Grounding Into Double Plays – Well Worn Path to HOF?

Chase utley Dodgers photo

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In 2016, Dodgers’ second baseman Chase Utley became the first qualifying player (502 plate appearance) since 1997 to complete an MLB season without grounding into a single double play. Ironically, Utley accomplished this feat in the first year of enforcement of what is informally known as the “Chase Utley Rule” – establishing new restrictions related to slides intended to break up double plays. The 37-year-old Utley hit .252 in 565 plate appearances (512 at bats), with 14 home runs and 52 RBI.  (See an explanation of the circumstances behind and impact of the new rule at the end of this post.)

Using a combination of baseball-reference.com and Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) resources, BBRT was able to find only nine qualifying batters (at least 3.1 plate appearances per game played by their teams) who completed a season with zero double plays grounded into (GIDP). Three of those came during the strike-shortened 1994 season. Note; GIDP records only go back to 1933 in the NL and 1939 in the AL.   Here’s the complete list – sorted by number of plate appearances – with each player’s batting statistics for the year.

Augie Galan, OF, Cardinals, 1939 … (748 Plate Appearances/646 At Bats) .314-12-79, with a league-leading 133 runs scored and an NL-best 22 stolen bases.

Craig Biggio, 2B, Astros (NL), 1997 … (744 PA/619 AB) .309-22-81, with 47 stolen bases and a league-leading 146 runs. Biggio played in all 162 games that season and also led MLB in hit-by-pitch (34).

Dick McCauliffe, 2B/SS, Tigers, 1968 …. (658 PA/570 AB) .249-16-56, with a league-leading 95 runs scored.

Chase Utley, 2B, Dodgers, 2016 … (565 PA/512 AB) .252-14-52.

Pete Reiser, Dodgers, OF, 1942 …. (537 PA/480 AB) .310-10-64, with 89 runs scored and a league-leading 20 steals.

Rob Deer, OF/1B/DH, Brewers (AL), 1990 … (511 PA/444 AB) .209-27-69.

Ray Lankford, OF, Cardinals, 1994* … (482 PA/ 416 AB) .267-19-57.

Otis Nixon, OF, Red Sox, 1994* …. (461 PA/398 AB) .274-0-25, with 42 steals.

Rickey Henderson, OF, A’s, 1994* … (376 PA/296 AB) .260-6-20, 22 steals.

*=Strike-shortened season.

Very Honorable Mention – Norm Cash

cashTigers’ 1B Norm Cash broke into the major leagues on June 18, 1958.  From that date until his third at bat in the second game of a May 9, 1961 double header, Cash did not ground into a single double play.  From the start of his major league career, he played 214 games (and part of a 215th), logging 663 plate appearances and 543 at bats, without grounding into a single twin-killing. In 1960, Cash played in 121 games without grounding into a double play, but his 428 plate appearances fell short of making the above list of “qualifying” batters.

On the other side of the coin, no one has grounded into as many double plays in a season as Red Sox’ outfielder Jim Rice, who hit into a record 36 twin killings in 1985.  Rice followed up that season by grounding into 35 double plays in 1985 (MLB’s second-highest total). Rice was an All Star in both years, hitting  .280-28-122 in 1984 and .291-27-103 in 1985. Rice, in fact, led the league in GIDP four consecutive seasons (1982-85), but made the All Star team in three of them. In 1983, he led the league in GIDP (31), but also led in home runs (39) and RBI (126), while hitting.305.  To put some perspective around Rice’s record 36 GIDPs in 1984, Don Buford grounded into just 34 double plays in his 10-season MLB career (1,286 games, 5,347 plate appearances, 4,553 at bats) – an MLB record career-low of one GIDP every 134 at bats,

Phillie’s OF Richie Ashburn led the league in fewest times grounding into double plays (among qualifying hitters) a record six times (1951-52-53-54-58-60). The speedster, for you trivia buffs, also led all MLB hitters in base hits in the decade of the 1950s (1950-59) and led all MLB outfielders in putouts over that same period. For more on this Hall of Famer, click here.

Sixteen-season MLB infielder Miguel Tejada led his league in most times grounding into double plays a record five times – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009. Notably, 2007 – the year that breaks the string of GIDP leading years – is the only year between 2004 and 2009 that Tejada did not make the All Star team.

Grounding into Double Plays – Well Worn Path to the Hall of Fame

Lots of games equal lots of GIDP.

Lots of games equal lots of GIDP.

A list of career leaders for grounding into double plays can, of course, be misleading – since their leadership is based on the length of their careers. Cal Ripken, Jr. leads the way with 350 GIDP in 21 MLB seasons.  The active leader is Albert Pujols, with 336 GIDP in 16 seasons (the only active player in the top five overall). Also in the top five are Pudge Rodriguez (337 in 21 seasons), Hank Aaron (328 in 23 seasons) and Carl Yastrzemski (323 in 23 seasons).  Notably, seven of the top eight players on the GIDP list are in the Hall of  Fame (Rodriguez going in this year).  The exception is the still active Pujols, and there is little doubt the Hall is saving him a spot. In addition, those already named, the GIDP top eight includes Hall of Famers: Dave Winfield (319 in 22 seasons); Eddie Murray (315 in 21 seasons); and Jim Rice (315 in 16 seasons). At numbers nine and ten are Julio Franco (312 in 23 seasons) and Harold Baines (298 in 22 seasons).

Three players have hit into a record four double plays in a single game: Tigers’ LF Goose Goslin (April 28, 1934 – in four at bat versus the Indians); Mets’ 3B Joe Torre (July 21, 1975 –  in four at bats versus the Astros); and Tigers’ DH Victor Martinez (September 11, 2011-  in four at bats versus the Twins).

The San Francisco Giants hold the team record for hitting into double plays in a nine-inning game – seven on May 4, 1969 (versus the Astros).  The Giants hit into inning-ending double plays in the first, third, seventh and ninth innings; and additional double plays in the fourth, fifth and eighth. Third Baseman Bobby Etheridge hit into two double plays, while C Dick Dietz, RF Frank Johnson, LF Jim Ray Hart, 2B Ron Hunt and P Juan Marichal hit into one each.   The Giants out hit the Astros 9 to 6, but lost 3-1.

The 1990 Red Sox hold the MLB team record for double plays grounded into in a season (175), while the 1945 Cardinals grounded into an all-time low (since records were kept) 75 double plays. Every member of the 1990 Red Sox starting linup hit into at least 10 double plays (led by Tony Pena with 23), while the 1945 Cardinals had only one player on the entire team that hit into 10 double-killings (Whitey Kurowski, ten).

THE “CHASE UTLEY” RULE

In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Two of the 2015 Dodgers/Mets National League Division Series, the Dodgers (trailing 2-1) had Enrique Hernandez on third and Chase Utley on first – with no outs and Howie Kendrick at the plate. In what would turn out to be a controversial play, Hendrick hit a groundball that was taken by Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy flipped to SS Ruben Tejada, who was taken out of the play by Utley – with a slide some thought was well wide of the bag. (Utley was originally ruled out, but – on review – the call was reversed.) After the play, Tejada was taken from the field with a broken leg. After the season, MLB put a new rule into place (to protect fielders). The rule, informally known as the “Chase Utley Rule,” requires that base runners breaking up potential double play “make a bonafide attempt to reach and stay on the base” – basically prohibiting runners from altering their path to the bag for the purpose of making contact with the fielder.

 

 

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