In baseball, a double play (denoted on statistics sheets by DP) for a team or a fielder is the act of making two outs during the same continuous playing action. In baseball slang, making a double play is referred to as "turning two", or as Ernie Harwell has coined it, "two for the price of one".
Double plays are also known as "the pitcher's best friend" because they disrupt offense more than any other play, except for the rare triple play. Pitchers often select pitches that make a double play more likely (typically a pitch easily hit as a ground ball to a middle infielder) and teams on defense alter infield positions to make a ground ball more likely to be turned into a double play. Because a double play ends an inning in a one-out situation, it makes the scoring of a run impossible in that inning. In a no-out situation with runners at first base and third base, the double play may be so desirable that the defensive team allows a runner to score from third base so that two outs are made and further scoring by the batting team is more difficult.
Double plays initiated by a batter hitting a ground ball (but not a fly ball or line drive) are recorded in the official statistic GIDP, an indicator of one form of batting ineptitude. Should a run score on a play in which a batter hits into a double play (the first-and-third or bases loaded, none-out situation), official rules of scoring deny the batter credit for an RBI, although the batter always gets credit for an RBI on a one-out groundout or a fielder's choice play in which a baserunner scores.
The most common type of double play occurs with a runner on first base and a ground ball hit towards the middle of the infield. The player fielding the ball (generally the shortstop or second baseman) throws to the fielder covering second base, who steps on the base before the runner from first arrives to force that runner out, and then throws the ball to the first baseman to force out the batter for the second out. If the ball originated with the shortstop and was then thrown to the second baseman, the play is referred to as a "6-4-3 double play", after the numbers assigned to the players in order of field position; if it is hit to the second baseman and then thrown to the shortstop, it is known as a 4-6-3 double play (6-shortstop, 4-second base, 3-first base; see baseball positions). A slightly less common ground ball double play is the 5-4-3 double play, also called the "Around the Horn" double play which occurs on a ground ball hit to the third baseman (5), who throws to the second baseman (4) at second base, who then throws to the first baseman (3). Comparatively few third basemen succeed often at turning such double plays which require a third baseman with good range and a great throwing arm. Rarer still is a 4-3-6 or 6-3-4 double play in which a middle infielder throws first to the first baseman to retire the batter and the first baseman then throws to the other middle infielder who tags the runner from first base (in that case the force play is no longer in effect).
Double plays also occur on ground balls hit to the pitcher. Most of the time, these double plays will go 1-6-3 (pitcher to shortstop to first baseman), though sometimes these double plays will go pitcher 1-4-3 (pitcher to second baseman to first baseman). 6-3 and 4-3 double plays occur on ground balls to the shortstop or second baseman, respectively, which the fielder takes for an unassisted putout at second before throwing to first. The 3-6-3 double play occurs on a ground ball to the first baseman, who throws to the shorstop at second base before stepping on first. Thus, the shortstop can throw back to the first baseman, who is still able to get the force out at first. Variants of this double play include the 3-6-1 double play (where the pitcher covers first) and the 3-6-4 double play (where the second baseman covers first). Also, the first baseman may choose to retire the batter at first before throwing to the shortstop at second, who then tags the runner coming from first (tag because the force has been removed). More rare double plays include the 1-6-4-3, and the 1-4-6-3 double play. In these, the pitcher will "kick-save" the ball (instinctively knocking down the batted ball with his foot), or the ball will deflect off some other part of the pitcher's body.
Another class of double plays include those in which infielders catch line drives and then throw or run to a base to catch a baserunner who fails to return to the base from which he has started. The batter is out because his ball has been caught on the fly, and a runner is out at another base. For example, if a batter hits a line drive to the second baseman (or any other infielder, or the pitcher) that a baserunner from first base thinks is a clean hit and the second baseman catches before it drops, then the second baseman can throw to first base to the fielder (usually the first baseman) covering the base; should the first baseman either touch first base with any part of his body (usually his feet) or tag the baserunner returning to first (not necessary), then a double play is completed. More rare is an unassisted double play in which the fielder catches a line drive and either tags a runner off base or tags a base that a baserunner cannot return to on time.
On occasion, bad bunts can result in double plays. An attempted sacrifice bunt may be laid down such that a charging pitcher, first baseman or catcher (the typical initiators of such plays) is able to field the ball, throw to second base to force a runner out, and the shortstop (the usual fielder at second base on a bunt play) then is able to throw to the fielder covering first base (usually the second baseman) to put out the batter. With a runner on first base, should the batter bunt a ball fair as an infield fly, the infield fly rule that protects baserunners is no longer applicable. At his discretion, the fielder in position to catch the bunted fly ball may elect to 'trap' the fly ball (that is, put his glove on the ground but over the ball to secure it) or (a fielder is not allowed to drop a ball deliberately to force runners to advance) catch it on a short bounce, in which case the runner at first must reach second base before a throw is made to second base. The fielder covering second base can throw to first base to complete the double play. Should the runner at first stray too far from first base, however, and the infielder catches the pop fly, the infielder gets the out for catching an infield fly and throws to first base to complete the double play.
Another double play occurs when a fly ball is hit to the outfield and caught, but a runner on the basepaths strays too far away from his base. If the ball is thrown back to that base before the runner returns or tags up to go to the next base, the runner is out along with the batter for a double play. In a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play, immediately after the batter has swung and missed at the third strike or taken a called third strike, the catcher throws out a baserunner who is attempting to steal second (2-6, usually) or third base (2-5), or some form of rundown play.
Two others involve outfield flies: more commonly, a baserunner tags up from third base on an outfield fly, attempting to score before a throw from the outfielder (more rarely an infielder) can be thrown to the catcher. Should the catcher tag the runner before he can score, the play is considered a double play, and the outfielder is credited with an assist. Similar plays can be made at second base or third base, or in rundown plays on the infield. Many outfield assists are made on such plays, and the most assists made in any given year by a single outfielder is typically about twenty (they need not be made on double plays).
Far rarer is a play in which the runner attempts to advance before the outfielder catches the fly ball. As a rule the double play is completed after the pitcher receives the ball and throws to the base that the runner has left too soon; on appeal the base-runner who left the base too early is called out on the play.
A rare double play that can only take place with the bases loaded is a play in which a sharply-hit ball is fielded by an infielder, who throws to home to force the runner coming in from third. The catcher then throws the ball to the fielder covering first base to retire the batter. Such a double play ended the top half of the 8th inning during Game 7 of the 1991 World Series: With one out and the bases loaded, Atlanta's Sid Bream hit a ground ball at Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, who fielded it and threw it to catcher Brian Harper to retire Lonnie Smith at home. Harper then threw back to Hrbek to retire the side. Another variation of this play, in which the pitcher, and not an infielder, first fields the ground ball is the "1-2-3 double play." Such a play occurred in the no-hit shutout that Jack Morris pitched in .
An unusual double play occurred on 4/12/08, Yankees at Red Sox. The infield was shifted left for Jason Giambi, with a baserunner on first. Giambi grounded to 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia, who threw to the 3rd baseman Kevin Youkilis, who because of the shift actually had to cover 2nd base. Youkilis tagged second, then turned the DP by throwing to 1st baseman Sean Casey, to get Giambi out. This would therefore be a rare "4-5-3" double play.
Buck Martinez was involved in one of the most incredible double plays on record. After dislocating his ankle and breaking his leg in a home plate collision with the Seattle Mariners' Phil Bradley, Martinez threw the ball to third base in an attempt to catch the advancing runner. When the throw went into left field, the baserunner tried to come home. However, he was tagged out by a sprawled-out Martinez, who had managed to catch the return throw from George Bell on the ground, thus completing what is perhaps the only 9-2-7-2 double play in Major League history. Note: According to the MLB Official Rule Book, Rule 10.11, if an error or misplay occurs between putouts, they do not constitute a double play. This play, therefore, is not an official double play.
A bizarre double play occurred in a nationally televised game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox on August 4, 1985 when both Bobby Meacham and Dale Berra were tagged out at home by Carlton Fisk on a deep drive single to left-center by Rickey Henderson. An identical situation would occur again in the 2006 NLDS between the Dodgers and Mets when Russell Martin hit a single to right field and Paul Lo Duca tagged out Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew at the plate.
A so-called double-play position involves the second baseman and shortstop moving away from second base so that one of the fielders can field a ground ball and the other can run easily to second base to catch a ball thrown to him so that he can tag the base before the baserunner from first base can reach second base, the infielder tagging second base then throwing to first base to complete the double play. The pitcher tries to throw a pitch in the strike zone that, if hit, is likely to be grounded to an infielder (or the pitcher) and turned into a double play.
In a situation with runners on second and third and fewer than two outs, a team may decide to give an intentional pass to a hitter, often a slow baserunner who is perceived as one of the more dangerous hitters on the team or to the pitcher. A double play is then possible on a ground ball to a middle infielder. However:
(1) a subsequent walk scores a run, and
(2) the batter reaching first base on the intentional walk may score on subsequent plays should no outs be made. This situation allows a great reward to the pitching team should it succeed in inducing a double play (far less opportunity of scoring) but also great reward to the batting team should it fail.
Batting teams can select lineups to reduce the likelihood of double plays by alternating slow right-handed hitters with left-handed hitters or hitters who are fast baserunners, or by putting a slow-running slugger (typically a catcher) in a low spot in the batting order (often #7 where there is no designated hitter). In a situation where a double play is possible, the batting team can
All of these strategies entail risk and may be either inappropriate or impossible, depending on the situation. A stolen base attempt ensures that the runner on first base is either at second (making a double play impossible) or out (likewise, but with an out and the loss of a baserunner). Some batters cannot bunt well, and poor bunts can themselves result in double plays. Avoiding the double-play pitch may mean taking a called strike. Trying not to pull the ball decreases the possibility of a home run that scores two or more runs. The hit-and-run play requires that the batter hit the ball, lest the baserunner be caught stealing on a throw from the catcher to the shortstop or second baseman covering second base and makes a pick-off of a baserunner more likely. A strikeout-prone hitter who swings wildly in the hope of getting a pitch that he can hit as a long fly ball as a sacrifice fly, double, triple, or home run is more likely to strike out.
Because the rarer double plays require baserunning errors, no team relies upon them to get out of a bad situation unless the opportunity arises.
Even extreme strikeout pitchers such as Randy Johnson or Pedro Martínez have to rely on double plays to be effective. Pitchers of lesser distinction often need double plays just to remain in the game.
The ability to "make the pivot" on an infield double play, i.e. receive a throw from the third-base side, then turn and throw the ball to first in time to force-out the batsman, while avoiding being "taken out" by the runner, is considered to be a key skill for a second baseman.
Cal Ripken, Jr. holds the major league record for most double plays grounded into in a career, with 350. He also holds the American League record for most double plays made by a shortstop. Both records are a consequence of his longevity as a player and the long grass at the Baltimore baseball stadium (Camden Yards and Memorial Stadium). Ripken was also a reasonably powerful hitter who frequently hit near the middle of the batting order and did not strike out at a high rate; this means that he frequently came to the plate with runners on base, was expected to make solid contact (as opposed to bunting) and usually put the ball in play, all factors contributing to having a high number of GIDP.
For every 100 double plays that go 6-4-3, there are:
(see Granny Hamner comment, SS # 76)
Career GIDP leaders, Baseball-Reference.com