"out of left field" (Why "left"?)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Mar 28 01:58:58 UTC 2001


At 8:07 AM -0500 3/28/01, Frank Abate wrote:
>
>We need to check stats.
Agreed.

>I'm not sure that either contention (centerfielders
>make more putouts OR less play takes place in left) is correct.

I can't speak to the latter, but the former is indeed the case, as I
shall try to show.  Here are some of the lifetime totals of seasons
with over 300 putouts by center fielders:

T. Speaker     16
W. Mays       14 (6 over 400)
R. Ashburn    13 (4 over 500, the only times ANY outfielder racked up > 500)
D. Cramer      13  (yes, the immortal Doc Cramer, not even a Hall of Famer)
A. Otis           12
J. DiMaggio   11 (out of 13 seasons)
M. Mantle     10
E. Averill        10
D. Snider         9
V. Pinson        9
S. West           9  (4 over 400)

[Mays and Ashburn totaled 15 seasons with over 400 assists, and
Ashburn 4 over 500.  No corner outfielder (LF or RF) ever topped 400
even once, as far as I can tell; at least none of the ones listed
here did.]

Now we switch to right fielders, all Hall of Famers.
H. Aaron       9 seasons with over 300 putouts
P. Waner       9
A. Kaline      7
B. Ruth         6
F. Robinson  4
C. Klein        4
M. Ott          4
E. Slaughter   4
R. Jackson    3
R. Clemente  2  (Roberto was a legendary fielder, although partly on
the basis of his arm--266 lifetime assists--but he only managed 2
seasons of over 300 putouts, compared to Richie Ashburn's 4 seasons
of over 500!)

And finally Hall of Fame left fielders
J. Medwick       9 seasons with over 300 putouts
G. Goslin          8
T. Williams       7
Z. Wheat           7
F. Clarke           5
C. Yastrzemski 4
R. Kiner            4
B. Williams        1
L. Brock             1  (Brock, a notorious speedster, had only one
season with over 300 putouts, but 14 with between 221 and 283, close
to the norm for a reasonably fast LF.  Billy Williams's stats were
quite comparable. )
W. Stargell         0

[Source:  Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract (1988 edition).  I
suspect Barry Bonds might now top the third list, but I don't know if
he's in double figures yet.]

Conclusions:
(1)  Centerfielders, at least good ones, do make more putouts than
left or right fielders, even good ones.
(2)  If you do want to make a lot of them in left, it helps if you're
part waterfowl, as shown by "Ducky" Medwick and "Goose" Goslin.

larry

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