If you’ve ever been watching a baseball game on TV and you see a double play, chances are that you’ve also heard the announcer mention what type of double play just occurred. Sometimes it can be a 6-4-3 double play, a 4-6-3 double play, or sometimes it could be a whole set of seemingly random numbers to announce what type of double play it was. If you’re unfamiliar with this terminology then you may be asking yourself, what do the numbers before a double play mean?
The numbers that come before a double play indicate which defensive players were involved in the play as well as the sequence of events that occurred during the play. The numbers correspond to the player’s defensive position while the order of the numbers indicates how the play was completed.
To further understand what the numbers in a double play mean, let’s take a look at the numbers for each baseball position, go over a few quick examples of what numbers mean in a double play, and take a look at what is the rarest double play combination.
The Numbers in a Double Play Correspond to the Defensive Position
The first thing to understand about the numbers you see in a double play is that these numbers correspond to the defensive position of the player. As a general rule, there are 9 positions in baseball, and each defensive position is associated with a number.
- First Baseman
- Second Baseman
- Third Baseman
- Left Fielder
- Center Fielder
- Right Fielder
When the scorekeeper marks down what happened during the play, they’ll use the numbers associated with each defensive position as a type of shorthand. Using numbers instead of names helps keep the scorebook clear of clutter while also improving the efficiency of keeping an accurate scorebook.
If you’re interested in learning more about what each position is responsible for (including the DH role) check out my previous article that goes into more details about every single baseball position and their roles.
The Order of the Numbers Tells us What Happened During the Play
The second piece of the puzzle to understanding what the numbers mean in a double play is to look at how those numbers are ordered.
As a general rule, the order of the numbers in a double play tells us a story as to what happened first, what happened second, and what happened third.
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 originally 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 take a look at some of the common and uncommon types of double plays that happen in the MLB.
What is a 6-4-3 Double Play?
One of the most common types of double plays you’ll see in the MLB is the 6-4-3 double play.
The 6-4-3 double play is a very common type of double play where the shortstop (6) fields the ball, throws the ball to the second baseman (4) to get the force out at second, and the second baseman makes a throw to the first baseman (3) to get the batter out at first.
So, the “6-4-3” tells us a story of the sequence of events that led to the double play. Because the numbers are ordered this way, we know the shortstop originally fielded the ball, the second baseman somehow received the ball from the shortstop, and the first baseman somehow received the ball from the second baseman.
What is the Meaning of 6+4+3=2?
Because the 6-4-3 double play is so common, this also gave rise to a saying in baseball that “6+4+3=2”, which is a saying that can be seen on some t-shirts.
As a whole, “6+4+3=2” is baseball slang for saying that a double play occurred. In this type of double play, the shortstop fields the ball, throws the ball to the second baseman for the first out, who then throws the ball to the first baseman for the second out.
If you’re interested in seeing what a t-shirt looks like with this saying on it, check out this t-shirt design on Amazon.
What is a 4-6-3 Double Play?
Another type of common double play you’d see in the Major Leagues is a 4-6-3 double play.
A 4-6-3 double play is a common type of double play where the second baseman (4) fields the ball, throws the ball to the shortstop (6) to get the force out at second base, and the shortstop makes a throw to the first baseman (3) to get the batter out at first.
To see a great example of a 4-6-3 double play, check out the quick clip below.
What is a 5-4-3 Double Play?
A 5-4-3 double play, also known as an “around the horn” double play, is where the third baseman(5) fields the ball, throws the ball to the second baseman(4) to get the force out at second base, and the second baseman makes a throw to the first baseman(3) to get the batter out at first.
The 5-4-3 double play is more uncommon than a 4-6-3 or a 6-4-3 double play, but it is also a more impressive double play to watch.
What is a 3-2-8 Double Play?
Now that we know what the numbers mean in a double play, we can also take a look at one of the rarest double-play combinations that happened in an MLB game, the 3-2-8 double play. What makes this such a rare double play is that the centerfielder was the player who made the second out of the play.
A 3-2-8 double play is where the first baseman(3) fields the ball, throws the ball to the catcher(2) to get the first out, and the catcher throws the ball to the centerfielder(8) to get the second out.
At first glance, the numbers of the 3-2-8 double play make sense, but what might be confusing is how the centerfielder ended up making the second out of that double play. To see how this play unfolded, check out the video below, courtesy of MLB.com.
Does There Have to Be Three Numbers Listed for a Double Play?
Although the most common types of double plays include three players, it’s also very possible for there to be just one or two players involved in a double play.
Unassisted Double Play
If there was a scenario where there was a runner on first and the batter hits a line drive to the first baseman, the first baseman could catch the line drive and tag first base before the runner has time to get back. In this scenario, the first baseman was the only player involved in this double play. When there is only one player involved in a double play, we would call this an “unassisted double play”.
I’ve seen two ways for a baseball scorekeeper to mark a play as unassisted. If we use the scenario above as an example, we could mark this double play as a “3U” or “3 UNA” double play. Both of these mean that the first baseman(3) made an unassisted double play.
Double Play with Two Defensive Players
When there is a double play that occurs and only two players are involved, we would not need to use three numbers to score a double play.
An example of this would be if there was a runner on first base and the batter hits the ball to the first baseman. The first baseman steps on first base for the first out and then throws it to the shortstop, who tags out the runner at second base for the second out.
In this scenario, we would log this as a “3-6” double play because only two players were involved in the play.