Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Double or Nothing?

File this under "Quirky." Through 29 starts this season, Detroit Tigers lefthander Kenny Rogers has been involved in eleven double plays. That's more than he's ever had in one season. His previous high was 7 in 2005, one of the five years in which he won a Gold Glove.

It's not unheard of for a pitcher to reach double digits in double plays. Rogers is the fifth pitcher since 2001 to have 10 or more in a season. The other four were Kirk Rueter (11, 2001), Javier Vazquez (10, 2001), Livan Hernandez (10, 2004), and Jon Garland (10, 2006). Those numbers aren't league records, but Rueter came close: the AL record is 15 by Bob Lemon in 1953 and the NL record is 12, shared between Curt Davis in 1934 and Randy Jones in 1976. You can find more pitcher double play records here. Even with a few starts to go, I doubt an ailing Rogers will get the four double plays necessary to tie the AL record.

It's kind of strange to look at the rest of the 2008 leaderboard for double plays by pitchers. CC Sabathia and Edwin Jackson are tied for second...with five. Granted there's still a few starts left for those guys, but it's weird to see such a gap between the leader and second place. The last time there was any real gap between first and second place was 2004, when Brandon Webb finished three double plays behind Livan Hernandez.

So how is Kenny Rogers getting involved in all these double plays? Curiously, looking at Rogers' THT page tells us that his ground ball percentage has actually dropped from the past couple seasons. However, looking at the play-by-play of each game in which Rogers has a DP tells us that ten of the eleven are ground ball double plays (the other was a liner back to the mound and a toss to first). So maybe he's just been lucky in that more of the ground balls he's induced have come back to him in double play situations.

The other four pitchers with ten double plays in a season since 2001 also were out of line with their career numbers. Kirk Rueter had 11 in '01 but never more than six in any other season. The closest Javier Vazquez has come to reaching double digits again is six (he has one this year). Jon Garland's 10 in 2006 was way out there, as he's never been over four in any other year (he has three this season). Durable veteran Livan Hernandez has reached seven twice in addition to his 10 in 2004 (none this year). I guess Rogers' high double play total is also probably attributable to luck more than anything else.

If nothing else, there's a reason to watch Rogers' final starts of 2008. He just might find himself in more double play situations and get closer to the AL record.

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