You Can Assume a Double-Play

Another shibboleth that distorts baseball statistics says that when one runner is retired on a batted ball and a second runner is safe only because a throw is off-target or is dropped, no error will be charged. This affects, and distorts, three different statistics. First, the fielder who makes the bad throw or drops the ball does not get a blemish on his fielding percentage. This is least important, because who really cares about fielding percentage unless there is something like a 150-game errorless streak at stake. Second, if another runner scores from third on the play, the batter will get credit for an rbi, which he wouldn’t if the double-play were completed. Third, and this is the big hit, the pitcher’s ERA will be responsible not only for the runner who is safe because of the errant play, but for all the runs that wouldn’t have scored had the second out been recorded.

Are these results just? No. If a first baseman drops a throw, it shouldn’t matter that an out has already been recorded. He is just as responsible for catching the ball, and if he fails, it should be his error. But maybe the second baseman who has to pivot in the face of an onrushing runner and relay to first shouldn’t be responsible if his resulting throw is off target. But hey, he is held responsible if his bad throw allows the batter to go to second. And some pivots are harder than others. The official scorer can surely identify when a bad throw is caused by the difficulty of the play, and when it is simply the fielder’s fault. This is the same judgment he makes on any hard shot or any slow roller that the fielder flubs.

From the batter’s point of view, if he is up with the bases loaded and hits a routine double-play grounder to short, whether he gets an rbi should not depend on whether the first baseman drops the relay throw. He didn’t do his job and he shouldn’t be rewarded. Conversely, the pitcher who does his job by inducing a double-play grounder that should end the inning shouldn’t be stuck with a lot of earned runs just because the first baseman drops a throw.

In short, to say “you can’t assume a double play” has no basis in logic or practice. Any error assumes that an out would have been made if the play was properly executed. Given the right circumstances – if the shortstop or second baseman has the time and space to get off a decent and timely throw to first – there is no reason not to assume the second out, as well.

Twins Report Card

 As we reach the quarter-pole of a Twins season that I expect to be either frustrating or forgettable, here is a list of my Five Favorite Things about the team, so far:

1. Joe Mauer lining an outside strike over the shortstop’s head. His swing is so pure I don’t want to miss an at-bat. In his first month back, he has developed into a power hitter, which is great; but I don’t want him to lose that sweet stroke to left.

2. Jose Mijares pumping his fist after getting out of the eighth. It looks like the Twins have their go-to guy to get to Nathan (that’s another story), in place of the still sorely missed Pat Neshek. Mijares can throw his first two pitches in the dirt and still strike out the batter. He keeps his emotions in check until the inning ends, when he shows how pumped up he really is.

3. Denard Span coaxing a walk. What a professional hitter, and what a great lead-off example. He can take two pitches for strikes, then start fouling off good pitches and taking close ones, until suddenly it’s ball four and the Twins’ best base-stealing threat is on board.

4. Kevin Slowey painting the corners. Without overpowering stuff or any obvious strikeout pitch, he can still fan ten batters a game by consistently hitting his spots and subtly changing speeds. Unlike practically the rest of the staff, he never changes his demeanor – a cool customer and the Radke of the coming decade.

5. The Twins TV analysts breaking down the game. Perhaps emboldened by his success as pitching coach for the Netherlands, Bert Blyleven is quick to point out flaws in a Twins pitcher’s delivery; and Ron Coomer and Roy Smalley aren’t far behind in saying what’s being done right or wrong. They may be “homers,” but it almost seems their bigger allegiance is to the game, and how it should be played.


To round things out, how about some lowlights:

1. A middle defense that hits at or below .200. Punto and Tolbert are major disappointments, Gomez is a work-in-progress that may never get finished, and Casilla is in the minors for a reason. In place of the piranhas, this year we have the minnows.

2. An overrated Joe Nathan. Just when proclaimed him the best closer of recent years, Nathan started the Twins on their six-game skid by pitching terribly in the series-opening loss to the Yankees. Instead of inspiring confidence that the game is over when he comes in, Nathan makes me nervous with his fidgeting, sweating and sliders in the dirt. Relievers have notoriously short life spans. I fear Joe is near the end of his, but I wonder how long it will take Gardy to admit it.

3. Solo home runs. Sure, Morneau, Mauer, Kubel and Cuddyer are showing some pop, but how many of their blasts come with no one on or the game out of reach? Other than Mauer, these are all “mistake” hitters, who can usually be handled when the game is close and the pitcher is bearing down.

4. Crain and Ayala. These guys automatically give up a run per appearance. If it’s a close game, Gardy dare not use them, which means Guerrier gets worn out by August.

5. Delmon Young. Not a bad player, just not the power hitter the Twins were expecting when they gave up Matt Garza. He’s also their worst defensive player (I’d rather have Kubel in left) and doesn’t have the scrappy personality that makes the Twins fun to root for.