What do the Numbers Mean in a Double Play?

- November 14, 2021
6-4-3 double play

The double play is an integral part of a baseball game. If you’ve ever seen a game on television or heard one on the radio, you’ve probably heard an announcer comment on the type of double play that just took place. It could be the usual 4-6-3 double play, the 6-4-3 double play, the 5-4-3 double play, the 3-6-3 double play, or a strange sequence of numbers that appear to be completely picked out of the air. For baseball novices, you may be asking yourself, what do these numbers mean before the double play?

The numbers you see before the double play tells us the order of events that occurred during the double play and which players were responsible. 

Every defensive player on the field is assigned a number based on the position played. Those numbers are used when keeping a scorecard to know who made assists and who made putouts during the game.

Numbers Assigned to Each Defensive Position

There are nine positions in baseball, with each defensive position associated with a number. The numbers and positions are as follows:

  1. Pitcher
  2. Catcher
  3. First Baseman
  4. Second Baseman
  5. Third Baseman
  6. Shortstop
  7. Left Fielder
  8. Center Fielder
  9. Right Fielder
baseball positions 6-4-3 double play
Credit: Wikipedia

During the game, a scorekeeper marks down what occurred during the play. Using the numbers associated with the players makes scorekeeping easy. It’s a shorthand system, so the scorekeeper doesn’t have to write the position name every time a play is made.

It helps keep the scorecard neat and tidy and improves the clarity of the scorebook when calculating the game’s statistics for the game. The only position that isn’t assigned a number is the Designated Hitter (DH) because the designated hitter isn’t making any defensive plays.

What Does the Order of the Numbers Mean?

Now that you know what positions are associated with each number, what does the order mean? 

In general, the order of the numbers in a double play shows how the play went down in order of who touched the ball first until the final out was made. Since this is the standard by which scorekeeping is done, it makes it easy for anyone who reads the scorebook to determine what happened during the play.

For example, if three defensive players touched the ball in the course of turning the double play, the player who initially fielded the ball is first. The second number is the person who received the ball from the first player to record the initial out. The last number is the person who received the ball last to complete the double play.

Because this is a standard way to track what happened during a play, this also makes it easier for anyone else who reads the scorebook to understand what happened during that play.

As an example, if there were three defensive players who handled the ball during a double play, the first number in a double play will tell us who initially fielded the ball, the second number will tell us who received the throw to make the first out, and the last number will tell us who received the ball for the second out.

To help put this into perspective, let’s look at some of the common and uncommon types of double plays that happen in the MLB.

The 6-4-3 Double Play – What is the Meaning of 6+4+3=2

Perhaps the most common type of double play is the 6-4-3. In a 6-4-3, the shortstop fields the ball, throws, or flips the ball to the second baseman for the force play at second base. The second baseman immediately throws the ball to the first baseman for the out at first base to complete the double play.

You can see that the “6-4-3” immediately indicates the order of events that transpired during the play. It won’t tell where the player fielded the ball, how hard the ball was hit, or how close the play was at each base but will give you the rundown of what happened with that player’s at-bat.

The 6-4-3 double play is so common in baseball that you may have been “6+4+3=2” on some t-shirts. Without knowing baseball scorekeeping shorthand, this leaves you scratching your head because you know that 6+4+3 = 13 in the base 10 system. We now know that this means the 6-4-3 combination equals 2 outs.

The 4-6-3 Double Play

Another type of double play seen in professional baseball is a 4-6-3 double play and is seen more with left-handed batters who pull the ball to the right side of the infield.

With this double play, the second baseball is the player who fields the ground ball off the bat. He throws the ball to the shortstop, who is now covering second base.

The shortstop fires the ball to first base while often avoiding a charging baserunner who is trying to break up the double play. The first baseman receives the throw from the shortstop for the out at first base to complete the double play.

The 5-4-3 Double Play

This is known as the “around the horn” double play and generally only happens when the ball is hit sharply by a right-handed pull hitter. A slowly hit ball or a batter that has excellent foot speed will likely beat the ball to first base to avoid the double play.

In this double play, the third baseman fields the ball throws to the second baseman for the first out at second base. The second baseman relays the ball quickly to the first baseman for the final out.

While far less common than the 6-4-3 and the 4-6-3 double play, the 5-4-3 is brilliant and impressive to see.

The 3-6-3 Double Play

Occasionally the same number will appear twice in the double play sequence. In this case, the first baseman fields the ball cleanly who throws to the shortstop covering second base for the first out. The shortstop returns the throw to the first baseman to complete the double play.

If the first baseman is too far off the base when fielding the ground ball, sometimes the pitcher runs to first to cover the base, and the double play is a 3-6-1.

The 1-2-3 Double Play

This rare double play only occurs with the bases loaded and runners forced to run on any ground ball put into play. The batter hits a ball on the ground back through the middle.

The pitcher fields the ball cleanly and throws it to the catcher for the force at the plate. The catcher fires the ball to the first baseman for the second out, thus completing the 1-2-3 double play.

Strange Double Play Combinations

While most double-play combinations involving three players are infielders, occasionally outfielders get involved in a play. A rare 3-2-8 double play occurred in Major League Baseball in which the first baseman fielded a hard ground ball, threw the ball to the catcher for a force at home.

Then the catcher noticed a baserunner off third and ran him back towards the base. He also saw a runner veering far off second base, and the centerfielder ran in to cover second base, receiving the throw from the catcher, tagging out the runner. This completed the most unusual 3-2-8 double play.

With the increased use of infield shifts in Major League Baseball, it’s not entirely unheard of to see a 5-6-3 double play or even a 6-5-3 double play.

There are nearly endless combinations possible. While most double plays involve three players, sometimes only a single player or two players are involved in the double play.

Unassisted Double Play

Sometimes there are scenarios in which there is a runner on first base and the first baseman fields a hard-hit line drive. He can then touch the runner or step on first base before the runner returns to complete the double play.

This can also occur with line drives caught by the second baseman or third baseman if they can tag a baserunner the veered too far off the base. This kind of double play is generally scored with a U after the position number, such as 3U.

Double Play Involving Two Defensive Players 

At times only two players are involved in completing the double play. An example would be if there is a runner on first base and a ground ball is hit to first. The first baseman can field the ball, touch the base and throw to the shortstop covering second base, who tags the runner out. This is recorded as 3-6.

It may appear to be a single out when first glancing at the scorecard as a grounder fielded by the first baseman, who threw to shortstop for a force-out at second. It can be noted in the scorecard as 3-6 DP to eliminate possible confusion.

On line-drive double plays involving two players, you can score it as L4-3, for example, meaning a line drive caught by the second baseman, who threw to first to complete the double play.

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