribe Chapman’s drought to a personal baserunner shortage: A pitcher can’t erase two Cardinals with one stone if he doesn’t allow anyone to reach base. That’s not a valid explanation here, however; or not anymore, anyway. Chapman is scheduled to finish the season with the highest hit rate and second-highest walk rate of his career, a combination that has resulted in the fourth-highest WHIP among the 16 closers with 30-plus saves. He entered Sunday with 45 double-play situations on the season, meaning he’s had ample opportunity to turn two; he just hasn’t done it.

How frequent is Chapman’s potential achievement? Is this worth getting worked up about, or does it occur as often as a Marvel Studios release? The truth is, it happens more and less than you’d expect. Baseball Prospectus’ database returns 20 others who failed to extirpate twins during seasons in which they faced at least 40 double-play opportunities; three of those 20 occurred in the last five years: Mark Melancon in 2014; Sergio Romo in 2013; and Jerry Blevins in 2010. While Chapman isn’t the only pitcher working on his membership application—both Shawn Kelley and Josh Fields have a chance, provided they get into enough situations over the next two-plus weeks—his slump is the most extreme of the bunch.

Single-season and current leaders with zero double plays



DP situations


DP situations

Lance McCullers



Aroldis Chapman


Al Holland



Shawn Kelley


Ed Halicki



Josh Fields


John Wetteland



Jason Motte


Eddie Guardado



Rafael Betancourt


So how do you explain it? Let’s revisit the earlier premise, that Chapman features all the attributes you’d probably see in a pitcher who avoids double plays the way a feral cat avoids the bath:

Because we have incomplete Statcast data, we can’t look at the launch angle, direction, and all the other inside-baseball stuff that determines the ball’s trajectory and placement. (Nor can we state for certain that pitchers who live on the extremes of the batted-ball velocity spectrum are less likely to generate a lot of double-play balls.) What we can look at is the collage below, which shows the ball just after contact (or, in tricky cases, just after the first bounce) on the eight occasions when Chapman induced a grounder in a double-play situation. (Note: The red circle is there for navigation purposes, because some of the blurs are difficult to locate.)

As you can see, many of the balls hit the ground right at or around the plate. Predictably, a lot of those resulted in high choppers that made it tough for Chapman’s fielders to secure one out and impossible to turn two. In the simplest terms: The batters hit the ball too weakly for a double play to develop. This is the point where the obvious must be stated: Chapman’s quality of contact is a good thing. Even in this construct, where double plays are the focus, there’s no greater compliment to pay a pitcher than saying he fails because batters are unable to hit his pitches well enough.

Luckily, no one and no thing, aliens included, judges pitchers on their double-play tallies alone. Chapman then—with his long limbs, freakish flexibility, and nasty stuff— is indeed built to get outs, albeit one at a time.

Special thanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.

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You omitted the most obvious factor - strikeouts - not allowing (fair ball) contact at all
"When the opposition puts the ball in play against Chapman (often a feat within itself), it tends to catch air."
"when the opposition PUTS THE BALL IN PLAY"

He's talking about fly balls, not strikeouts.