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Independent Putouts by Catchers

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  • Independent Putouts by Catchers

    In Win Shares, Bill James makes note of an interesting trend that has been occurring in baseball since in began, and is completely undocumented. That trend is the decrease in independent putouts by catchers through time.

    As most of you probably know, strikeouts are counted as putouts for catchers. So, catchers tend to have an extraordinarily high number of putouts, sometimes even more than the first basemen. Independent putouts by catchers are simply when we take the team's strikeouts, and subtract them from the team's catcher's putouts.

    At the beginning of history, independent putouts by catchers were extremely common. Over time then have been substantially decreasing, and the trend is still in place today. In 1876, strikeouts accounted for less than one fourth of catcher's putouts (589 of 2400). In 2000, SOs accounted for 97% of catcher putouts. As James says, "Essentially, one full play per game-1/27th of all putouts-have moved, over time, away from catchers to other fielders."

    He does later state a possible explanation, that the disappearance of the high strike and the thin handled bats have caused it. But, he really doesn't seem to have much confidence in that theory.

    What do you guys think about this? Any other theories out there?

  • #2
    I think the main change for catchers is that in the 19th centruy there were way WAY more plays at the plate than there are now. The more baserunners you have on the bases in an average game...the more plays at the plate you're likely to have...especially in times wehre infielders made a lot of mistakes. I don't think PO by catcher are predominantly pop ups in the 19th century...i think they're mostly assisted putouts created by other infielders.

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    • #3
      I'd bet that Matt is more right then Bill James on this one. There has been a huge decline of runners trying to steal home, a huge decline in errors, meaning less people reach base because of it and also causing less broken down play, in which backup fielders become involved, less foul territory (less room for pop-ups), and more runs being scored via the home run, again less plays at home.

      I think it is this last one that has the most impact. The more home runs hit the less defensive plays on runners there are, and as time has gone on the leagues have hit more and more homers. In 1904 the NL hit 174, in 2004 they hit 2846 homers. Even if every single homer was a one run homer the 2004 homer total would impact its league scoring 7 times greater then homers impacted the 1904 league. So again as your offense becomes more and more dependant on homers the more likely it is that less plays will be made by the catcher.

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      • #4
        I agree with everything you guys have said.

        I would just add that back in the day, the number of choppers hit right around the plate was at a high level. Also, bunt attempts were much more common. Catchers in general were smaller, quicker guys who could pounce on these types of balls and make the play.

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        • #5
          That probably also contributes...

          The catching position was defensively VERY important in 1890...today, it's the least important position on the diamond...less important even than first base (doesn't mean it's easy to field the position, but it does mean it has less impact on run scoring)...but back then they were involved in plays four, five, six times per game...now it's maybe once.

          Bunt tries are down...foul pops are down...baserunners are down...outfield assists are down...stolen base attempts are down...broken run-down plays are down...it all leads to the catcher having a smaller role.

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