Mains: Sacrifice flies and the importance of context

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on May 29, 2019:

I was perusing some of the per-game stats at Baseball-Reference over the weekend. Most of what I saw was unsurprising. Home runs are up. So are strikeouts. Batting average is down. So are stolen bases. That kind of thing.

One thing caught my eye, though: Sacrifice flies. I was thinking about sacrifice flies for two reasons. First, as you may know, Joey Gallo hit one on April 21 against the Astros. It was Gallo’s 364th career game, but the first sacrifice fly of his career. That seems odd.

Second, Albert Pujols hit one on May 1. It was the 109th sacrifice fly of his career, and it tied him with Paul Molitor for 16th-most all time. That’s by far the most among active players. Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria have 81. Matt Kemp, with 72, and Nick Markakis, with 71, are the only other active players with more than 70.

Any discussion of all-time records for sacrifice flies require a big asterisk, because they’ve been an official statistic only since 1954. Not only don’t we know how many Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx might’ve had, the numbers for players like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays (first played in 1951) and Stan Musial (1941) are incomplete.

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Originally published: May 29, 2019. Last Updated: May 29, 2019.