Which hitters are responsible for the most and least 'free outs'?

A Billy Butler ground ball is almost as free as a strikeout or popup. - Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We're taking a look at the league's highest and lowest "free out" percentages for the start of 2014.

Outs are things to be avoided. Unfortunately, if everyone avoided outs, people would probably complain that the baseball season was only one long game, and only one team got to bat.

I think people complain too much.

Anyways, outs must happen. However, all outs are not created equal. There are (relatively) guaranteed outs, and there are less certain outs. A short investigation of the former is what follows.

Since baseball players must make outs, we can at least prefer outs that aren't free, but we can't always have what we want. There are two types of what I call "free outs": the strikeout and the popup. Since we track these things, we can look at who are the leaders and laggards of the free out. What follows are the top 10 and bottom 10 hitters in free out percentage, which is the sum of K% and IFFB%*FB% from FanGraphs. IFFB%*FB% isn't a perfect measure of popups, but it'll do. Only those who have qualified for the batting title are included in this analysis. PU% is popup percentage, and FO% is free out percentage.

Lowest Free Out Percentage

Name Team PA K% PU% FO% wRC+
Andrelton Simmons Braves 84 3.6% 2.5% 6.1% 117
Victor Martinez Tigers 85 2.4% 3.9% 6.3% 110
Dioner Navarro Blue Jays 87 5.7% 1.3% 7.0% 98
James Loney Rays 93 6.5% 1.3% 7.8% 141
Miguel Montero Diamondbacks 101 8.9% 0.0% 8.9% 114
Jose Altuve Astros 112 8.0% 2.1% 10.1% 94
Michael Brantley Indians 99 8.1% 2.5% 10.6% 129
Dustin Pedroia Red Sox 111 9.0% 2.2% 11.2% 91
Aramis Ramirez Brewers 98 11.2% 0.0% 11.2% 108
Charlie Blackmon Rockies 92 6.5% 5.2% 11.7% 198

Highest Free Out Percentage

Name Team PA K% PU% FO% wRC+
Colby Rasmus Blue Jays 91 33.0% 7.3% 40.3% 69
Abraham Almonte Mariners 104 34.6% 3.4% 38.0% 52
Chris Carter Astros 88 37.5% 0.0% 37.5% 89
Jarrod Saltalamacchia Marlins 81 32.1% 4.7% 36.8% 143
Will Venable Padres 88 29.5% 7.3% 36.8% 40
Curtis Granderson Mets 95 28.4% 7.3% 35.7% 38
Starling Marte Pirates 113 31.9% 3.3% 35.2% 86
Brandon Phillips Reds 103 24.3% 10.8% 35.1% 77
Garrett Jones Marlins 99 31.3% 3.4% 34.7% 88
Jackie Bradley Jr Red Sox 83 30.1% 4.6% 34.7% 89

One reason for Charlie Blackmon's early season dominance could be his lack of free outs. Andrelton Simmons and Dioner Navarro were once members of the zero K club this season, so their inclusion on this list is not surprising.

When it comes to free out "leaders" on the other end, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the only player with a good offensive performance among the free out leaders due to a high BABIP and walk rate. Colby Rasmus has taken the high strikeout / high popup thing for power hitters to a new level. Chris Carter's strikeout rate is ... ugly ... but he somehow hasn't popped up yet. Joey Votto would be moderately proud.

Since strikeouts are generally much more common than popups, especially in today's version of baseball, the free out percentage is skewed by the heavy strikeout guys. Since it is still early in the season, the extremes can reasonably be expected to regress. What is probably more interesting are those low strikeout guys who make up free out ground by popping up a bunch. Here are some of those guys in tabular format.

Name Team PA K% PU% FO% wRC+
Ben Zobrist Rays 110 9.1% 7.3% 16.4% 142
Alexei Ramirez White Sox 105 10.5% 7.9% 18.4% 144
Brian McCann Yankees 82 11.0% 8.7% 19.7% 77
Omar Infante Royals 92 9.8% 12.2% 22.0% 89
Salvador Perez Royals 92 14.1% 9.8% 23.9% 76
Jose Bautista Blue Jays 108 16.7% 9.6% 26.3% 194
Alcides Escobar Royals 84 17.9% 8.5% 26.4% 115

There weren't really any stringent criteria to be included in this table. I simply looked for guys whose strikeout rates were outliers compared to the other guys around them in free out percentage. There are three Royals players in this table, and Omar Infante actually leads all "qualified" players in popup percentage. Despite the Royals' low strikeout rate, the constant gift of free outs by means of the popup to the opposition is probably a significant reason for their offensive woes early in the season.

A conclusion from this little analysis, if there is one, is that it is difficult to contribute positively with a high percentage of free outs. Another thought is that we mostly think of strikeouts as the worst offensive outcome; popups should enter into the conversation as well.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Kevin Ruprecht is a Featured Writer of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royal Stats for Everyone. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.

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