FanPost

Gene Mauch's Double-Play Genius

The new baseball book I'm most excited about this offseason is Evaluating Baseball Managers: A Comprehensive History and Performance Analysis, 1876-2008, by The Hardball Times' Chris Jaffe. The only other book I'm aware of that takes a comprehensive/rigorous look at field generals is The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers: From 1870 to Today; which, while indispensable, is more of a conversation-starter than finisher.

Jaffe is parceling out parts of the book in dribs and drabs online, and one of these essays should be of strong interest to any of you who share my fascination with the second-best manager in Angels history: Gene Mauch. The whole piece is worth your attention; after the jump I'll just excerpt a bit having to do with Mauch's brainiacal obsession with the double-play:

Not only did he try to prevent his batters from hitting into them, but he wanted his defenders performing them.  [...] [T]he following formula [...]determines which defenses did the best job turning double plays based on opportunity:  DP/(H-2B-3B-HR+BB+HB-SH-SB-CS).  It is double plays turned divided by the times someone should have been on first base.  The following managers' squads were the most adept at turning two:

Most Double Plays Turned
Danny Murtaugh    0.497
Earl Weaver       0.531
Gene Mauch        0.591
Casey Stengel     0.667
Whitey Herzog     0.670

Murtaugh scores the highest, but he had uber-whiz Bill Mazeroski at second base.  Earl Weaver also benefited from spending his entire career with one team and a core of defensive specialists up the middle.  In contrast, Mauch, constantly created new double play combinations.  Account for that, and Mauch may have been baseball's best at coaxing double plays from his fielders.  He found the best gloves he could, coached them to focus on the double play, and had them positioned so they could pull it off.  [...]

By the [...] double play formula, Gene Mauch ran the two best teams in history at this play.  Incredibly, they were separate franchises with completely different middle infielders – the 1979 Twins and 1985 Angels.  Both turned a double play in 14.9% of all opportunities while no other units are over 14.7%.  Mauch managed two of the only seven teams in the last half-century that turned over 200 double plays. With each of the four teams he managed, he set franchise defensive records that still stand for most double plays in a season: 179 with the 1961 Phillies, 193 with the 1970 Expos, 203 with the 1979 Twins, and 202 with the 1985 Angels.

Delving into team splits data makes Mauch's interest in players who could make the double play even more apparent.  Add together splits at Baseball-Reference.com that includes a runner on first base (a runner only on first, runners on first and second, runners on the corners, and bases loaded), and use the formula DP/(PA-K-BB-HR-HB-SB-CS-PK) to determine how successful squads were at turning this play when they had the opportunity.  Six Mauch teams led the league; those squads featured five different starting second baseman and four shortstops.  Another half-dozen Mauch-managed clubs came in second place.
Due to his intense focus on the double play, Mauch's teams greatly benefited from this play.  Only once did his batters hit into more than 140 double plays in a season while Mauch's defenders pulled off at least 141 double plays every season except his rookie campaign and the strike shortened 1981 season.  Each one of the 26 teams Mauch managed pulled off more double plays than they hit into.

Holy crap, right? By all means read the whole thing. He's got sections in the book about all the key Angels managers, so look for some more excerpty goodness in the future.

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