MLB Outs Above Average

Graph A

Darren Willman, creator of BaseballSavant.com, has a fabulous website with TONS of data from Major League Baseball. The site is a must visit for baseball geeks, like myself, who like to dive into numbers to see what they can tell us. He has provided data from as recently as January 2020 to evaluate infielders. The statistic is called Outs Above Average. It measures the outs infielders record in comparison to other Major League infielders.

Before I break down my biggest takeaway from Graph A, here’s a little context on how this stat is gathered.

Again, the stat’s main purpose is to compare MLB infielders in their ability to record outs in each opportunity they get in each game. The bottom line is that each opportunity the infielder gets to record an out is given what I’ll call a “difficulty rating.” This difficulty rating takes into account a handful of factors that will affect the play, including a) how far the player must go to get to the baseball, b) how much time he has to reach the ball, c) how far he is from the base the runner is going to (throw distance), and d) on some plays, the average speed of the baserunner. With these factors in mind, a difficulty rating is given to each play based on the odds of the play resulting in an out. The fielder making the play will then be rewarded or deducted the percentage if the play is made or not based on the number 1. For example, a play is determined to be converted into an out 75% of the time. If the player records the outs they will be rewarded .25 points to their overall Outs Above Average. If the player doesn’t convert the out they will be deducted .75 points from their Outs Above Average. A running total for the season is kept. The fielders are given a cumulative Outs Above Average metric. Darren Willman and BaseballSavant.com have broken down each player’s performance into the 4 directions required of infielders to make plays (to the front, left, right, and backwards).

Graph A shows the cumulative totals by position going in each of the 4 directions required to make plays. Diving into the numbers I found myself noticing a trend that wasn’t all that surprising, but the magnitude of that trend was very interesting. The trend that stood out was the overall lack of ability to convert plays going to the right into outs for the 2B, SS, and 3B. These are the red bars in the graph above. Plays going to the right will be a backhand for the huge majority of the plays measured. It wasn’t a surprise that the plays to the right, backhand side, weren’t converted into outs as often as the plays going in the other directions. In my opinion, the plays going to the left weren’t converted to outs as often due to the fact each play that is gloved going in this direction will lead to a longer throw for each position. Another reason is the fact that some of the plays won’t be made with the fielder’s momentum going to their target. So not only is it a longer throw, but they will also have to make that longer throw with their momentum heading in the opposite direction. To top it all off, backhand plays tend to be the least comfortable play an infielder has to make for whatever reason.

As I’ve mention, I’m not surprised that plays going to the right weren’t converted into outs as frequently as plays going in the other directions. My surprise came with the disparity between plays to the right and plays in the other directions. I figured the red bars to be in the negative, but I thought they’d be a little closer to 0 than they are. Other than the reasons I’ve already given, I’m not sure how else to explain the disparity. The length of the throw as well as potentially momentum going away from the target have to be the leading causes. It’d be interesting to dive deeper into the data to see causes but that will have to be saved for another post.


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