Doubling Back on the Jeter Bunt

Derek Jeter bunting is usually a bad idea, particularly when the likelihood of him grounding into a double play is overrated. (AP)

I said I wasn't going to flog the dead horse of Tuesday night's ninth-inning Derek Jeter bunt, but I just can't quite leave well enough alone. Because the latter-day Jeter has evolved into quite the groundball hitter during his decline phase — he still leads the majors by a wide margin, hot streak and all — it was treated as inevitable that with runners on first and second and no outs he would hit into a twin killing. The reality is that the risk of a Jeter GIDP was overstated.

Baseball Prospectus tracks not only the number of times a player grounds into a double play but also the number of opportunities he has to do so; that is, the number of times he comes up with a runner on first base and less than two outs. Given those two figures and a league average, BP also figures Net DP, the number of additional double plays a hitter generates as compared to an average player with the same number of opportunities. On a per-opportunity basis, Jeter does indeed represent one of the more likely Yankees to ground into a double play, but not the most likely:

Player              DP  Opp   DP%   NETDP
Russell Martin 16 81 19.8% 5.68
Jorge Posada 15 78 19.2% 5.07
Derek Jeter 11 69 15.9% 2.21
Robinson Cano 19 125 15.2% 3.08
Alex Rodriguez 11 75 14.7% 1.45
Nick Swisher 11 86 12.8% 0.05
Eric Chavez 3 25 12.0% -0.18
Curtis Granderson 14 120 11.7% -1.28
Mark Teixeira 13 121 10.7% -2.41
Brett Gardner 7 81 8.6% -3.32
Andruw Jones 3 39 7.7% -1.97
Francisco Cervelli 2 27 7.4% -1.44
Eduardo Nunez 3 53 5.7% -3.75

For comparison's sake, the AL average DP% is 12.8 percent; the 2011 version of Jeter is about 24 percent more likely to GIDP than the average AL hitter. He's also considerably more likely to do so than either Granderson or Teixeira, the two hitters who followed him in Tuesday's lineup, but he's not particularly more likely to do so than Cano, who leads the team in GIDPs while facing nearly twice as many opportunities as Jeter.

Moreover, the red hot version of Jeter has been much less prone to such occurrences. Since his return from the disabled list on July 4, Jeter has grounded into just three double plays — one on July 15, and two on August 12. In that span, he has hit .351/.405/.470 through 188 at-bats. His full season DP percentage is not only below last year's 20.0 percent mark, which ranked seventh among AL batting title qualifiers, but also his 2009 and 2008 marks of 17.9 percent and 19.4 percent, respectively. Among the 90 AL hitters with at least 350 plate appearances this season, he ranks 25th.

You can arguethat Jeter may have represented a larger than average double play threat in that situation, and you can argue that based upon his career rates and his recent hot streak, some regression to his true level may have been in order, but the situation wasn't as cut and dried as it was made out to be. If he had a 15.9 percent chance of grounding into a double play, he still had roughly twice that chance to collect a hit, and the worst case scenario still would have left a runner on third with the tying run at the plate in the form of Granderson.

Joe Girardi and company shouldn't automatically cower and tell Jeter to assume the bunt position in the face of a similar opportunity down the road. Nor should the Yankees ever play for one run when one run isn't enough, but that's another matter entirely.

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