Friday, September 5, 2008

The Best Kind of Productive Out

Q: What do Jake Peavy, Dan Haren, Jorge de la Rosa, Todd Wellemeyer, Eric Stults, and Garrett Olson have in common?

A: They're the only six pitchers to hit a sacrifice fly in 2008.

Yes, a pitcher plating a runner via sacrifice fly is a rare occurrence. Simply because precise conditions have to be met to make a sacrifice fly a possibility (runner on third, less than two outs), sacrifice flies by any player aren't all that common. Of the 161,908 MLB plate appearances through September 4, only 9,190 of them took place with a runner on third and less than two out. Of those plate appearances, 1,167 resulted in a sacrifice fly. So when conditions are right, a sacrifice fly results an eighth of the time. Overall, that's one out of every 139 plate appearances.

Pitchers have a tougher time hitting sacrifice flies because, well, they aren't paid to hit in the first place and managers are more willing to call for the squeeze, figuring their pitchers won't get a hit. To hit a sac fly, you have to a) make contact with the ball and b) drive it to the outfield. The first requirement is a major hang-up for many pitchers. You can tell that just by looking at strikeout totals. So, if a sacrifice fly results in one out of every eight plate appearances with a runner on third and less than two out for all major leaguers, how much less often does it happen for pitchers?

It turns out that pitchers have come up to bat 262 times with a runner on third and less than two outs. There were thirty-eight sacrifice bunts in those times up, so pitchers really had 224 opportunities for a sacrifice fly. Six in 224 is pretty close to one every 37 plate appearances, or about 4.5 times less often than all other hitters.

Those are all 2008 numbers. It turns out that it's sort of a down year for pitchers and sacrifice flies. Pitchers were responsible for a dozen sac flies both in 2006 and in 2007. In 2005, they had 16. In 2004, they had 19. In fact, I know there's still a month to play this year, but pitchers haven't had fewer than 10 SF in a full season since 1991, when there was no interleague play and the National League had four fewer teams than it does today. Regardless, pitchers hitting sacrifice flies is still pretty uncommon.

So now that I've rambled on and on about how uncommon it is to see a pitcher hit a sacrifice fly this season, what pitchers have the most career sac flies and who are the active career leaders? Note that sacrifice flies have only been recorded since 1954.

Most Career SF by a Pitcher, 1954-2008
  • Bob Gibson, 18
  • Warren Spahn, 14
  • Steve Carlton, 13
  • Phil Niekro, 12
  • Johnny Podres, 11
  • Woody Williams, 10
    Juan Pizarro, 10
  • Bob Knepper, 9
    Claude Osteen, 9
    Dick Hall, 9 (EDIT 10/3/08: Done as outfielder, not pitcher)
  • Joe Nuxhall, 8
    Jack Harshman, 8
  • Fergie Jenkins, 7
    Jim Kaat, 7
    Juan Marichal, 7
    Gary Peters, 7
    Mudcat Grant, 7
    Vern Law, 7
Most Career SF by an Active Pitcher
  • Randy Wolf, 5
  • Mike Hampton, 4
  • Tom Glavine, 3
    Livan Hernandez, 3
    Pedro Martinez, 3
  • Shawn Estes, 2
    Jeff Francis, 2
    Cole Hamels, 2
    Jason Isringhausen, 2
    Jon Lieber, 2
    Derek Lowe, 2
    Greg Maddux, 2
    Mark Mulder, 2
    Chan Ho Park, 2
    Jake Peavy, 2
    Oliver Perez, 2
    Javier Vazquez, 2
    Carlos Zambrano, 2
Obviously, some of those active players are in a good position to move quite a ways up the list in the future. Other guys, like Jason Isringhausen and Chan Ho Park, not so much.

Final note: Garrett Olson's sacrifice fly this year made him one of only four American League pitchers to hit a sac fly since interleague play started in 1997. The others are Chad Durbin (DET in 2007), Jaret Wright (NYY in 2006), and Mark Mulder (OAK in 2003).


Bopperland said...

You know who I believe will take the active lead in this stat very quickly, if he stays in the NL? None other than CC Sabathia. He pitches a lot of innings and his batting stats are better than many of his fielders. The Tribe will rue the day that they dealt away CC.

Theron Schultz said...

Maybe, but even good hitting pitchers like Carlos Zambrano or Mike Hampton can take a long time to get just a couple sac flies. Micah Owings has a shot at climbing on the list, too, if he pitches well enough to stay in the majors.

The Tribe might regret having to trade Sabathia, but did they really have a shot at signing him as a free agent after the season? I think if they thought so, he'd still be in Cleveland.

Anonymous said...

Dick Hall hit those sacrifice flies as an infielder,not as a pitcher.

Theron Schultz said...

Ah, nice catch. You can never trust those position players turned pitchers, huh?