As I have been involved in discussions over the season with others about the level of double plays hit into by the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, I have been challenged to be able to put it into some kind of meaningful context.
A stance taken by some is that given the Cardinals are the highest-scoring offense in the league, it only stands to reason that they would also hit into the most double plays. That might seem reasonable until better understanding the historic rate of twin killings that occurred in 2011. I started by looking at the double plays hit into by the National League leaders in runs scored for the last five years.
|Year||NL Runs Leader||Runs||Double plays
||DP rank of 16|
|*thru 9/24 – Game 158|
Only once in the four years prior to 2011 did the NL run scoring leader also rank in the top half of the league in double plays. None of the clubs were in the top third – until the Cardinals this year. The 2009 Phillies had the perfect combination – the most runs scored coupled with the fewest (16th-most) double plays.
On Sunday, the Cardinals’ double play total this season tied the NL all-time record of 166. I wanted to see how that stacks up over time in a run-scoring context. To that end, I calculated the ratio of baserunners lost via double plays to the number of runs scored by the annual league leader, going all the way back to 1996, the start of the La Russa era in St. Louis.
|Year||NL Runs Leader||Runs||DP runners lost||Runners lost/Runs scored
|*thru 9/24 – Game 158|
As the table shows, the combination of an increased quantity of double plays along with lower run scoring is a double whammy that puts the negative impact to the 2011 Cardinals at the very top of the list. In fact, the 2011 Cardinals ratio of double plays to runs scored is over twice that of several recent NL annual run-scoring leaders.
Along with the look back at the past, I pulled the comparable numbers across the NL for 2011. They follow.
|2011 NL thru 9/23||Runs||Runs rank||DP||DP rank||DP/Runs||Season W/L|
Most of the teams in the top half of the league in Runners Lost/Runs Scored ratio are losing clubs. One notable exception is San Francisco, a team with the league’s lowest-scoring offense, but its second-best pitching. (Of course, the latter category is not reflected here.)
As noted at the bottom of the prior table, the 2011 NL team average in double plays is 109. The average is 106 when St. Louis is excluded. What if the Cardinals had just been “NL average” this season?
|Double plays||Runs scored||Runners left on base|
|2011 Cardinals thru 9/23||165||732||1092|
|2011 Cardinals improved||106||756||1127|
In the above table, I created a hypothetical but conservative, “improved” view of what the 2011 Cardinals might have been. I took the difference of 59 additional runners between the Cards’ real double play total of 165 and the NL average of 106 and spread them proportionally according to the team’s actual percentage of runs scored (40.1%) and runners stranded (59.9%).
That equates to 24 more Cardinals baserunners that may have crossed home plate this season – had there simply been an average number of twin killings instead of a record total.
How many innings that might have extended and perhaps had a domino effect on other scores is impossible to guess. Same with the number of wins 24 more tallies would have enabled. One thing we can say with certainty is this – the Cardinals needed just two more victories to be the hunted rather than the hunter as the final series of the season unfolds.