Baseball is a game of failure. So much so, that failure can be celebrated when done in the proper context. A routine ground ball to the right side of the infield resulting in an out doesn't appear to be a preferred outcome to an at-bat. However, if there is a runner on second with nobody out, and that slow ground ball advances him to third, then it can be quite productive. A runner is now at third, with less than two outs, giving the next batter a chance to drive him home with another failed outcome, a lazy fly ball, but a sacrifice, a run generating event, so not really a failure at all.
Productive outs are the baseball fan's telling-stat. Before advanced statistical databases captured such events, it was the fans, who actually watched the games, who could tell a different story than the box score showing an 0-4 night, by highlighting that two of those outs advanced baserunners in key situations.
Thanks to Baseball-Reference (and ESPN), productive outs are now routinely captured and readily available. And one player's lack of productive outs sticks out: Hunter Pence.
Hitting behind Buster Posey's 10.1% walk rate - putting him in situations to be advanced from first base - Pence had plenty of opportunity to provide productive outs in 2013. A productive out consists of any opportunity when a hitter advances a runner with none out or drives in a runner with the second out of the inning. Pence found himself in 78 such productive out situations in 2013, only succeeding in 12 of them, or 15% of the time. That means that while failing to get a hit with the runner on base, he also failed to advance the runner with an out 85% of the time.
Looking at the hitters from 2013 who found themselves in the most productive out opportunities, Hunter Pence success rate definitely lags behind the rest of the group.
|Rk||Player||Tm||Productive Opp||Productive Success||% Success|
Of course, a productive out is only preferred when the batter doesn't reach the same result, or better, by getting a hit. There's a reason the Giants gave Pence a five-year $90 million contract extension. He can hit. Last season, his OPS with runners in scoring position was .849, which is 33% higher than the league average. So it is important when looking at the productive out opportunities that Pence faced last season, to consider the number of times he was successful in advancing a runner, not just from an out, but by a hit, too.
|2013||Less 2 outs runner on 3B||Scr||%||0 outs runner on 2B||Adv||%|
In key situations to advance a runner, with either an out or a hit, Pence still performed below league average in 2013. In fact, with none out and a runner on second base, he converted only 43% of those opportunities into advancement of the baserunner, compared to the league average of 56%.
Hunter Pence could be called a bad situational hitter. That is a nice way of saying he fails at failing. In the National League, where the pitcher hits, and strategy is still designed around moving baserunners from base to base, getting productive outs is crucial. Especially for a team like the Giants, who ranked 29th in home runs last season. Hunter Pence is a very good hitter, but he could be better when recording an out.
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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.