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.


All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference

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Christian Seehausen
Christian Seehausen

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.