Strikeouts Can Be Productive for a Team's Offense
Rhys Hoskins Actually Helped The Phillies By Striking Out
In a rather nondescript game back on April 10,2019, the San Diego Padres beat the San Francisco Giants by a score of 3-1. Other than the fact that it put the Padres into a tie for first place in the National League West, that early contest was pretty forgettable except for a comment from one of the San Francisco announcers.
He suggested that baseball start keeping statics on what he referred to as the NPO, an acronym for non-productive out. I was, as a lifetime fan of the sport, intrigued by his idea.
Having witnessed too may times the hitters on my favorite team fail to advance a runner with fewer than two outs, I decided to assess their likelihood of suffering a non-productive out. Baseball-reference was the most likely source to start, but I quickly discovered that the site did not provide a stat for NPO percentages.
In fact, none of the most reliable baseball sites included such a thing as NPO, although one does provide a similar category. The baseball pages of ESPN.com recognize what it refers to as Productive Outs, which I erroneously assumed could be used to calculate its direct opposite.
The definition is rather rigidly defined, therefore limiting its relevance.
"Productive outs are defined as advancing the runner with the first out of the inning, scoring a runner with the second out," ESPN columnist Buster Olney stated, "or when a pitcher sacrifice bunts with the second out."
First of all, a bunt that advances a runner cannot be considered a productive out, for it is not technically recognized as an at bat. It is already a stat on its own, universally known as a sacrifice.
Another problem with that definition has to do with what it implies, so any out not advancing a runner would be dismissed as non -productive. Such immediate elimination overlooks some very important outs that may not, on paper anyway, benefit the team 's offense.
Every strikeout, for example, would be labeled as non-productive, since obviously it did not advance a runner. Yet some strikeouts can indeed benefit the team, and thus should rightly be considered productive.
History is rife with cases, probably on a nightly basis, where a batter helps a runner advance by swinging at a pitch out of the strike zone. Sure, the guy missed strike three, but he gave himself up in order to improve the runner's chance to steal a base.
Perhaps even more importantly, consider the strikeout that comes after a long at bat. Take for example Philadelphia first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who saw more pitches per at bat than any other player last season.
Since he averaged seeing four and a half pitches each time up, Hoskins must have worked numerous full counts before getting fanned. Based on that high percentage, some of the whiffs had to come after ten pitches.
His trip to the plate, because it resulted in a strikeout, would technically be categorized as unproductive. In reality, though, it was beneficial to his teammates, in that they got a better idea of the pitcher while also running up his pitch count.
The idea of tracking non-productive outs, as suggested by a San Francisco announcers last April, may seem to be worthwhile. The reason it is not included in star sites like Baseball-Reference.com, however, is that it is much too difficult to determine, nearly as intangible as the concept of team chemistry.