Double Play Verbiage

The “six-four-three” double play (recorded as “6-4-3” in a scorebook) is one of baseball’s most recognizable events.  The shortstop fields a groundball who flips it to the second baseman, forcing out the runner on first.  The second baseman then throws to the first baseman, retiring the batter and completing the double play.

Whether it helps a pitcher escape a late-inning jam, the second baseman valiantly heaves the ball to first despite being taken out by the runner, or the first baseman saves the entire sequence with a nifty scoop, a well-executed double play can deliver some of the best drama and excitement baseball has to offer.

The “6-4-3” might be the most common version of a double play, but there are quite a few variations of the “twin killing.”  Among them are the 4-6-3, 3-6-3, 3-6-1, home-to-first, and even line drives or flyballs that result in double plays.  And of course, there are double plays such as this.

Due to the wide range of double play combinations, it’s very common for baseball broadcasters to verbally incorporate the defensive numerals into their calls (either in the “live” portion of calling the play, or as a means of informing the listener of the official scoring after the play is over).

Because this mechanism is frequently used by broadcasters, I want to bring up a specific type of double play that is often erroneously cited on the air.

Scenario: There is a runner on first base with less than two outs.  The shortstop fields a groundball, and is close enough to second base that he steps on the bag himself to force out the runner.  The shortstop then throws to first to complete the double play.

How is this expressed verbally and numerically?  The correct answer is a “six-six-three” or “6-6-3” double play.  More times than not, however, broadcasters refer to this as a “six-three” or “6-3” double play.  It may sound awkward or redundant to say/write consecutive sixes, but the shortstop has to be credited with both a putout (forcing out the runner by stepping on second base) AND an assist (making the throw to the first baseman for the second out).

In terms of bookkeeping, this means the shortstop earns two “total chances” (putouts + assists + errors) for the purpose of calculating his fielding percentage ((putouts + assists) / total chances).  For example, if the shortstop committed an error on the very next play, his fielding percentage in that inning would be .667, not .500.  Referring to the double play as a “6-3” double play (either verbally or on your scorecard) fails to properly credit the shortstop.

The same concept applies in this scenario: Runners on first and second with less than two outs.  The third baseman fields a groundball, steps on third base to force out the runner on second, and then throws to first to complete the double play.  This is a “five-five-three” or “5-5-3” double play, and not merely a “5-3” double play.

I’m not sure why these two types of double plays are muddled so often (they’re fairly common occurrences, especially the 6-6-3).  The 3-6-3 double play (in which the first baseman fields the initial groundball, throws to the shortstop, and then retreats to the first base bag to receive the shortstop’s return throw) is another example where one fielder receives credit for both a putout and assist on the same play.  Yet, the 3-6-3 is always referred to in its proper form, so I’m not sure the 6-6-3 and 5-5-3 are cut simply for the sake of brevity.  It likely comes down to the unnatural feel of repeating the same number/word twice in a row (or perhaps worrying that in doing so, the listener might interpret the call as the shortstop/third baseman catching his own throw).  Make no mistake, though, “6-6-3” and “5-5-3” are proper form, and now you have a mathematical explanation for anyone who questions how you call the play.

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