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When are you making too many outs?

In case you're wondering, I won't answer the question in my headline.

However, I will examine some Astros' rankings on ways to make extra outs.  A frequent topic of Astros discussion--sometimes raised by manager Cecil Cooper--is why a team with  a good overall batting average can rank so poorly in scoring runs.  The usual stats for answering that question are found in various runners in scoring position (RISP) hitting rates, but I won't go into that, since it has been hashed over quite a bit.  I will look at some rankings we don't talk about very much, like making extra outs.  If you are having trouble turning base runners and hits into runs, it makes sense that giving away outs doesn't help the cause.

I started this exercise while watching the Astros' extra inning win on Tuesday, and getting increasingly frustrated when it seemed that the Astros should score more runs than what they put on the scoreboard.  After an Astros hitter ground into a double play, I consulted  And, I was pleasantly surprised by the array of team stats (though not alway pleasantly surprised by the Astros' rankings). All of the rankings below are for the National League.

Ground into Double Play

The Astros' hitters are second in grounding into double plays, behind only the Dodgers.  Astros GIDP: 50  vs. League average 38.  But that ranking doesn't tell the whole story.  The Dodger have  well over 100 more opportunities than the Astros to hit into the GIDP.  The Astros are second in GIDP, but below league average in GIDP opportunities (about 20 fewer opportunities than average).   That means that the Astros have the worst GIDP rate (13%), with the Giants and Braves just below the Stros.



Usually, when we think of players who make too many outs, we think of players who are allergic to walks.  Walks generally mean that a team is better at preserving its outs.  The Astros rank poorly in walks, 14th out 16 teams.  (Only the Giants and Pirates are worse.)  You probably know that the Astros swing away, as a group, and frequently make contact as batters.  The Astros are 13th in pitches/plate appearance. (Not good.) Opposing pitchers throw the second highest percentage of strikes to the Astros (ranked 2d in strike percentage).  The Astros are 2d best at putting the ball in play.  The Astros are 3d in the rate of swinging at pitches.  The Astros are 3d worst at seeing 3-0 counts.

Baserunning Outs

The Astros rank No. 1 in the league in caught stealing with 21.  The Mets are next worst at 18.    This looks even worse when you realize that the Astros are league average in the number of base stealing opportunities (for example, the Mets had about 20 more opportunities).  This looks even worse when you realize that the Astros have the second worst stolen base percentage (60%).  Milwaukee is worst with 54%.  The Astros have been caught stealing at 3d base (4) more than any other team.   The Astros are 6th in outs made while base running (excludes SB attempts and pick offs).    (The Reds and the Mets are the worst, 1 and 2.)

Sacrifice Bunts

A sacrifice bunt, by definition, is an example of giving up an out.  Sacrifice bunts are bad percentage plays in many situations.  However, I am not as "anti-sac bunt" as many writers.  I think the context is important, and in the right time and place, the sac bunt can be a good play.  Also, keep in mind that many sac bunts are made by pitchers, which is more frequently a good play.  The Astros have attempted the 4th most sac bunts.  The Mets and Reds, by far, outpace the rest of the league in sac bunt attempts. (Baker and Manuel have their prefered style of play, apparently.) Unfortunately, the Astros are  12th in sac bunt success rate.  The D-Backs and Cubs have the worst rate of success.  A good ranking for the Astros: they are No. 1 in productive outs.  That is a double edged sword.  A productive out is normally good, but it is related to the Astros' high ball in play rate, which probably means that there is a trade off with walks.

Pinch Hits

This isn't strictly a "making extra outs" stat.  But I throw pinch hitting in there, because I think it helps explains a lack of runs.  The Astros are 6th in most at bats taken by pinch hitters.  The Astros are next to last in number of pinch hits (9).  The Brewers are worst with 8.   The Astros are 13th in RBIs by pinch hitters.  The Astros are tied for last in home runs by pinch hitters (0).


The manager's decisions and style of play are partly responsible for the rankings.  Cecil Cooper embraces aggressive base running, and that surely factors into  the base running stats.  Cooper says that he doesn't mind outs on the base paths as long as they result from aggressiveness.  However, the construction of the team also has a lot to do with the rankings.  Put together a lot of free swinging contact hitters who aren't particularly fast, and you will get GIDPs.   Based on the Astros' team makeup in the Wade years,  I have to conclude that the Astros don't put a lot of emphasis on walks.  And, of course, the players' base running judgement and approach at the plate also bears responsibility.