Hogging the Ball

In 1999, Sammy Sosa recorded 416 outfield chances, which were the second most in the National League. Sosa’s placement is not significant because of the fact that he is a right fielder, although he was the lone comer outfielder in the top six, and its significance is not because of his reputation as a horrid defender. In fact, the real significance has little to do with Sosa and more to do with his 416 chances. First place that year was a 22-year-old centerfielder by the name of Andruw Jones, who wound up with 101 more chances than Sosa.

Jones gained a ball hog label (as discussed in passing throughout this thread) that was evidently just. Although, if it helps him any, the second most in the majors was another 22-year-old centerfielder by the name of Carlos Beltran, who finished with 422 chances. Flash forward to 2009 and not a single outfielder finished with more than 500 chances and only one finished with more than 450. Those familiar with outstanding seasons in defensive play are probably well aware of who said player is, but let’s just say he causes Death to Flying Things. Only one other outfielder has managed more than 450 since 2005: Carlos Gomez in 2008.

This got me to wondering if any of the outfielders this year, even on teams with less fly ball-orientated pitchers, came anywhere close to matching Jones’ ridiculous 45% taken of all team outfield chances. I took each of the outfielders with at least 300 chances (35 in total) and found out how many of their team’s chances each took. This adjusts for team rather than looking at the raw number. Obviously, this is a more telling number because Seattle leads the league in outfield chances and St. Louis is last. The spread is almost 300 chances exactly, which is a pretty decent gap.

As it turns out, Matt Kemp and Michael Bourn were the only players somewhat close to 40% usage rates – to steal a phrase from a basketball metric . Meanwhile, Franklin Gutierrez was still high on the list – as was Mike Cameron – but after that only Vernon Wells topped 35%. Below I’ve included the top 15 – which just so happens to be everyone over 30% usage – but there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual that sticks out besides the placement of two Houston outfielders within the top 10. Alexis Rios is listed as a Blue Jay because he spent most of the season with them.

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All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference




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30 Responses to “Hogging the Ball”

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  1. Christian Seehausen says:

    Speaking as somebody who watched him play all year, Bourn ventures into RF and especially LF (covering for Lee) constantly. I don’t know how UZR handles that, as well as the gigantic CF in Minute Maid Park, but those two things together make me skeptical of his rating, which looks low in comparison to what my eyes tell me. The guy can really run, needless to say.

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  2. BryanTSC says:

    I would suggest that the placement of Bourn and Pence on the list would indicate that the Houston outfield is doing a fair job at limiting the liability caused by having Lee in LF.

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  3. tangotiger says:

    You should do it based on “team chances” while the fielder is actually on the field.

    Considering that you have 3 OF, then the average would be 33% (say 40% for CF and 30% for the corners). So, this chart is very misleading, when your #15 guy has 30% of team chances, but is a CF.

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  4. Garrett says:

    This may be a stupid question, but I assume it is a good thing that these guys are able to get to such a large percentage as centerfielders. Is that correct? Is it more complicated than that? Would this do anything to warp UZR and other fielding metrics? (I am a bit ignorant as to how they are formulated)

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  5. Peter Jensen says:

    To add to Tango’s post above, in 1999 Jones played CF in 98.4% of his teams total innings. In contrast in 2009 Kemp played CF in only 91.9% and Bourn 92.7%.

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  6. Do outfield chances include outfield fly balls fielded by infielders on the outfield grass or is it just the sum of all the chances of the outfielders combined?

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  7. Matt says:

    Sorry to be ignorant but is it Franklin Gutierrez?

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  8. Tim G says:

    I imagine that next year’s list will include Colby Rasmus, he’s already regarded as one of the premier defensive CF, and can only get better(especially if he’s healthy).

    If TLR played him everyday, the metrics would probably bear that out.

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  9. Rut says:

    Raul Ibanez only had a 20.6% usage rate last year. Granted he was lifted for defensive replacements frequently, but still, might have helped pad that 10.7 UZR/150.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      Raul wasn’t lifted for defense that much from my observation, except for a short time when he returned from the DL.

      Not so sure why it is called “ball hogging” if the team sets their outfield play this way and has a hierarchy for which fielder gets to call for the ball.

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  10. GBeck15 says:

    I don’t understand the point of this data. Wouldn’t teams be happy to have their best fielder (usually the CF) taking the most outfield chances. I don’t understand how a “ballhog” label would arise. It’s not like basketball where one player dominating the ball could take away from other players’ effectiveness. If I have Franklin Gutierrez in CF and Milton Bradley in LF, for example, I’d want Gutierrez to make an attempt on anything he can get to even if he walks right in front of Bradley.

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  11. Ben says:

    In my interpretation it seems that the main objective of this post was to note how unusual a season Jones had in 1999 without necessarily attempting to explain the reasons behind that outlier 45% data point.

    Excellent individual defensive skills in the outfield are likely to contribute, but certainly there are other factors, as well – hence, Sosa’s 416 chances in ’99. It’s good to see the comments run out some theories as to what drives this statistic (poor play by fellow outfielders? hierarchy of who “takes charge” on flies? tendencies of the pitching staff? home park?), but it doesn’t seem at the moment that anyone has a handle on what underlying factors drive “usage %.”

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  12. AC_Butcha_AC says:

    I was bored and actually looked a lot deeper into this.

    Here I give my explanation what I basicly did. I thought there were some issues with what you brought up:

    1. Playing time adjustment
    2. Positional adjustment
    3. A scale

    Solution for first issue:
    I took every chance – of let’s say a CF – and divided them by te teams total chances for that position (here CF). I called that number CH%. In the next step I did exactly what you did (dividing the players chances by total chances of his teams complete outfield) EXCEPT adjusting that number by dividing it by CH%. Imagine a player with 450 chances at CF and his teams total chances at CF are 500 he would have a CH% of 90.00. Now lets say his teams complete outfield had 1100 total chances. Now you do this (450/1100)/90%=45.45%. I will talk about that number later on.

    Solution for second issue:
    Like Tango said, you cant compare apples and oranges. Just do all the stuff I talked about above for each individual outfield position and generate 3 seperate scales/graphs whatsoever.

    Solution for third issue:
    Here I am – not quite but almost – quoting Tango again. He said the distribution would be LF/CF/RF – 30%/40%/30%. I calculated the exact numbers for the 2009 season. They were 29.84%/39.06%/31.10%, respectively. There you have your scale to evaluate above or below average performance. This is the point where I bring up the number to be talked about later. It was 45.45% USAGE for our CF. As you can see he did quite well.

    In the next post I am going to showcase the Top 10 and Flop 3 at each outfield position (min. 1000 Inn. played at that particular position). And maybe a correaltion between my numbers and UZR and RngF.

    Oh.. and if there are any mistakes in grammar or with words be cool man! I am native German and this is not my motherlanguage. Peace

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    • AC_Butcha_AC says:

      I will do Top5 and Flop5 since there are just not enough for a Top10

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    • AC_Butcha_AC says:

      Leftfield Usage leaders 09 (29.84% LgAv)

      Top 5
      1. J. Bay 33.55% (I assume this HAS to do sth. with the monster)
      2. D. DeJesus 32.43%
      3. A. Soriano 31.87%
      4. C. Crawford 30.43%
      5. G. Anderson 30.03%

      Flop 3
      1.C. Lee 24.51%
      2. C. Coghlan 27.40%
      3. R. Ibanez 28.62%

      Centerfield Usage leaders 09 (39.06% LgAv)

      Top 5
      1. A. Jones 42.09%
      2. M. Kemp 41.11%
      3. M. Bourn 41.01%
      4. M. Cameron 40.77%
      5. F. Gutierrez 39.23%

      Flop 3
      1. J. Ellsbury 36.12%
      2. S. Victorino 36.20%
      3. C. Young 36.95%

      Rightfield Usage leaders 09 (31.10% LgAv)

      Top 5
      1. N. Cruz 35.57%
      2. J. Werth 35.18%
      3. H. Pence 34.49%
      4. S. Choo 33.48%
      5. J. Upton 32.72%

      Flop 3
      1. N. Markakis 26.51%
      2. B. Hawpe 27.90%
      3. I. Suzuki 29.19%

      Now I have to ad that I didn’t do any park adjustments nor any kind of fellow outfielders.

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      • Rut says:

        Hey I don’t know about all of these but the Raul Ibanez numbers are off. There were 28.62% of chances taken by Philadelphia outfielders not named Victorino and Werth, but only 20.59% were chances for Ibanez.

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      • AC_Butcha_AC says:

        hey rut,
        you are right with Ibanez numbers. I was a bit tired yesterday so there are some mistakes.

        Ibanez has a 27.49% Usage in LF.
        All Phillies LFs have a Usage of 28.62%

        But that is not only the case with Ibanez. Actually every number you see above is the teams Usage for that position. I worked on it.

        Example:

        A Rightfielder has had 300 chances. His team had 350 chances for all players in RF.
        We know this years distribution was 29.84%/39.06%/31.10%. Our RF missed 50 chances. Given the average outfield usage for that year, how many chances would have had the other two outfielders. They would have had roughly 104 chances (103.917).
        Now let’s say his team had 1200 chances overall in the outfield. Subtract the average total of chances when he didn’t play from that number and you get about 1096 chances (1096.083).

        300/1096 = 27.37% Usage, while his team RF usage was 29.17%.

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  13. OPS2000 says:

    On a different note: Will you be doing a 2009 FIP+ like you did for beyondtheboxscore last year ? Would be nice.

    Thx

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  14. micahjr says:

    Homer here! The Ichiro flop designation is ridiculous, considering that it looks to have statistically insignificant difference vs. league average.

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    • Rut says:

      Suzuki’s CH% is actually lower–25.99% or (326/1254) x 100. But, given that AC_BUTCHA_AC’s numbers are off, I’m not sure his league averages are right.

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      • AC_Butcha_AC says:

        well my LgAv numbers are definately right. My numbers above were off, because of a different mistake.

        Oh and Ichiro hadn’t 26.00% Usage because you can’t calculate it that way. He hasn’t played every chance on RF for the 09 Mariners. He had 326 of the 366 RF chances. So he missed 40 chances. As explained above I now calculated the average chances his outfield fellows would have had during 40 RF chances. NOw you can subtract that from the actual OF chances. Divide Ichiro’s 326 chances by that number and you find him at a 28.83%.

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    • AC_Butcha_AC says:

      Here the updated Usage numbers for 2009 (minimum 900 Inn.)

      CF (39.06% MLB Avg)
      Top 5
      1. Colby Rasmus 50.32% (!)
      2. Adam Jones 45.56%
      3. Torii Hunter 42.46%
      4. Dexter Fowler 41.75%
      5. Matt Kemp 41.66%
      -. Michael Bourn 41.53%
      -. Mike Cameron 41.46%

      Flop 3
      1. Kosuke Fukudome 35.59%
      2. Jacoby Ellsbury 36.19%
      3. Shane Victorino 36.31%

      LF (29.84% MLB Avg)
      Top 5
      1. Jason Bay 33.74%
      2. David DeJesus 32.49%
      3. Alfonso Soriano 31.77%
      4. Carl Crawford 30.31%
      5. Ryan Braun 29.15

      Flop 3
      1. Carlos Lee 23.85%
      2. Matt Holliday 25.07% (combined)
      3. Chris Coghlan 26.00%

      RF (31.10% MLB Avg)
      Top 5
      1. Nelson Cruz 36.77%
      2. Jayson Werth 36.53%
      3. Alex Rios 34.73%
      4. hunter Pence 34.56%
      5. Shin-Soo Choo 33.80%

      Flop 3
      1. Mike Cuddyer 25.08%
      2. Jeff Francoeur 26.23% (combined)
      3. Nick Markakis 26.47%

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  15. Rut says:

    AC_Butcha_AC,

    I’m confused. If Ichiro had 326 chances out of the total 1254 outfield chances then he had a 25.99% usage rate. A crucial point of this article is that there aren’t “right field chances” and “center field chances” there are just fly balls that outfielders get. Ichiro happened to only get 326 of the total fly ball chances for the Mariners last year.

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  16. AC_Butcha_AC says:

    yeah but the point is: corners are just getting about 10% less chances. That is that apples oranges thing i wrote about. Of course, you are not getting the same amount of chances like a CF when playing left. So your usage will be less.

    Imagine a LF usage of 35% which would be pretty good. And a well below average CF has a usage of 37% let’s say. You can’t blame the LF for just getting less chances. But you could credit him with about a 5% usage above an average LF, while the CF here is about 3% below average.

    that is my point here. Compare apples to apples

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