Plate Appearance Outcomes Over the Years

We know that the three true outcomes have been increasing in recent years, but I’ve never seen a good graphical representation of it. I’ve been wanting to examine this data for a while—a conversation with a friend last night spurred me on to do it.

The goal was to track the outcomes of plate appearances over the years, categorized into plays that involve ball-bat contact and those that don’t. The greenish areas in the chart are the “contact” plays, and the reddish areas are the non-contact outcomes. The major takeaway for me is that, over the last 75 years or so, strikeouts have increased by about the same amount that in-play outs have decreased. (In-play outs are balls in play that are not hits, or, in other words, outs that are not strikeouts.)

I was surprised that the decrease in contact plays overall has not caused a proportionate decrease in the percentage of hits. The percentage of hits (singles, doubles, triples, and home runs) has stayed remarkably constant from 1940-2019, never going outside the range of 22-24%!

Likewise, the percentage of walks has been more consistent than I expected. It has been within the 7-10% range since 1936. Also, there’s no clear recent trend in walk percentage, unlike the case for strikeouts.

Although recent home-run percentages (2.7% for 2010-2019) are higher compared to the 1980s (1.9%), they aren’t that different from the “steroid era” (2.5% for 1990-2009) or the 1950s (2.4%).

One way to look at it is to say that the contact plays (green) are “exciting,” while the non-contact plays (red) are “boring.” By that measure, in 1973 (when I started following baseball) 76.7% of plate appearances were “exciting.” In 2019 that figure had dropped to 67.3%, so one could say that the game is only 88% as exciting now compared to when I starting following it.

By the way, this is just a presentation of the data. I’m not getting into the reasons for why the percentages have changed.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The raw data is from the excellent Baseball Reference site.
  • I chose the National League because it’s the longest continuous league. Excluding the American League avoids effects of the Designated Hitter.
  • I excluded the 2020 season because of the relatively small number of games and because of the DH in the NL.
  • The “other” category collects outcomes like catcher’s interference.
  • Reaching base on an error is included in the “in-play outs” category, because such a play is officially scored as an out for the batter (but for the error).
  • The home-run statistics include inside-the-park home runs. They are very rare today, but they accounted for about 35% of home runs in 1901.
  • Statistics for sacrifice hits were not recorded prior to 1894, and sacrifice flies were not always in the scoring rules. No matter—they should all be counted in the “in-play outs” category.
  • Prior to 1889, more than four balls constituted a walk.

Hitter/Pitcher-Friendly Leagues

I had a random thought about the differences between minor leagues in terms of being hitter-friendly or pitcher-friendly. I’ve often read qualifications of individual performances, for example, “he’s hitting well, especially since that’s a pitchers’ league,” or “his ERA is not bad, considering that he’s in a hitter-friendly league.” So I decided to go to the stats. I chose to compute the averages of the last five complete regular seasons, 2013-2017. But which stats to use? Runs per game? ERA? Batting average? I decided to compile OPS and ERA as the measurements for hitting and pitching, respectively. I knew that the two would be highly correlated, and that was indeed the case. I really didn’t see anything interesting by considering both stats together, so I simply sorted the leagues by OPS. The data appears in the table below.

I was surprised to see the huge difference between the top and the bottom: 126 points of OPS, 1.59 earned runs! The next surprise was that the leagues don’t cluster much by level. The Rookie leagues are all over the map.

I had a few ideas to explain the differences, then the Commish suggested a few others. Here’s a list of possible explanations.

  • Elevation. The Pioneer and Pacific Coast Leagues parks are generally at higher elevations, which helps the hitters.
  • Big Spring Training Parks. The Florida State League teams play in the Spring Training parks, which are big. The same probably goes for the Gulf Coast League, even though those are back fields.
  • Wood Bats. Hitters in the Short-Season A leagues may be at a disadvantage, because some of the hitters are using wood bats regularly for the first time.
  • Windy Florida. Maybe windy conditions are tough on the hitters in the Florida State League and GCL.

The Designated Hitter

This analysis didn’t turn up much interesting. Although I’m not a fan of the DH rule, I had some ideas that the use of the DH had probably changed from its MLB inception in 1973 to the present day. I figured that the early DHs were the ageing sluggers like Cepeda & Oliva, and that the modern game uses a more mix-and-match approach to the DH. Nope.

I looked at regular-season starting lineups from the Retrosheet Event Files. I limited the analysis to American League lineups, because I wanted to focus on teams that used the DH most/all of the time. I included AL lineups in inter-league games when the DH was used.

I looked at the lineup slot occupied by the DH to see how that changed over the years. The table below shows the slots used for each season, 1973 through 2017. Cells are colored like a heat map, with red for the maximum and blue for the minimum.

I’m surprised how variable the data is from season to season. For example, in 1992 the DH led off 209 times (9.2%), and the following season the number was down to 32 (1.4%). Undoubtedly there were a couple of DHs in ’92 that led off regularly and did not do so in ’93. Still, the variation at all batting-order slots is more variable that I had expected. Maybe there’s a bit more consistency in the last ten years or so, but I didn’t do a numerical analysis of this.

Note that the only starting-lineup slot that was not filled by a DH for the entire season was the 9 spot, which had no DH in 1975 and 1997.

Of course, it’s clear that the DH is usually slotted in the heart of the lineup, and that hasn’t changed through history. The totals for all seasons are shown in the chart below. It’s no surprise to me that cleanup is the most common DH slot.

The other thing I looked at is how often a team used a single player as DH through the season. I looked at the number of games started by the most used DH on a team. The team with the most starts by one DH is plotted for each season, as is the team with the least starts by one DH. The mean plotted is the average of the DH leader of all teams. For example, in 1973 Orlando Cepeda started 142 games at DH for Boston (the max), while Kansas City had seven players with ten or more starts at DH, of whom Hal McRae had the most (33, the min).

The 1981 and 1994 seasons were shortened by strikes, so keep that in mind when looking at the data for those seasons.

There’s not much variation over history. I expected to see a decline in the max, but I don’t see it.

The coolest tidbit from this otherwise dull analysis was noticing that the maxima during 1978 & 1979 were 162, meaning that at least two players started every regular-season game at DH. That turned out to be Rusty Staub for the 1978 Tigers, and Willie Horton for the 1979 Mariners. Because of inter-league play, this record will likely never be broken!

The DH and Roster Composition

AL teams have the DH, so their rosters will have fewer pitchers than the NL, right? NL teams have more temptation to pinch-hit for pitchers, so they need more relievers on the roster, right?

As of May 1st, the average NL roster has 12.3 pitchers, while the average AL roster has 11.9. So, the average NL roster has 0.4 of a pitcher more. Simple histograms appear below.

            NNNNN 13 AA
                  11 A
                  10 A

BTW, it’s the Angels who have only ten pitchers.

Small sample size. Maybe I’ll gather more data later in the season.

Errors at Different Levels of OB

Commish & I were discussing the standards for official scorers giving errors. Should the same standard be applied regardless of the level, or should the standards be higher at the higher levels?

Commish made the excellent point that throwing errors (especially to first) are going to be automatic and are not really subject to any subjective standard. Since these types of errors are obviously made more frequently at the lower levels, we expect the number of errors to go up as the level goes down.

So, I can’t answer my original question with stats, but I still thought it would be interesting to look at the fielding percentages at the different levels of OB. I used 2013 stats and excluded leagues south of the border.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 9.36.42 PM

The trend is clear. Actually, it’s clearer than I expected! When you get down to A ball, errors are twice as likely compared to the Bigs.

World Series Day & Night Games

The first World Series night game was Game Four of the 1971 series at Three Rivers Stadium, a 4-3 victory for the Pirates over the Orioles. I checked Retrosheet to learn how quickly things transitioned to an all-night-game series. I went by the “day/night” flag in the info section.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 7.59.57 PM


By 1974 more than half the games were being played at night. For the next decade, about a third of the games were still played during the day. The 1985 series between the Cardinals and Twins was the first series without a day game. A day game was played in 1987 at 4pm local time on a Saturday afternoon in Minnesota. Of course, since it was played under the dome, there was no direct sunlight.

The graph shows day games played in 2010. That happened because the Giants were hosting games in the Pacific Time Zone. In order to hit the magic 8pm Eastern Time spot, those games started at 4:57pm and 4:59pm local time, according to Baseball Reference. Retrosheet’s day/night discriminator is apparently 5pm, so those games count as day games. The local sunset was around 6:18pm, which means about an hour and 20 minutes in the daytime. Those start times still look a little strange to me. I thought the 8pm start times dictated first pitches at about seven minutes past the hour. That’s what happened in 2012 when the starts were 5:08 & 5:09 Pacific Time, again in San Francisco.

However you classify these “twilight” games, it’s safe to say that we won’t see a real World Series day game for a long time, if ever. Too bad.

The Worst Hitting Pitchers in MLB History

Baseball Reference has a free trial for their Play Index, so I’m giving it a whirl.

Who are the worst hitting pitchers of all time? I’ve got no magic criteria, but it’s easy find some guys who were epic fails at the plate.

Rob Herbel pitched in 332 games in the 60s and early 70s, mostly for the Giants. He managed only six hits in 227 plate appearances for an anemic .029 batting average. He struck out 125 times (55% of PAs) and walked only eight times. Actually, one third of his hits were doubles, which raised his OPS to .104. I bet a few of those doubles were hit to sleeping outfielders.

Dean Chance won the AL Cy Young in 1964 and accumulated 759 plate appearances in 406 games. He recorded 44 hits (.066 BA), all but two of which were singles. He struck out 420 times (55%) and walked only 30 times. With 128 wins and a 2.92 career ERA, he’s probably the best pitcher ever who was useless with a bat in his hands.

Of the active guys, Tommy Hanson & Ben Sheets are notable. Hanson is 11 for 187 (.059) with 92 strikeouts, 5 walks, and zero extra-base hits. Sheets is 34 for 449 (.076) with 212 Ks and 19 walks.

hanson           sheets

Although Randy Tate was in the bigs for only one year, he holds the distinction of having the most career plate appearances (47) without a hit. He did manage to draw one walk, though! In six minor league seasons he hit .113, so I guess ’75 was just a down year for him. Tate had an unusually symmetric career: three years in the minors, followed by one full season with the Mets (He pitched in every month of the ’75 season.), followed by three more years in the minors. He was never called up during his minor league seasons, and wasn’t sent down during his only major league season!

And, finally, of the pitchers with the dubious distinction of never having reached base safely ever, the guy with the most plate appearances (33) is none other than Justin Verlander. I think I’ve heard that he’s a decent pitcher, though. Verlander did not reach base during his three post-season PAs, and he never went to the plate during his 20-game minor league career. Let’s hope that the increase in interleague play will give Justin the chance to get off the schneid in 2013.

2013-09-30 UPDATE Verlander got only two plate appearances during the 2013 regular season, and they both came in the 162nd game. He went hitless, but so did the rest of the Tigers, as this was Henderson Alvarez’ no-hitter!

2014-06-18 UPDATE On April 12, 2014 in San Diego, California, in the top of the second with two outs, Justin Verlander reached base safely for the first time in his professional career when he grounded a single up the middle against Ian Kennedy. When he next came to the plate in the fourth… he hit another single!!! He would later score his first run. As of today Verlander has a .069 batting average. He is still looking for that first walk.

Cardinals Apparel

An unscientific survey of Cardinals player apparel observed at the Cardinals game on Thursday August 9th. Most were name & number on a shirt/jersey.

Player Fans
David Freese 43
Yadier Molina 32
Matt Holliday 30
Albert Pujols 14
Stan Musial 8
Adam Wainwright 6
Chris Carpenter 6
Lance Berkman 6
Carlos Beltran 5
Lou Brock 3
Rafael Furcal 3
Mark McGwire 2
Jim Edmonds 2
Scott Rolen 2
Red Schoendienst 1
Orlando Cepeda 1
Whitey Herzog 1
Ozzie Smith 1
Colby Rasmus 1
Rick Ankiel 1
Tino Martinez 1

Passed Balls & Other Advances

When a runner tries to advance after the ball gets away from the catcher, and it’s not ruled a Wild Pitch, two things can happen. If the runner advances safely, the catcher is charged with a Passed Ball. If the runner is thrown out it’s simply an out. You might think the second case is Caught Stealing, but it’s not. From Rule 10.07:

In those instances where a pitched ball eludes the catcher and the runner is put out trying to advance, the official scorer shall not charge any “caught stealing.”

Project Scoresheet codes this as “OA,” Other Advance.

OA is coded for a base runner advance that is not covered by one of the other codes. A comment may be given explaining the advance.

com,"Thompson out trying to advance after ball eluded catcher"

Commish & I saw this happen a couple of times at a B-Mets game this week. Commish was interested to know how many times these events occur. So was I.

Using Retrosheet Event File data from last five regular seasons (MLB 2007-2011), I count 1,522 Passed Balls and 337 Other Advances that involved the catcher. (I didn’t count 19 Other Advances that didn’t seem to involve the catcher.) So, there’s one Other Advance for every 4.5 Passed Balls. A Passed Ball occurs once every eight games on average, while an Other Advance occurs once every 36 games. For comparison, a Wild Pitch occurs once every 1.54 games.


I never realized before that Busch the stadium came before Busch the beer. Here’s the timeline:

  • 1953: The Cardinals are sold to Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser since 1876. Anheuser-Busch buys Sportsman’s Park from Bill Veeck, who moves the Browns to Baltimore.
  • 1953: NL President Ford Frick denies August Busch’s request to name the stadium after Budweiser. Instead, Busch names the stadium after himself.
  • 1955: Anheuser-Busch debuts “Busch Bavarian Beer.” Coincidence?
  • 1966: The Cardinals move into the new Busch Stadium II, formally titled “Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium.”
  • 1979: Busch Bavarian Beer is renamed simply “Busch.”
  • 1982: Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium is officially renamed simply “Busch Stadium.”
  • 2006: The Cardinals move into the new Busch Stadium III.
  • 2008: Anheuser-Busch is acquired by Belgian-Brazilian brewing company InBev.
  • 2026: The current naming-rights deal for the stadium is set to expire.

Head for the mountains!

The Best of Waite Hoyt in the Rain


01. Ernie Harwell’s Tribute
02. Bill Akers
03. Breaking In
04. Cantaloupes
05. 1921 Cleveland Series
06. 20-Win Season… NOT!
07. 1926 World Series Game 7
08. What Really Matters to a Pitcher
09. 300 Years From Now

On this 1963 LP, Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt spins yarns during rain delays over his long career as Reds broadcaster. The last track ends abruptly, but that’s the way it is on the wax. There was a volume two in the series, which was devoted to Babe Ruth.