Contributing Without Connecting

This past week, Jack Cust was released and later picked up by the Yankees on a minor-league contract. Cust, at 53.0%, is the active career leader in TTO% (three true outcomes – % of PAs resulting in BBs, Ks or HRs). Generally, those high on the TTO list (usually around 50% of PAs) need to be high up on each of the component lists, if not among the league leaders. If they are, they stand a decent chance of being positive contributors.

Strikeouts are customarily seen as unproductive outs and therefore something to be minimized. Of course, those with high strikeouts can mitigate their negative impact by providing power. I was interested, though, to find out if any players had made positive offensive contributions even when their power did not seem adequate to compensate for their strikeouts.

To find out, I looked for qualifying seasons where a player has 3 times as many strikeouts as extra-base hits. There have been 404 such seasons since 1961. Here’s how those seasons are distributed.

OPS+ WAR
Maximum 148 6.7
Top Decile 113 3.2
Top Quartile 98 2.2
Median 84 1.0
Bottom Quartile 73 0.1
Bottom Decile 60 -0.7
Minimum 38 -2.9

Clearly, it’s not easy to contribute with this batting characteristic. Less than one quarter of these seasons achieved even 100 OPS+. However, the top of the list at 148 OPS+ and 6.7 WAR, while not off the charts, is clearly nothing to sneeze at. Those guys could play on my team. So, who are they?

Here are the guys with OPS+ of 125 and WAR of 2 or more. It’s a pretty short list.

Rk Player OPS+ WAR/pos SO XBH Year Tm G PA AB R H HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Jack Clark 148 4.2 145 46 1989 SDP 142 594 455 76 110 26 94 132 .242 .410 .459 .869 *39
2 Jack Cust 146 3.0 164 45 2007 OAK 124 507 395 61 101 26 82 105 .256 .408 .504 .912 D97
3 Rick Monday 141 3.9 143 39 1968 OAK 148 563 482 56 132 8 49 72 .274 .371 .402 .773 *8
4 Reggie Jackson 138 4.9 171 48 1968 OAK 154 614 553 82 138 29 74 50 .250 .316 .452 .768 *98/7
5 B.J. Upton 136 4.7 154 50 2007 TBD 129 548 474 86 142 24 82 65 .300 .386 .508 .894 *84/D
6 Billy Grabarkewitz 134 6.5 149 45 1970 LAD 156 640 529 92 153 17 84 95 .289 .399 .454 .852 *564
7 Phil Bradley 132 3.3 134 43 1986 SEA 143 615 526 88 163 12 50 77 .310 .405 .445 .849 *7/8
8 Jack Clark 130 3.1 141 41 1988 NYY 150 616 496 81 120 27 93 113 .242 .381 .433 .815 *D93/7
9 Jack Cust 129 2.3 197 52 2008 OAK 148 598 481 77 111 33 77 111 .231 .375 .476 .851 *7D/9
10 Dwayne Murphy 129 4.6 91 28 1981 OAK 107 477 390 58 98 15 60 73 .251 .369 .408 .777 *8/D
11 Jose Canseco 128 2.1 128 41 1992 TOT 119 512 439 74 107 26 87 63 .244 .344 .456 .799 *9D
12 Ron LeFlore 128 4.8 111 35 1976 DET 135 603 544 93 172 4 39 51 .316 .376 .410 .786 *8/D
13 Jesse Barfield 127 4.6 150 48 1990 NYY 153 570 476 69 117 25 78 82 .246 .359 .456 .815 *9/8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/13/2012.

Overall, quite a mixed bag of different kinds of players, and none of the free-swinging guys of recent years. There is some decent WAR too, with most of the seasons above 4. Also a bit remarkable that, with only 13 players from the last 51 years, 2 of those 13 (Jackson and Monday) would be from the same team.

The two Jacks (Clark and Cust) both appear here twice, each time with over 100 walks. Most of the guys here walk quite a bit, but a couple (Leflore, Jackson) have comparatively modest totals. Jackson, in fact, managed only a .316 OBP (although, the AL average that year was only .297).

A few guys had decent (but only decent) batting averages, but 8 of the 13 had averages of .256 or less. But, probably not too surprising given the number of strikeouts.

Most showed some power, but not massively, and some (LeFlore, Monday) hardly at all. The highest total of extra-base hits was only 52, hardly an imposing total (the lowest league-leading total in a full live-ball season was 61 by Enos Slaughter in 1942).

Mixed bag of speed on this list, too. Everything from molasses-like Cust to speedsters like Upton and LeFlore.

Looking at the top 10 in WAR, regardless of OPS+ give us mostly a different set of seasons.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ SO XBH Year Age Tm G PA AB R H HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Bill North 6.7 110 89 20 1973 25 OAK 146 642 554 98 158 5 34 78 .285 .376 .348 .725 *8/D9
2 Billy Grabarkewitz 6.5 134 149 45 1970 24 LAD 156 640 529 92 153 17 84 95 .289 .399 .454 .852 *564
3 Brett Gardner 5.2 105 101 32 2010 26 NYY 150 569 477 97 132 5 47 79 .277 .383 .379 .762 *78/D
4 Drew Stubbs 5.2 105 168 47 2010 25 CIN 150 583 514 91 131 22 77 55 .255 .329 .444 .773 *8
5 Bill North 5.2 103 80 23 1975 27 OAK 140 624 524 74 143 1 43 81 .273 .373 .330 .703 *8/7D
6 Brett Butler 5.1 114 79 20 1991 34 LAD 161 730 615 112 182 2 38 108 .296 .401 .343 .744 *8
7 Michael Bourn 5.0 104 140 46 2011 28 TOT 158 722 656 94 193 2 50 53 .294 .349 .386 .734 *8
8 Michael Bourn 4.9 89 109 33 2010 27 HOU 141 605 535 84 142 2 38 59 .265 .341 .346 .686 *8
9 Reggie Jackson 4.9 138 171 48 1968 22 OAK 154 614 553 82 138 29 74 50 .250 .316 .452 .768 *98/7
10 Gary Pettis 4.8 88 132 32 1986 28 CAL 154 628 539 93 139 5 58 69 .258 .339 .343 .683 *8/D
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/1/2012.

The lower OPS+ guys here got good chunks of their WAR from their baserunning or their defense (or both).

So, what’s the secret to being a positive contributor with lots of strikeouts and not a lot of power?

 

50 thoughts on “Contributing Without Connecting

  1. 1
    Dr. Doom says:

    Really interesting stuff, Doug. I’m really intrigued by the median – 84 OPS+, 1.0 WAR. A sub-average player. Not surprising with numbers as high as would be needed here.

    One question – you set the parameter at SO>=3*HR; what was your lower limit for PAs (or HR or SO)?

  2. 2
    Doug says:

    Dr. Doom,

    Only limiting factor was qualifying for the batting title.

  3. 3
    ATarwerdi96 says:

    Jack Cust was signed by the Yankees to a minor league deal a few days ago.

  4. 4
    Mike L says:

    I think there’s always going to be a market for the player who does something well-like crush a right-handed pitcher, or steal a base, even if the rest of their “contribution” is sub-optimal. Part of this is because managers like to manage-they like to have the situational guy to plug in. Although he isn’t a precise match for this group, take a look at the last nine years of Rubin Sierra’s career. Only two years with an OPS+ at or above 100, only one year with more than 369 PAs. But he kept getting jobs

  5. 5
    birtelcom says:

    Among the 318 players who were active in 2011 and had a career PA total of at least 1,000, the highest Three True Outcomes Percentage were:
    1. Jack Cust 53.0%
    2. Russell Branyan 50.5%
    3. Mark Reynolds 50.1%
    4. Adam Dunn 49.4%
    5. Jim Thome 47.6%

    Lowest TTO% among this group of 318:
    1. Juan Pierre 11.6%
    2. Livan Hernandez 13.4%
    3. Placido Polanco 13.6%
    4. Yuniesky Betancourt 14.25%
    5. Jeff Keppinger 14.4%

    • 9
      birtelcom says:

      Among that same group of 318 guys, the highest career ratios of strikeouts per extra-base hit:
      1. Joey Gathright 5.58 Ks per extra-base hit
      2. Jeff Mathis 4.81
      3. Reggie Willits 4.69
      4. Matt Treanor 4.21
      5. Drew Stubbs 4.18
      6. Emilio Bonafacio 4.09
      7. Jack Cust 4.03

      Gathright is not really active, having just one major league PA since the end of 2009, and now in Mexico, I think. Willits also seems to be unsigned. Mathis and Treanor are backup catchers.

      Again, among the 318 players who played in the majors in 2011 and have at least 1,000 career PAs, the lowest K per extra-base hit ratios:
      1. Albert Pujols 0.77
      2. Dustin Pedroia 0.93
      3. Jeff Keppinger 0.94
      4. Vlad Guerrero 1.01
      5. Placido Polanco 1.06
      6. Robinson Cano 1.11
      7. Todd Helton 1.12

  6. 6
    DaveR says:

    No one on that list scored more than a hundred runs, or drove in 100. I think that the TTO doesn’t add so much to the bottom line- runs. People think strikeouts don’t matter much (an out is an out), but I’ve regularly seen batters with little plate discipline leave that runner at third. Jack Clark’s 148 OPS+ is VERY impressive, but it barely equaled a run per game.

    • 7
      Mike L says:

      Dave, I agree generally, but it’s possible to be a success and a TTO type. The first chart shows it, and Reggie and Thome drive the point home. Thome has scored 100 runs eight times and driven in 100 nine, and is almost certainly going to the HOF. Dunn scored 100 twice, five times 100 RBI-his last year was so historically horrible it tends blu his real prior accomplishments.

    • 21
      John Autin says:

      DaveR, consider the context in which Clark scored 76 runs with a 148 OPS+.

      The ’89 Padres scored under 4 runs per game. Tony Gwynn (just 30 Ks) had 85 more PAs than Clark, but scored just 6 more runs. Roberto Alomar had 108 more PAs than Clark, and also scored just 6 more runs.

      Clark’s rate of 90 Runs per 700 PAs was #2 on the team, after leadoff man Bip Roberts (who scored some runs as a pinch-runner).

      Clark batted #4 that year. The median runs from the #4 spot in the 1989 NL was 86; San Diego scored 88 from that spot.

      Clark scored the same 76 runs as Tim Raines, who had only 48 Ks and had 41 steals.

      I’m not saying that productive outs don’t exist. But the number of runs produced that way is a drop in the bucket compared to runs produced by getting on base and hitting for power.

      Placido Polanco is the epitome of low-K batter in our generation, averaging 45 Ks per 162 games. He’s also hit .301. It hasn’t led to a lot of runs or RBI. Polanco, playing in one of the best hitters’ eras ever, has averaged 89 runs and 64 RBI per 162 games. Clark, playing in a lower run environment, averaged 91 runs and 96 RBI per 162 games, in spite of his 117 Ks.

      • 39
        DaveR says:

        I see your point, John. I think I’m looking at some of these hitters as having low totals and not acknowledging his teammates as being unproductive (getting on base for him to drive in, or getting hits to score him). I also think I’ve gotten used to the many runs that were scored the last few years, as opposed to that 1989 season. I suppose a run per game then was much more valuable.

    • 23
      John Autin says:

      As a rough test of whether OPS+ fails to capture the value of low-K batters, I looked at hitters in the last 20 years with at least 3,000 PAs and an OPS+ of 110-120. There are 79 such hitters.

      Then I looked at the 10 lowest K rates and the 10 highest K rates, and figured their average Runs per 700 PAs, RBI per 700 PAs, and OPS+. The results:

      – The low-K group averaged 67 Ks, 97 Runs and 79 RBI per 700 PAs, with a 116.1 OPS+. That’s 176 R+RBI.
      – The high-K group averaged 170 Ks, 91 Runs and 102 RBI per 700 PAs, with a 114.7 OPS+. That’s 193 R+RBI.

      That’s not a conclusive study, of course, but there’s certainly no indication that the low-K guys are undervalued by OPS+.

      • 24
        bstar says:

        John, do you think R+RBI-HR would paint a more accurate picture? If you don’t subtract the HR, you’re double crediting the player with a run and an RBI when only one run has scored.

        • 32
          John Autin says:

          Sorry, bstar, but that’s simply wrong, in my view. The calculation of Runs+RBI counts 2 units of production for EVERY run that scores in a conventional way. A single that drives a guy in from 2nd is a Run for the baserunner and an RBI for the hitter. I cannot conceive of any reason to treat HRs differently.

          • 38
            Ed says:

            John – What Bstar is advocating is Runs Produced and while it has fallen out of favor within the SABR community it does have a defender in none other than Tango Tiger.

            http://www.tangotiger.net/runsproduced.html

            http://www.tangotiger.net/rp.htm

          • 40
            John Autin says:

            Ed @38 – Thanks for the Tango links. I’ve been fiercely opposed to the concept of Runs Produced from the moment I first read of it, for the reason that I’ve already stated: In the abstract, it’s absurdly, comically illogical.

            I had not previously seen an approach like Tango’s — i.e., not trying to justify it conceptually, but starting from players established by other means as being similar, then arguing backwards to show that subtracting the HRs gives comparative results more in line with the established similarities.

            It’s interesting — I’m not yet convinced, but at least it got me to open my mind.

          • 41
            bstar says:

            I had a similar reaction initially also, John. I’ve also softened a little on my stance on disagreeing with subtracting HR. It now makes a little more sense, but I’m still somewhere in the middle on it.

          • 42
            John Autin says:

            Part of my hostility to “Runs Produced” is that I’ve heard so many people use it to support so many indefensible claims.

            For example, for the years 2003-2011, Michael Young ranks #7 overall in “RP” (sorry but it will be a while before I can use the term without quotes), and Johnny Damon #10. There are people who think that proves they are elite offensive players. But:
            – In Rbat, Young ranks 57th, Damon 75th.
            – In OBP, they’re #62 and #59, respectively (3000+ PA).
            – In OPS+, they’re #79 and #86.
            – In WPA, they’re #48 and #37.

            I know that lots of stats get cited in bad arguments, but this one seems especially prone to misuse.

          • 43
            Richard Chester says:

            I thought as bstar did, i. e. to subtract HRs. After thinking over what you said I agree that they should not be subtracted.

          • 44
            bstar says:

            It really was more of a gauge to see how you felt about that stat, John, than an advocation of it. I will henceforth refer to it as that “comical, absurdly illogical stat”. 🙂

          • 45
            Ed says:

            But John….wouldn’t Damon and Young rank highly even if you didn’t subtract out homeruns? (i.e., just added runs and rbis together).

          • 46
            John Autin says:

            bstar @44 — Well, if you wanted to gauge my feeling about Runs Produced, it was a wild success! 🙂

            I did not intend to jump on you, but you sounded like an advocate when you said “If you don’t subtract the HR, you’re double crediting the player with a run and an RBI when only one run has scored.”

            And even if I do come to see some value in RP, I will remain convinced that RP in many instances yields absurd conclusions. RP sees no difference between these two guys:

            – Player A comes up with a man on 2nd and singles him home.
            – Player B comes up next and hits a 2-run HR.

            Both are credited with 2 Runs Produced. That’s absurd.

          • 47
            bstar says:

            Yep, that was my fault. You’ve certainly convinced me. It always kinda smacked of a “let’s subtract the home runs so we can make our equation work out” sort of thing.

          • 48
            Ed says:

            John…why would Player A get two runs produced? Based on your description, he only get one…for his RBI.

          • 49
            John Autin says:

            Ed @48 — I guess I didn’t make clear that Players A and B were batting consecutively in the same lineup. So Player A scored on B’s HR. Thus, an RBI and a Run for A, hence 2 Runs Produced.

          • 50
            Ed says:

            Gotcha. I thought you were talking “in general”. Course, as we all know, RBIs and runs scored aren’t great ways to evaluate players period, regardless of whether or not you subtract out home runs.

  7. 8
    Doug says:

    Thanks for the list, Birtelcom.

    Interesting to see Livan on the “non-TTO” list.

    • 14
      birtelcom says:

      Livan has low K totals for a pitcher, and almost never walks (9 BBs in his career). The guy puts the ball in play. Fernando Valenzuela, the only other Latino pitcher with over 800 career PAs since the DH rule was adopted in 1973, was the same way (Fernando’s TTO% was 15.6%). Compare Glavine, with a 26.2% TTO%, which is close to league average for a regular hitter (the TTO% for all PAs in the majors last season was 29.2%).

  8. 10
    bstar says:

    Doug, can you clarify this for me? You say, “Less than one quarter of these seasons were even above replacement level.” Isn’t zero, or am I just corn-fused again? I’m betting on the latter.

  9. 13
    Andy says:

    I haven’t the slightest idea of what’s going on with your comments, bstar.

  10. 15
    Doug says:

    Good catch, bstar.

    I was looking at the top quartile having a 98 OPS+. But I believe 100 OPS+ is league average rather than replacement level. So that should be less than a quarter at league average.

  11. 16
    John Autin says:

    FWIW … The table that starts with Jack Clark appears to have a requirement of three times as many strikeouts as extra-base hits. None of them has three times more, which would be equivalent to four times as many.

  12. 19
    Steven says:

    Billy Grabarkewitz’ name has been showing up a lot over the past couple of months on this site. From those of us stuck in the sixties and early seventies, Thank You.

    • 27
      Doug says:

      Indeed.

      If you’re only going to have one season as a regular, it’s nice to make it both a good one and a very unusual one.

  13. 22
    Doug says:

    Per JA’s point, for greater clarity the query was SO greater than 3*XBH.

  14. 28

    Over the last two seasons, Cust’s numbers averaged over 162 games, are
    15 homers
    194 SO

    The Yankees must be pretty confident in their coaching skills.

  15. 30
    Dr. Doom says:

    Unrelated to everything in this post:

    There are five ex-players with 40+ WAR who were born April 2nd. That may be the most of any day.

    Tommy Bond: 41.3
    Don Sutton: 65.6
    Reggie Smith: 63.4
    Billy Pierce: 51.8
    Luke Appling: 69.3

    • 31
      Hartvig says:

      According to B-R there are 421 players who have accumulated 40 or more career WAR or an average of 1.15 for every day of the year. I’m sure there’s some way to calculate based on random distribution what the likely highest number would be but I’ll be buggered if I know how to do it.

      On the other hand, I have 142 Facebook friends and it turns out that no fewer than 3 of them are born today, so maybe it’s just something about the day after April fools day.

      • 34
        Tmckelv says:

        Perhaps it has something to do with people heartily “celebrating” America’s Independence 9 months prior. 🙂

      • 37
        Michael E Sullivan says:

        Well, as luck would have it, I did an order flow monte carlo simulation years ago for my printing company to decide how to price orders which would come in randomly.

        I can use the results to make a stab at it. For a 1 order per period flow, the highest number of orders I had come in in the same period was 5 in 100,000 simulations, and it occured .4% of the time, or 400 times (this was not a scientific study, just a good enough approximation). For a 2 order per period flow, I got 7 as the highest with a .3% probability.

        That’s with a purely random independent distribution. Since there is reason to think that birthday distributions are neither uniform nor independent, you could easily get a higher number on one day. 5 is a good high number, but anything up to 10 is plausible.

    • 33
      Paul E says:

      Check out June 15th….Billy Williams, Wade Boggs, Lance Parrish, Brett Butler.

    • 35
      John Autin says:

      For 1893-present, I find 3 birthdays with 5 players at 40+ WAR:
      (WAR values shown for their primary role only; i.e., pitchers’ batting WAR is not reflected here.)

      April 2:
      Don Sutton, 70.8
      Luke Appling, 69.3
      Reggie Smith, 63.4
      Billy Pierce, 53.5
      Hughie Jennings, 44.6

      May 14:
      Roy Halladay, 61.8
      Ed Walsh, 54.8
      Tony Perez, 50.5
      Dennis Martinez, 46.9
      Earle Combs, 44.7

      November 26:
      Chuck Finley, 55.0
      Bob Johnson, 53.2
      Bob Elliott, 52.3
      Lefty Gomez, 43.0
      Fred Tenney, 42.8

      (Aside to Dr. Doom — Any idea why your search didn’t grab Hughie Jennings?)

      • 36
        Dr. Doom says:

        I didn’t actually do a formal search. I just check the birthdays sometimes, to see if there’s anything interesting on a given day. It’s a simple case of just overlooking.

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