The Angels defense last year led all of baseball in double plays, while setting a franchise record for fewest errors made. In fact, the team had more than twice as many DPs (174) as Es (85). How unusual is that? Unusual enough that no team ever accomplished the feat in the first 123 years of Major League Baseball history. Yet it's common enough that four teams turned the trick just last year.
How can that be? Well, the game changes. In the first decade of the 20th century, defenses made three times as many errors as double plays. By 1919, the ratio was 2:1. Double plays didn't cross the 1:1 threshold until 1947. Didn't make it to 1.3:1 until 1995.
This long trend line in the direction of double plays is not because people are turning more of them. Teams averaged more in 1949 (169) than in 2009 (150), despite the eight fewer games. It's the errors that have plummeted:
1979: 140 per team
Against this backdrop, it was a matter of when, not if, for that 123-year streak to end. The first time a team made twice as many double plays as errors was in 1999, and two different teams managed it: the Orioles (191/89), and that great John Olerud-anchored Mets defense (147/68). Over the next 10 seasons, during which the ratio of DPs/Es blew through the 1.4:1 threshold (2002) and then 1.5:1 (2005), 15 teams doubled up on errors, including the Astros for three of the past four years. The best ratio ever? The 2007 Colorado Rockies, with 2.65:1 (180/68). They won the National League pennant.
Bringing it back to the Angels, is this something that we could expect for 2010? Much as I enjoy managing around the double play, I would argue that we wouldn't even want to repeat that double. GIDPs correlate at least somewhat to allowing lots of runners on base, and last year we were worse at that (1.49/9 innings) than in any season since 2000, when we not coincidentally turned 182 double plays. Since the main cause for comparative optimism about the Angels this year is that the pitching is likely to be much better than last, I reckon we'll land somewhere in the 150s.
But! Our infield is young and athletic and aggressive, with shortstops all over the damn place, anchored by arguably the most talented defensive SS in the game. Kendry Morales is particularly fearless and adept at the 3-6-3. And we just signed the groundballingest pitcher in the big leagues to a two-year contract. Crazier things have happened.
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