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The Miami Marlins' double play problem

The Miami Marlins have suffered from a case of double play-itis, but how much has it really affected this offense?

This happens a lot to the Miami Marlins.
This happens a lot to the Miami Marlins.
Marc Serota

Stop me if you've heard this one, but the Miami Marlins seem to be falling prey to the double play this season. The Fish are tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the most double play grounders in the National League thus far this year. In watching the team, it certainly has felt like the Marlins have grounded into far too many double plays, and it seems that the numbers support that early opinion.

Initially when you look at the Marlins' roster, you can see exactly why this team has grounded into as many double plays as it has. This year's team was built to provide more contact than previous squads, at the expense of power. This was not done on purpose but rather because the limited free agent market for the Fish provided those sorts of players. The Marlins acquired Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco. two players with minimal pop. The team acquired via trade Adeiny Hechavarria, who had a similar minor league reputation. Heading into the regular season, only Justin Ruggiano and Giancarlo Stanton seemed likely candidates to avoid the double play significantly thanks to their power and propensity for striking out.

The team's structure has led exactly to the double play problem that the club has had. Hechavarria leads the team with nine double-play grounders. Polanco has seven to his name. Pierre has none, owing that to his speed to first base. Even Ruggiano, who is struggling the least on the roster among the players expected to be there at the beginning of the season, has grounded into six double plays.

Unsurprisingly, a punchless team like the Marlins tends to hit a lot of balls on the ground, leading to the huge double play count. The Marlins are second in baseball in ground ball rate, behind only the Milwaukee Brewers. The team is also 21st in strikeout rate, meaning that the Marlins put the ball in play a lot more than the average major league team and primarily get the ball on the ground. These two factors are prime determinants for grounding into double plays.

One would think that the ultimate result of all of these double plays is failure on the field and runs left on the table. Manager Mike Redmond said as much in the linked article.

"Seems like every time we get guys into scoring position, we ground into a double play," Redmond said Friday after the Marlins grounded into three double plays in a 4-3, 11-inning loss to the White Sox. "We’ve been watching this all year. It’s those guys’ job to drive in runs. Obviously, if you don’t get the job done, you know what happens."

Yet, based on the calculations done by Baseball-Reference, you would be surprised just how many runs the Marlins have cost themselves compared to other teams. According to Baseball-Reference, the Fish have lost just two runs compared to league average. That is still good for tied for sixth-worst in baseball with the Texas Rangers, but overall it seems the Marlins have not cost themselves as much as it appears. That is because other teams also ground into double plays, and while the Marlins may lead the league in that category, they do not lead it by enough to really lose a lot of runs. The league leader in the category is actually the St. Louis Cardinals, who are at four runs below average.

To get an idea of how bad a team can be in double plays, no team was worse than eight runs below average last season. In 2011, the Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles were 11 and 14 runs worse than average respectively. In 2010, it was the San Francisco Giants who led the way with 10 runs less than average on double plays. It seems the limit in this era is just about a win worse than average.

If the Marlins are going to be bad, their likely not to be worse than one win or so compared to the rest of the league. However, that one win is just another in a long line of offensive problems this Marlins team will face in 2013.