During Monday’s Baseball Today Podcast, Eric Karabell and Mark Simon were discussing a listener’s question regarding who has made the most outs per plate appearance in a single season. The idea here being you want to not only look at hitters with low on-base averages (OBA/OBP), but also include the extra outs generated by grounding into double plays*.
It is an interesting trivia question. And since I am pretty well jammed up this week working on multiple projects and deadlines I thought this would be a nice, quick topic to tackle.
To calculate this I looked at all players with >= 300 plate appearances in a season since 1950. I then calculated the outs they generated–((AB+BB+HBP+SF)-(H+BB+HBP))–which is really just reverse OBP, and added in the total number of double plays that they grounded into for the season (GDP). I then took this number and divided it by their plate appearances for the season to get their Total Outs Generated per PA.
Here are your top 10 and bottom 10 since 1950:
It will come as a shock to no one to learn that Barry Bonds not only holds four of the top 10 seasons since 1950 in terms of the fewest outs generated per plate appearance, but actually holds the top four spots all by his lonesome. In 2004, Bonds posted an all-time great OBP of .609 and only grounded into five double plays all year, leading to another all-time number–fewest outs generated per plate appearance.
The next five spots after Bonds are peppered with the great Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. Even with double-digit GDPs in 1954 and 1957, Williams still managed to avoid outs at a fantastic rate. Rounding out the top 10 is Mark McGwire during his 2000 season, where he posted a .483 OBP and only grounded into five double plays.
What about the worst seasons?
The worst season goes to the Phillies’ Mike Ryan in 1968. In 314 plate appearances that year, Ryan posted a dismal .218 OBP and tacked on twelve double plays. Playing for the Mariners in 1979, Mario Mendoza (yes, that Mendoza) posted a Mendoza-like batting average of .198 and an OBP of .216. ’79 would prove to be his worst as a player, as he posted a fWAR of -1.1 over the course of 148 games and 401 plate appearances. (Yes, someone thought it made sense to give Mendoza 401 plate appearances over the course of a season.) Combining his .216 OBP with twelve GDPs, Mendoza finished the season generating .814 outs per plate appearance. It would have been wonderful symmetry had Mendoza had the worst out generating rate, but we can’t always get what we want.
The player with the most plate appearances in the top 10? Andres Thomas of the 1989 Braves. Thomas went to the plate 571 times that year, posting a .228 OBP and grounding into 17 double plays. Thomas was a one-man rally killer that year, earning a Clutch score of -.63 to go along with his out generating rate of .802.
When it comes to cummulative seasons with >= 3000 plate appearances, Ted Williams takes the title as the best hitter to avoid making outs since 1950 with an out generating rate of .550 for his career. Williams is followed by Barry Bonds at .569, Mickey Mantle at .590, Joe Cunningham at .596, and Jackie Robinson at .597. Todd Helton comes in at 6th (.598), followed by Edgar Martinez (.600).
The worst hitter in this category? Hal Lanier, who generated .766 outs per plate appearance over the course of 3516 PAs. Doug Flynn (.753), Bobby Wine (.752), Joe DeMaestri (.743), and Aurelio Rodriguez (.741) round out the bottom five.
So there you have it. The best and worst hitters since 1950 at generating outs. For those that want to play around more with the data, here is a link to the individual and cumulative seasons.
*Ideally, you would also include triple plays, but I believe only five occur per season, so focusing just on double plays is close enough for now.
Bill leads Predictive Modeling and Data Science consulting at Gallup. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, has consulted for a Major League Baseball team, and has appeared on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential as well as several MLB-produced documentaries. He is also the creator of the baseballr package for the R programming language. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @BillPetti.