In one of my previous pieces I talked about the metrics for defensive play and how the MLB are getting to the stage that they are starting to become as reliable as batting and pitching stats. So defensive players should become more valued than they have ever been, right? Probably, but the amount of plays in a game involving the 7 infielders and outfielders is decreasing as has been for a long time.
The phrase “three true outcomes” was coined in 2000 by Rany Jazayerli. “Together, the Three True Outcomes distill the game to its essence,” he wrote, “the battle of pitcher against hitter, free from the distractions of the defense, the distortion of foot speed or the corruption of managerial tactics like the bunt and his wicked brother, the hit-and-run.”
It covers home runs, walks and strikeouts, some of the best early analysis of defensive independent pitching focused on these. They are the only outcomes which the pitcher has full control of. Any thing which lands in the park is dependant on lots of other factors from the defenders and batters. So a true outcome at bat requires no one but the pitcher, the batter and the catcher (if we ignore pickoffs and stealing).
The graph below shows the steady increase over time of the the true outcome in MLB, from 1910 till now, but it has increased even more steeply over the last few years. The increases in the true outcome percentage for 2016 and 2017 were more than 1% than the previous years which has only happened in row once before in ‘92 and ‘93. Behind this is the fact that home runs, walks and strikeouts in up over the last few years.
During 2017 in the MLB 34.96% of all plate appearances ended in a true outcome, which was the highest of all time. If we ignore pick offs and stealing, this means that more than 1 in 3 plate appearances end up not involving 7 of the 9 defensive players. That equates to 1699 games of nothingness for the 7 infield and outfield players, which is 73.41 (1699/162*7) players playing a full season of baseball doing nothing in the field.
Let’s say that of the $4.43m, that was the average salary for MLB in 2017, 80% of that is down to a players offensive capability. Meaning that the average MLB player earns $886k to do their defensive work. That means that the MLB teams paid a total of $65 million last season to have 7 people stand still, to put that in to context that is only $18m less that what the Brewers spent for their entire team last year.
So which pitchers and batters are most responsible for this new spike, who are causing MLB teams to pay players to stand around and do nothing.
If we look at the top 5 batters for true outcome percentage, the names are quite varied when it comes to overall batting ability but there is one name which I expect everyone expected to by there. Aaron Judge was responsible for 403 true outcome at bats, 3rd most ever, which meant that last year MLB teams spent $203k for fielders just to watch Aaron Judge bat. Barry Bonds has the most with 447 in 2004.
TOP 5 Qualified Batters for 2017 by True Outcome Percentage
As stated earlier on it is a much better indicator for how good a pitcher is than a batter, but it will still throw some curveballs at you. Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer were 3 of the top pitchers last year but Robbie Ray makes it to the top of the list due to not only his high strikeout rate but his elevated walk and home run rate compared to the others. Boston spent $193k last year on giving Chris Sale 7 pointless fielders.
TOP 5 Starter Pitchers for 2017 by True Outcome Percentage
When it come to relievers the metric is slightly less indicative of who is best, most of the top relievers do have a TO% over 40% but the individuals right at the top all give up a large number of walks (excluding Craig Kimbrel). Corey Knebel was responsible for the most true outcomes, his 179 meant the Brewers spent $90k on fielder’s to watch him pitch.
TOP 5 Relief Pitchers for 2017 by True Outcome Percentage
This style of pitching and hitting does seem like it is here to stay with 2018’s true outcomes at 35.83% for games up to the 16th May. We never truly know what the next change in baseball will be but if things keep on the same trend they have for the last 100 years by 2440 there won’t be anything but strikeouts, walks and home runs in baseball. And thankfully I probably won’t be around to watch that boring baseball.