More Interesting Statistical Combinations

This article was written by Peter Uelkes

This article was published in the 2006 Baseball Research Journal


In Baseball Research Journal 33 Fred Worth presented an intriguing article titled “Interesting Statistical Combinations,” analyzing combinations like high batting average and low walks or lots of losses but a low ERA. He concluded the article, “Obviously there are many more comparisons that could be considered.” I took this as a challenge and investigated a number of other statistical combinations I consider interesting. All data is taken from Sean Lahman’s database (www.baseball1.com) and includes results from the 2004 season.

The Walking Men

Inspired by Barry Bonds’ historic 2004 season, we’ll look at the individual seasons for which a player had more walks than hits (minimum 100 at-bats). The top of the list ordered by maximum difference of (walks minus hits) looks like this:

 

Player
Year AB BB H BB-H Age
Barry Bonds 2004 373 232 135 97 40
Barry Bonds 2002 403 198 149 49 38
Jack Crooks 1892 445 136 95 41 27
Jimmy Wynn 1976 449 127 93 34 34
Roy Cullenbine 1947 464 137 104 33 34
Eddie Yost 1956 515 151 119 32 30
Yank Robinson 1890 306 101 70 31 31
Ferris Fain 1955 258 94 67 27 34
Wes Westrum 1951 361 104 79 25 29

 

As expected, the list is headed by Barry Bonds, circa 2004. He had almost 100 more walks than hits, by far the highest margin in history. Next up is also Bonds with his impressive 2002 season, which at that point broke the MLB record for walks in a season. Of course, we’re looking here at results only, not discussing whether they were achieved in a natural way or not. The above list shows all seasons with a (walks/hits) differential of 20 or more. There are four pre-1900 seasons in there as well as three third-millenium entries, all by Bonds.

Note the absence of any entries for almost the entire first half of the 20th century. Roy Cullenbine’s 1947 season is the first in the 20th century. Also quite as expected is that most players on the list are veterans, the majority being in their thirties while gaining entry. The obvious exception is Willie McGill in 1891 at just 18 years old, his second year in the league. He is the only pitcher on the list.

Looking at totals, the following number of seasons is listed in which a player accumulated a positive differential (BBH), showing all players who achieved the feat at least twice: first season indicates the first season of more walks than hits for the player, not his debut season in the majors. We see two players with an impressive six seasons of more walks than hits, followed by five players with four seasons each, including modern sluggers Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Jack Clark.

Of course, Barry Bonds may climb up the ladder before his career is finished. Noteworthy is the relative absence of pre-1900 players on this list with only three entries, although this includes Yank Robinson with four seasons. Half of the players (14 out of 28) had their first(BB>H) season after 1960.

 

Player # Seasons First Season
Max Bishop 6 1926
Gene Tenace  6 1974
Jack Clark 4 1987
Yank Robinson 4 1888
Barry Bonds 4 2001
Mark McGwire 4 1994
Eddie Yost 4 1955
Eddie Lake 3 1943
Mickey Tettleton 3 1990
Eddie Joost 3 1947
Don Mincher 3 1961
Jimmy Wynn 3 1969
Frank Fernandez 2 1968
Red Faber 2 1920
Ken Phelps 2 1986
Lee Mazzilli 2 1986
Jim French 2 1969
Marty Hopkins 2 1934
Aaron Robinson 2 1950
Merv Shea 2 1935
Mickey Mantle 2 1962
Jack Crooks 2 1892
Oscar Gamble 2 1984
Eddie Stanky 2 1945
Wes Westrum 2 1951
Charlie Bennett 2 1890
Roy Cullenbine 2 1940
Willie McCovey 2 1973

 

Primary Targets

After looking at players with exceptionally high walk totals, let’s now look at another kind of feat involving walks: having been hit by pitches more than having walked in a season. What follows is a table of player seasons (100 at-bats minimum) achieving this with a differential of at least three: The list is dominated by players of the 1800s and the early years of the 20th century, led by Hughie Jennings in 1896 with a mind-blowing differential of 32 more HBP than walks. Of course, most seasons are ones with very low walk totals for the player in question. An exception is Hughie Jennings’ 1897 season with 42 walks but even more hit-by-pitches. Jennings makes the list three times. These guys sure had a painful way of making up for their meager walk totals!

 

Player Year AB BB HBP HBP-BB
Hughie Jennings 1896 521 19 51 32
Boileryard Clarke 1898 285 4 15 11
John Reilly 1884 448 5 14 9
Jay Faatz 1888 470 12 21 9
Art Fletcher 1915 562 6 14 8
Whitey Alperman 1906 441 6 14 8
Hughie Jennings 1895 529 24 32 8
Dan McGann 1901 423 16 23 7
Sal Fasano 1998 216 10 16 6
John Warner

1901

291 3 8 5
Felix Escalona

2002

157 3 7 4
Whitey Alperman

1909

420 2 6 4
Hughie Jennings

1897

439 42 46 4
Finners Quinlan

1915

114 4 8 4
Jay Faatz

1884

112 1 4 3
Shawon Dunston

1999

243 2 5 3
Jack O’Neill

1905

172 8 11 3
Ollie O’Mara

1918

450 7 10 3
Mike Kinkade

2003

162 13 16 3
Vance Wilson

2002

163 5 8 3
Deacon Phillippe

1900

105 1 4 3
Barney Pelty

1904

118 0 3 3

 

Hit Spectrum Inversions

Typically, the number of the different types of hits a player has in a season goes in the sequence singles-doubles-home runs-triples in descending order of frequency. Let’s call this the “hit spectrum.”  Of course, as is often the case for one-dimensional sluggers, the order of doubles and home runs may be inversed. Here, we’ll look at player seasons for which the order mentioned above doesn’t hold. We start with players having more home runs than singles in a season (50 at-bats minimum):

 

Player Year AB H 1B HR HR-1B
Barry Bonds 2001 476 156 49 73 24
Mark McGwire 1998 509 152 61 70 9
Mark McGwire 1999 521 145 58 65 7
Mark McGwire 2001 299 56 23 29 6
Mark McGwire 1995 317 87 35 39 4
Milt Pappas 1962 69 6 1 4 3
J.R. Phillips 1996 104 17 5 7 2
Ben Wade 2004 60 7 1 3 2
Roric Harrison 1994 54 3 0 2 2
Rob Deer 1964 50 9 2 4 2
Richie Sexson 2004 90 21 8 9 1
Greg Pirkl 1994 53 14 5 6 1
Dick Williams 1964 69 11 4 5 1
Shane Spencer 1998 67 25 9 10 1
Jack Harshman 1956 71 12 5 6 1
Bobby Estalella 2002 112 23 7 8 1
Don Drysdal 1958 66 15 6 7 1
Neil Chrisley 1959 106 14 5 6 1

 

Once again, we have Barry Bonds heading the list. In 2001, on his way to breaking the single-season home run record, almost 47% of his hits were home runs while only 31% were singles. The differential (HR1B) of 24 is by far the biggest in history. Next up is Mark McGwire with four (!) seasons of his own with a differential of between four and nine. Obviously, all seasons are post-1950 with a predominance of the 1990s/2000s era. This indicates an increasing trend of all or nothing swings at the plate, at least for sluggers like McGwire.

But even then, hitting more home runs than singles is very hard to achieve over a full season. Bonds and McGwire are the only ones who did it in what amounts to the equivalent of at least half a season. Some list entries with low at-bat totals are pitcher seasons like Don Drysdale’s 1958 and Milt Pappas’ 1962 campaigns.

Another example of an anomalous hit spectrum is players who hit more triples than doubles. This happened about 750 times in MLB history (100 at-bats minimum). Following is a table of all player seasons with a differential (triples/doubles) of at least seven:

 

Player Year AB H 2B 3B 3B-2B SB
Harry Davis 1897 429 131 10 28 18 21
Chief Wilson 1912 583 175 19 36 17 16
Duff Cooley 1895 563 191 9 20 11 27
Bill Kuehne 1885 411 93 9 19 10 0
Hughie Jennings 1899 224 67 3 12 9 18
Heinie Reitz 1894 446 135 22 31 9 18
Deion Sanders 1992 303 92 6 14 8 26
Edd Roush 1916 341 91 7 15 8 19
Tommy Leach 1902 514 143 14 22 8 25
Dale Mitchell 1949 640 203 16 23 7 10
Jake Daubert 1922 610 205 15 22 7 14
Les Mann 1915 470 144 12 19 7 18
Braggo Roth 1915 384 103 10 17 7 26
Joe Cassidy 1904 581 140 12 19 7 17
Dave Brian 1903 464 107 8 15 7 21
Perry Werden 1893 500 138 22 29 7 11
Scott Stratton 1892 219 56 2 9 7 9
Joe Visner 1890 521 139 15 22 7 18
Dick Johnston 1887 507 131 13 20 7 52
John Kerins 1885 456 111 9 16 7 0

 

The list is dominated by seasons from the early stages of professional ball up to and including the Deadball Era. Deion Sanders’ 1992 season is the only one in the last half-century. Noticeable is the rather high number of at-bats, i.e., these players achieved the feat of tripling more often than doubling typically in a full season’s worth of plate appearances.

I suspect a number of reasons being responsible for the predominance of the Deadball Era on this list, including bigger parks, worse field conditions than today, smaller fielder’s gloves, and various others. Possibly one would expect players with more triples than doubles to be very fast and therefore to also steal a lot of bases, too.

However, as the number of stolen bases is also displayed in the table, this seems not to be the case. SB totals are moderate for most player seasons, Dick Johnston’s 1887 campaign with 52 SB being the exception. The two entries with zero stolen bases (Kuehne and Kerins) are due to the fact that no stolen base records were kept for the league at that time.

Looking at total seasons with more triples than doubles for each player (not shown as a table), we have Sam Crawford and Tommy Leach with five seasons each and Bill Kuehne, George Van Haltren, Silver King, John Hummel, and Adonis Terry with four each as well as 16 players with three each. Therefore, hitting more triples than doubles in a season is not a total fluke but, at least to some extent, a persistent skill of a few dozen players, mainly from the 19th century.

So far, we’ve looked at a reverse differential of hit types two positions apart in the hit spectrum 1B–2B–HR–3B, i.e., more home runs than singles (positions 3 and 1) and more triples than doubles (positions 4 and 2). Of course, reverse differentials for adjacent positions, e.g., more home runs than doubles, are typically more common than for greater positional differences.

So what has yet to be considered is the only possible reverse differential of three positions, i.e., hitting more triples than singles. This never happened in 100+ at-bats, but it happened once in MLB history in 50+ at-bats. In 1991, pitcher Charlie Leibrandt posted this line:

 

Year AB H 1B 3B 3B-1B
1991 70 3 0 1 1

 

Of course, this is just a fluctuation because of the extremely small numbers involved (no singles, one triple). So basically hitting more triples than singles in any meaningful number of at-bats has never happened so far. If we lower our minimum requirement for at-bats even more (to 25 AB minimum), we have two players who hit at least two more triples than singles in a season. Obviously, these small numbers of at-bats render the accomplishments statistically completely meaningless; there’s no persistent capability involved.

 

Player Year AB H 1B 3B 3B-1B
Ron Fairly 1960 37 4 0 3 3
Mike O’Neill 1907 29 2 0 2 2

 

Before leaving the topic of hit spectrums, we will look at totals for relationships between the different types of hits. In the analyzed data set, there are 32,661 player seasons with at least 100 at-bats. The following table shows for the six possible combinations of hit types (single vs. double, single vs. triple, double vs. home run) and the three possible relationships (hit type 1 greater than hit type 2, . . . smaller than . . . , . . . equal to) the counts and percentages of the total 32,661 seasons (see Table X1).

 

Table 1. Counts and Percentages

           Relationship

Hit 1 Hit 2 > = <
1B 2B 32653     99.98% 4     0.01% 4     0.01%
1B 3B 32661     100.00% 0     0.00% 0     0.00%
1B HR 32652     99.97% 1     0.00% 8     0.02%
2B 3B 31251     95.68% 659     2.02% 751     2.30%
2B HR 28722     87.94% 926     2.84% 3013     9.23%
3B HR 12033     36.84% 3569     10.93% 17058     52.23%

 

Table [X1] tells us, in addition to the eight seasons of more home runs than doubles and the fact that a season with more triples than singles never happened, several interesting facts. First of all, a reverse differential between positions 1 and 2 in the hit spectrum (singles vs. doubles) is very rare; it happened only four times in history. Another four times the totals for the two types of hits matched exactly:

 

Player Year AB H 1B 2B 2B-1B
John Kroner 1938 117 29 12 16 4
Adam Piatt 2003 132 30 11 13 2
Bobby Estalella 2002 112 23 7 8 1
Bill Duggleby 1905 101 11 4 5 1
J.R. Phillips 1996 104 17 5 5 0
Brian Hunter 1998 112 23 9 9 0
Lefty Grove 1933 105 9 4 4 0
Joe Bush 1925 102 26 12 12 0

 

Besides four seasons from the last ten years we have another four seasons from the first half of the 20th century. All seasons have relatively low at-bats totals, just making the cut of 100 at-bats. The results shown above regarding the counts/fractions of the hit spectrum relationships also indicate that the sequence triples/home runs is quite often reversed: more than one in three seasons is finished with more triples than home runs. However, this number drops to 22% if we consider only seasons after 1920, i.e., in the Lively ball era. 

And now to something completely different.

Masters of the Three True Outcomes

The Three True Outcomes (TTO) are usually defined as the three results from a batter’s plate appearance which are (almost) solely in the responsibility of the pitcher: the walk, strikeout, and home run. Sometimes players whose plate appearances often result in one of the TTO are referred to as Three True Outcome Players, e.g., second baseman Mark Bellhorn in Boston’s 2004 championship season.

These types of players are considered valuable in a performance analysis, sabermetrics point of view, e.g., the Moneyball approach. Traditional scouting and evaluation often rate these players rather lower because of typically high strikeout totals. Table 3 shows the top TTO percentages in history (100 at-bats mini- mum). Column TTO is the sum of columns BB, SO, and HR. TTO percentage is TTO divided by the sum of at-bats plus walks (ignoring HBP, sac flies, and sac hits).

The list is headed by a few players with over 60% of their plate appearances resulting in one of the three true outcomes. Up front is a pitcher, Vida Blue, without a home run. He’s solely on the list because of his impressive strikeout total (63 in 102 at-bats). The players on this list with a number of plate appearances equivalent to at least half a season are Mark McGwire in 1998, 2000 and 2001, Jack Clark in 1987, and Dave Nicholson in 1964.

 

Table 3. All-time Top TTO Percentages (min. 100 AB)

Player Year AB BB SO HR TTO TTP Percentage
Vida Blue 1971 102 4 63 0 67 0.632
Dave Nicholson 1960 113 20 55 5 80 0.602
J.R. Phillips 1996 104 11 51 7 69 0.600

Mark McGwire

2000

236 76 78 32 186 0.596
Mark McGwire 1998 509 162 155 70 387 0.577
Dave McNally 1970 105 15 53 1 69 0.575
Mark McGwire 2001 299 56 118 29 203 0.572
Billy Ashley 1996 110 21 44 9 74 0.565
Dave Duncan 1967 101 4 50 5 59 0.562
Dave Nicholson 1962 173 27 76 9 112 0.560
Jack Clark 1987 419 136 139 35 310 0.559
Bob Purkey 1962 107 4 56 2 62 0.559
Russ Branyan 2004 158 20 68 11 99 0.556
Dave Nicholson 1964 294 52 126 13 191 0.552
Earl Moseley 1914 109 7 57 0 64 0.552
Rob Deer 1985 162 23 71 8 102 0.551

 

Again, almost all seasons in the table are from the second half of the last century. When these guys are at bat, there’s not much to do for the fielders most of the time! Of course, we’re not so much interested in players who are on the list solely because of their high strikeout totals, like Vida Blue in 1971 or Dave McNally in 1970, but in players who also achieve significant totals in the other legs of TTO, walks and especially home runs. Table 4 gives the top TTO percentages for player seasons with at least 20 home runs.

Here we have the usual suspects: modern sluggers like Bonds, McGwire, and Jim Thome as well as strikeout kings like Rob Deer. Mark McGwire has six seasons of at least a 50% TTO percentage.

The other end of the Three True Outcome spectrum are players who rarely walk or strike out and have little power. For these, the opposite defenders are involved in most of their at- bats. As expected, this was most often the case in the 19th century. In the list of lowest TTO percentages in history over at least 100 at-bats, the first modern entry (post 1900) is at position 166, Doc Powers in 1905. Restricting ourselves to the post-1900 era, Table 5 contains the top of the list.

Please note the extremely low TTO percentages here. These are guys that had absolutely no power, very rarely walked, and almost never struck out. When they were at bat, a good defense behind him was surely the pitcher’s best friend (besides the double play). But even in the last few decades, there have been players with very low TTO percentages, as Table 6 shows, which has only seasons after 1970.

 

Table 4. Top TTO Percentages for Player Seasons with at least 20 Home Runs

Player Year AB BB SO HR TTO TTO%
Mark McGwire 2000 236 76 78 32 186 0.596
Mark McGwire 1998 509 162 155 70 387 0.577
Mark McGwire 2001 299 56 118 29 203 0.572
Jack Clark 1987 419 136 139 35 310 0.559
Melvin Nieves 1997 359 39 157 20 216 0.543
Jim Thome 2001 526 111 185 49 345 0.542
Dave Kingman 1973 305 141 122 24 187 0.540
Russ Branyan 2001 315 38 132 20 190 0.538
Rob Deer 1991 448 89 175 25 289 0.538
Rob Deer 1987 474 86 186 28 300 0.536
Jim Thome 1999 494 127 171 33 331 0.533
Ray Lankford 2000 392 70 148 26 244 0.528
Rob Deer 1986 466 72 179 33 284 0.528
Russ Branyan 2002 378 51 151 24 226 0.527
Barry Bonds 2004 373 232 41 45 318 0.526
Barry Bonds 2001 476 177 93 73 343 0.525
Jim Thome 2002 480 122 139 52 313 0.520
Mark McGwire 1996 423 116 112 52 280 0.519
Mark McGwire 1999 521 133 141 65 339 0.518
Fred McGriff 1987 295 60 104 20 184 0.518
Adam Dunn 2004 568 108 195 46 349 0.516
Jack Clark 1989 455 132 145 26 303 0.516
Dave Nicholson 1963 449 63 175 22 260

0.508

Jay Buhner 1997 540 119 175 40 334

0.507

Mark McGwire 1995 317 88 77 39 204

0.504

Jimmy Wynn 1969 495 148 142 33 323

0.502

Jack Clark 1990 334 104 91 25 220

0.502

 

Table 5. Lowest TTO Percentages, Post-1900

Player Year AB H BB SO HR TTO TTO%
Doc Powers 1905 154 24 4 0 0 4 0.025
Sport McAllister 1902 240 49 6 0 1 7 0.028
Emil Verban 1949 343 99 8 2 0 10 0.028
Tommy Thevenow 1933 253 79 3 5 0 8 0.031
Woody Jensen 1938 125 25 1 3 0 4 0.032
Johnny Sain 1948 115 25 1 3 0 4 0.034
Johnny Sain 1947 107 37 3 1 0 4 0.036
Stuffy McInnis 1924 581 169 15 6 1 22 0.037
Stuffy McInnis 1922 537 164 15 5 1 21 0.038
Walter Schmidt 1922 152 50 1 5 0 6 0.031

 

Table X6. Lowest TTO Percentages, Post-1970

Player Year AB H BB SO HR TTO TTO%
Felix Fermin 1995 200 39 6 6 0 12 0.058
Bob Bailor 1984 131 36 8 1 0 9 0.065
Bob Bailor 1985 118 29 3 5 0 8 0.066
Larry Milbourne 1978 234 53 9 6 2 17 0.070
Jesus Alou 1974 220 59 5 9 2 16 0.071
Jeff Torborg 1971 123 25 3 6 0 9 0.071
Jesus Alou 1971 433 121 13 7 2 32 0.072
Lenny Harris 1999 187 58 6 7 1 14 0.073
Mario Guerrero 1976 268 76 7 12 1 20 0.073
Tim Foli 1983 330 83 5 18 2 25 0.075

 

Three True Outcome Pitchers

So far we’ve looked at the Three True Outcomes for batters. But of course, this is also an interesting statistic to analyze for pitchers. I include hit-by-pitch as one of the true outcomes for pitchers because it’s also solely in the control of the  pitchers (never mind that now we should correctly call it four true outcomes). We define pitchers’ TTO as:

(BB+HBP+SO+HR)/(BB+HBP+HR+Outs) 

Outs is innings pitched times three. Table 7 is a list of highest TTO percentages for pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched in a season.

 

Table 7. Top TTO Percentages for Pitchers (min. 50 IP/Season)

Player Year IP H BB HBP SO HR TTO TTO%
ByungHyun Kim 2000 70.2 52 46 9 111 9 175 0.634
Armando Benitez 1999 78.0 40 41 0 128 4 173 0.620
John Rocker 2000 53.0 42 48 2 77 5 132 0.617
Brad Lidge 2004 94.2 57 30 6 157 8 201 0.613
Matt Mantei 1999 65.1 44 44 5 99 5 153 0.612
Billy Wagner 1997 66.1 49 30 3 106 5 144 0.608
Billy Wagner 1998 60.0 46 25 0 97 6 128 0.607
Billy Wagner 1999 74.2 35 23 1 124 5 153 0.605
Eric Gagne 2003 82.1 37 20 3 137 2 162 0.596
Rob Dibble 1992 70.1 48 31 2 110 3 146 0.591
Bryan Harvey  1989 55.0 36 41 0 78 6 125 0.590
Armando Benitez 1997 73.1 49 43 1 106 7 157 0.579

 

This list, which  shows all TTO percentages above .570, exclusively comprises modern relief pitchers, especially closers. There are only two entries more than 10 years old, Bryan Harvey in 1989 and Rob Dibble in 1992, and even those are not really from ancient baseball times. Note that for the top TTO guys, more than 60% of their batters faced result in one of the Three True Outcomes, including the hit-by-pitch.

If we elevate our minimum requirement for innings pitched to 150, eliminating modern relievers, we arrive at the list of top TTO percentages for starting pitchers. Now, this should be called the Randy Johnson memorial list; the Big Unit has eight of the top 13 TTO percentages in history among starting pitchers. Kerry Wood makes the list three times, including the top spot in 1998, his rookie year. Johnson also has the highest total on the list for one of the Three True Outcomes in 2001 with 372 strikeouts (one of the highest SO totals in history), 85 walks, 11 hit-by-pitches and 14 home runs for a sum of 480.

However, even these numbers pale in comparison to Nolan Ryan’s 1974 season with 367 SO, 202 BB, 9 HBP, and 18 HR for a total of 596. Ryan also has totals of 570 and 566 in 1973 and 1977, respectively. Pitchers with a high TTO percentage don’t depend heavily on the defenses behind them because the defense often isn’t involved in the result from a batter’s plate appearance. On the other end of the spectrum there are pitchers with very low TTO percentages who rely heavily on their defenses. In the post-1900 era, the table on the next page shows the lowest TTO percentages with at least 50 innings pitched:

 

Player Year IP H BB HBP SO HR TTO TTO%
Kerry Wood 1998

166.2

117 85 11 233 14 343 0.562
Randy Johnson 2001 249.2 181 71 18 372 19 480 0.560
Randy Johnson 1997 213.0 147 77 10 291 20 398 0.534
Randy Johnson 2000 248.2 202 76 6 347 23 452 0.531

Bobby Witt

1986 157.2 130 143 3 174 18 338 0.531
Pedro Martinez 1999 213.1 160 37 9 313 9 368 0.529
Kerry Wood 2003 211.0 152 100 21 266 24 411 0.528
Randy Johnson 1998 244.1 203 86 14 329 23 452 0.528
Kerry Wood 2001 174.1 127 92 10 217 16 335 0.523
Randy Johnson 1991 201.1 151 152 12 228 15 407 0.520
Randy Johnson 1995 214.1 159 65 6 294 12 377 0.519
Randy Johnson 1992 210.1 154 144 18 241 13 416 0.516
Randy Johnson 1999 271.2 207 70 9 364 30 473 0.512
Player Year IP H BB HBP SO HR TTO TTO%
Slim Sallee 1919 227.2 221 20 1 24 4 49 0.069
Eppa Rixey 1933 94.1 118 12 0 10 1 23 0.078
Bob Harmon 1918 82.1 76 12 0 7 3 22 0.084
Slim Sallee 1920 133.0 145 16 2 15 4 37 0.088
Benny Frey 1933 132.0 144 21 0 12 4 37 0.088
Nick Altrock 1908 136.0 127 18 2 21 2 43 0.100
Eppa Rixey 1932 111.2 108 16 4 14 3 37 0.103
Red Lucas 1933 219.2 248 18 2 40 13 73 0.105
Arnie Stone 1924 64.0 57 15 0 7 0 22 0.106
Huck Betts 1932 221.2 229 35 0 32 9 76 0.107

 

All entries are from the first 35 years of the 20th century. We see several pitchers whose batters’ plate appearances result in one of the Three True Outcomes in less than 10% of the cases, i.e., the defense is involved in more than 90% of the plate appearances.This obviously puts a huge emphasis on the fielders’ capabilities.

In addition, following Voros McCracken’s insight that pitchers have little or no control over batting average on balls in play, one may conclude that any success these types of pitchers have is largely thanks to the fielders behind them. From the data presented above it seems that Three True Outcomes percentages have risen throughout MLB history. To analyze this in some detail, Table 8 shows the average TTO percentage for pitchers weighted with innings pitched and broken down per decade.

 

Table 8. Average TTO Percentage for Pitchers by Decade, Weighted with IP

Decade Total IP TTO%
1876–1880 22,352.0 0.1209
1881–1890 168,591.2 0.2139
1891–1900 139,357.0 0.2041
1901–1910 202,594.2 0.2210
1911–1920 223,708.0 0.2280
1921–1930 207,473.0 0.2116
1931–1940 206,552.2 0.2354
1941–1950 206,353.0 0.2494
1951–1960 205,979.1 0.2850
1961–1970 279,079.2 0.3176
1971–1980 334,712.1 0.2937
1981–1990 331,941.1 0.3089
1991–2000 343,098.0 0.3438
2001–2004 148,752.0 0.3522

 

This table tells us several interesting facts. First of all, average TTO percentages started out very low in the 1870s but quickly rose to a level of about 21.23% and stayed there for over 50 years. In the middle of the 20th century they started to rise again and established a new level of about 30% for the 1960s through 1980. From the 1990s on, we have another hike up to about 35%, which still holds on.

Reasons for this may probably be found in the increasing trend of almost all players swinging for the fences today, leading to higher strike out totals as well as an increased importance of walks as a tactical weapon for batters as taught by several teams today (as part of the often falsely abbreviated Moneyball approach). Please note that innings-pitched totals per decade reflect the expansions (starting in 1961) as well as the brief existence of the Federal League in the 1910s.

PETER UELKES got a Ph.D. in particle physics from the University of Technology at Aachen, Germany. He is currently working as a senior project manager for the Vodafone group. A SABR member since 2001, this is his second publication in the BRJ.

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