Yet Another Productive Outs Article

Several weeks ago, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote an article about using outs to advance baserunners, claiming that it played a larger role in winning games than sabermetricians believed.

He presented precious little data — just enough to support his claim. The statistics he presented, Productive Outs and Productive Out Percentage, were not revealed in their entirety, and their significance could not be tested. I did some independent research on postseason data from 2002 and 2003 that showed Productive Outs to be fairly insignificant, but unless you wanted to delve into the game logs, you didn’t really have any data available to you to do further study.

Until now. ESPN recently began presenting Productive Out data for teams, individual batters, and for some reason, pitchers. Just for fun, I took another look at the data, but first I made some adjustments.

A Productive Out is defined as when the batter advances a runner with the first out, scores a runner with the second out, or when a pitcher sacrifice bunts with one out. Now, while this whole statistic is silly, the last category really creates problems. To say a sacrifice bunt with one out by Mike Hampton is a productive out but one by Neifi Perez is not … that’s just stupid. And it gives National League teams an advantage in this statistic, which is problematic when comparing the two leagues.

For this reason, I removed all the data for pitchers from the team totals, since I was unable to differentiate between the first two categories and the third from the information presented. With that data removed, here are the team totals through Monday’s games:

TEAM       PO  	 OPP	 POP
Ari	  75	 211	.355
Det	  83	 235	.353
Pit	  74	 210	.352
KC	  72	 205	.351
Mon	  54	 158	.342
StL	  76	 223	.341
Tex	  70	 206	.340
Hou	  66	 199	.332
TB	  72	 221	.326
Phi	  68	 209	.325
Col	  69	 213	.324
Bal	  74	 229	.323
SD	  80	 248	.323
Cle	  75	 234	.321
Ana	  71	 230	.309
Mil	  65	 217	.300
Tor	  77	 258	.298
CWS	  62	 209	.297
NYY	  64	 216	.296
Atl	  53	 179	.296
ChC	  60	 207	.290
SF	  64	 225	.284
Fla	  57	 203	.281
Min	  61	 220	.277
NYM	  67	 242	.277
LA	  52	 200	.260
Sea	  60	 231	.260
Oak	  50	 223	.224
Bos	  53	 249	.213
Cin	  42	 212	.198
MLB	1966	6522	.301

The teams in bold italics (St. Louis, Texas, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Boston) would be in the playoffs if the season had ended Monday.

Lots of fun stuff here:

– The 15 teams above average in POP have scored 4.77 runs per game, have a .334 POP and a .468 winning percentage.

– The 15 teams below average in POP have scored 4.74 runs per game, have a .270 POP and a .532 winning percentage.

– The top five teams in POP have scored 4.33 runs per game, have a .351 POP and a .392 winning percentage.

– The bottom five teams in POP have scored 4.74 runs per game, have a .230 POP and a .534 winning percentage.

– The Angels and Marlins, with their “diverse offenses” that “use their outs productively,” rank 15th and 23rd in POP, with a .296 combined POP. The same as the Yankees.

– The Yankees’ .296 POP is only 19th in MLB, but while Paul O’Neill and Jim Kaat were quoted in the article as saying how the Yankees are constructed differently than their championship teams, their POP minus pitcher stats in the ’98 postseason was .273, .211 in ’99 and .268 in 2000.

– The overall POP (minus the pitcher PO’s) in the the last two postseasons was .333, and there were 1.1 Productive Outs per game, compared to .97 per game this season — in other words, teams tend to play more one-run strategies in the postseason, which would lower scoring, and make pitching (and getting the most from your baserunners) look more important than it really is.

– Mark Bellhorn, villan of Olney’s article, is 17th in MLB with 11 productive outs; Juan Pierre is 57th with 8. Pierre’s POP is .400 to Bellhorn’s .379, though.


A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Total Productive Outs to Wins: -.276
Double Plays to Wins: .255
Strikeouts to Wins: .258
Productive Out Percentage to Winning Percentage: -.476
Total Productive Outs to Runs Scored: .121
Total Productive Outs to Runs Scored above Runs Created: .287
Productive Out Percentage to Percentage Exceeding Pythagorean Percentage: -.366

Nothing comes even close to correlating, and while that doesn’t prove there’s no relationship, the fact that as Productive Outs go up, wins tend to go down, may indicate that not only are Productive Outs not important, they may in fact be counterproductive. The positive correlations for double plays hit into and strikeouts are a fun counterpoint, too.

A poster going by the handle “Nod Narb” at Baseball Think Factory did an interesting, quick study that concluded that for a hitter as poor as Adam Everett (.236 GPA) — who happens to have a .512 POP — the only time when a productive out is more valuable than trying to get on base — which includes the risks of not making a productive out — is when there’s a runner on third with one out.

The truth about Productive Outs is that they aren’t something that are good in bulk, but only in limited context. A Productive Out in the ninth inning of a tie game is a good thing, but one in the first inning of any game is merely less bad than other outs. There is a heirarchy of plays in baseball:

Home Run
Base on Balls/Hit by Pitch
Reach on Strikeout
Reach on Error
Productive Out
Out on Ball in Play
Double Play
Triple Play

By making a productive out, you prevent any of the outcomes on the bottom third of the list from happening, but it also eliminates the top two thirds of the list. In context, that’s a worthwhile trade, but in general, it’s a terrible, stupid, Brock-for-Broglio-type trade. Counting them in context might give us a tiny bit of useful information — counting them without context gives us little more than noise.

ESPN promoted Olney’s initial article by saying:

Many say it’s a baseball sin to waste any of your allotted 27. But Buster Olney explains why productive outs are invaluable as opposed to the “Moneyball” philosophy of protecting them.

But Olney failed to prove that Productive Outs have any value, let alone being invaluable. The data indicates that they’re fairly worthless, and to use server space to track them is a waste of’s space.

Buster Olney either knows he’s wrong, and doesn’t have the guts to admit it, or he’s a fool. I’d like to believe that it’s the former, but anyone who has followed sabermetrics’ too slow progress in being accepted by the baseball establishment has to know there’s a good chance it could be the latter.

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