Last night it was clear early on that runs would be at a premium for both teams, as Colby Lewis and Jaime Garcia were dealing. In the fifth, the Cards finally mounted a rally, when of all people, Garcia drew a walk against Lewis to put runners at first and second. It was the first time the RedBirds put two runners on base, but the rally ended with the next at-bat thanks to the slick glove work of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler on the rocket hit by Rafael Furcal. The play underscored what Rangers’ fans have come to realize — Andrus and Kinsler are the game’s best double play combo.
This didn’t happen overnight. If you follow Jamey Newberg on Twitter — and honestly, you can’t call yourself a Rangers fan if don’t — you know that at times he has been critical of Andrus’ defense (but also like a proud dad when he does well) and with just cause. After a fantastic rookie season, Andrus regressed sharply in the field last season, and is prone to lapses of concentration that sometimes end up with the ball landing either five feet in front of the first baseman or in the second row of the stands. But aside from his ErrR mark, he mostly rebounded this year, and together with the criminally underrated Kinsler they outpaced all challengers:
They left little to the imagination, leading the league in both UZR and DRS as well as the double play components of each metric — DPR and rGDP. The double play metrics in particular are interesting, as they had at least a five-run gap on everyone else.
And despite Andrus’ struggles in 2010, their dominance over the past three years is pretty clear as well. For starters, whether due to injury, poor performance, whims of the manager, trades or free agency, it’s incredibly hard to keep the same double play combo together long-term these days, even when one side of it is dominant. Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki had consistent partners up until this year, but Dan Uggla was jettisoned in favor of Omar Infante this year in Florida, while the keystone for Colorado was a jumble of sadness. Boil it all down, and there are only four teams who have had the same double play combo each of the past three years — five if you include Brandon Phillips and Paul Janish in Cincy (I left them out because Orlando Cabrera garnered the lion’s share of PT in 2010). Of the four, Kinsler and Andrus are once again the cream of the crop:
While the cumulative UZR for Rollins and Utley come close, Texas’ duo laps them and the others in DSR. And again, both double play metrics — rGDP or DPR — has them at the top.
We can measure most things in the game of baseball these days, and in a way, chemistry is one of them. We hear frequently how hard it is for double play partners to get in sync with one another, but in our numbers-oriented world we tend to think of things in a more plug and play fashion. Take Uggla and Alex Gonzalezfor example. Entering this season, Gonzalez had posted positive UZR’s in eight of the past nine years and had posted positive DPR’s in all nine, so the thinking was that he would make up for Uggla’s subpar fielding, i.e. plugging in Uggla wouldn’t hurt Gonzalez. But Gonzalez’s fielding performance dipped this year. Was that because he really is getting old and slow, or did covering for Uggla hurt him? Maybe neither, maybe it was a one-year blip. But the point is that there can be value in keeping your double-play combo together (well, unless you’re the Yankees), and plays like last night show why. Is it Kinsler’s job to break for second on Furcal’s smash? Absolutely. But in watching the wide angle on the replay, you can see how far Kinsler was, and he still broke hard. Given how far away he was, no one would have faulted him if he had let up, but he went hard, and part of the reason had to have been because he knew Andrus had a chance to make the play.
Last night, Andrus and Kinsler helped spoil what could have been a 2-0 series lead and the continuation of an incredible story for the Cardinals with their gloves, their bats and their legs. Pitching may win championships, but dynasties are built up the middle. And the Rangers, with the league’s reigning number-one DP combo (not to mention Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli) are set up to be very good for a very long time.
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