Bad Outs

June 10, 2021
 
In 1990, White Sox outfielder Iván Calderon led the league in grounding into a double play, hitting into 26 rally-killers. He was also caught stealing 16 times.
 
Backing up: the genesis for this article was very random: I saw Ivan Calderon’s face on the top left-hand corner of the Baseball-Reference page, and I realized I hadn’t ever looked at his career. I had no idea how many homers he had ended up with, or where he had played his final games, or what his career batting totals looked like. 213 homers? Didn’t he wind up in Toronto?
 
Calderon hit far fewer homerun that I would’ve imagined: 102. That’s surprising. I think that I first noticed Calderon when he hit 28 homeruns for the White Sox in 1987. He was twenty-five years old, and you would expect a young player who hits 28 homeruns right before offensive numbers steroided into the stratosphere to collect a decent number of career dingers. But Calderon’s career was short: he was out of the majors by thirty-two.
 
And he’s gone: he was murdered in a bar in Puerto Rico in 2003, when he was just forty-one years old. I have no useful insights into that, of course.
 
Returning to Ivan Calderon’s 1990 season: those 26 GIDP’s represent the only Black Ink on his Baseball-Reference page, the only time he led the league in a category. That is what drew my eyes, of course: twenty-six is an impressive number of double plays for a hitter to ground into. He was also caught stealing sixteen times. That ain’t great.
 
On that subject: Calderon had an unusual record as a base stealer:
 
Year
Age
Games
SB
CS
1987
25
144
10
5
1988
26
73
4
4
1989
27
157
7
1
1990
28
158
32
16
1991
29
134
31
16
 
For his first three years as baserunner, Calderon didn’t run too often, and he had a poor record when he did. Then - mid-career - he suddenly started running. He didn’t change teams, and the team didn’t change managers or GM’s: he just started running.  He went from eight stolen base attempts to forty-eight attempts, for no obvious reason.
 
Anyway: I sometimes think of double-plays and caught stealing as ‘twin’ events, though they are exactly parallel. They are Bad Outs: they are events that typically swing a team’s chances from the positive to the negative. They’re take-the-wind-out-of-the-sails outs.
 
When I saw that Calderon had grounded into 26 stolen bases and had been caught stealing 16 times, I thought, reflexively: "Forty-two outs seems like an awful lot of bad outs."
 
And then I thought: is it?
 
Other questions followed. What is the record for bad outs in a season? What is the range for bad outs…what is the ‘bad out’ equivalent of a .300 batting average or a WAR of 6.0? What kind of players tend to make a lot of bad outs: are they sluggers or base stealers? Are they good players or great players or flameouts? Who is the career record holder in bad outs? Who made the most bad outs per plate appearance?
 
So let’s get take a deep dive it on a not-very-meaningful stat.
 
Let’s look into BO.
 
 
*            *            *
 
The records for caught stealing and grounding into double plays are sporadic until 1939, when both leagues started counting the events. The FanGraphs data base has AL Caught Stealing data from 1939, but their NL data only starts after 1951, so we’re only looking at the last seventy years.
 
And to narrow my spreadsheet a little, I kept my list to players who had at least 300 plate appearances: I assumed that no one with fewer than 300 plate appearances would crack our list. That gave us a list of 15,315 individual seasons to choose from.
 
Any guess at the #1 season? I bet most of you can guess the worst BO season of all-time.
 
It’s Rickey, of course. He is the single-season record holder for Bad Outs. In 1982, he set a record by getting caught stealing 43 times. He also grounded in five double plays, tallying 47 Bad Outs.
 
Ivan Calderon had 42 bad outs, which is close to 47. How close was he to the record?
 
Very, very close:
 
Season
Name
Team
G
PA
GDP
CS
Bad Outs
1982
Rickey Henderson
OAK
149
656
5
42
47
1999
Ivan Rodriguez
TEX
144
630
31
12
43
1990
Ivan Calderon
CHW
158
667
26
16
42
1980
Omar Moreno
PIT
162
745
9
33
42
1974
Lou Brock
STL
153
702
8
33
41
2002
Vlad Guerrero
MON
161
709
20
20
40
2001
Vlad Guerrero
MON
159
671
24
16
40
1993
Chad Curtis
CAL
152
671
16
24
40

Ivan Calderon had the third-worst season for ‘bad outs’ in baseball history.
 
That’s remarkable. Sixteen thousand individual seasons of baseball players hitting into double plays and getting caught stealing, and I happen to notice the third worst season? Weird.  
 
We are early in our dive, but one thing that pops up is that these are good players.
 
Rickey, Ivan Rodriguez, Lou Brock, and Vladdie Sr are all in the baseball Hall-of-Fame. Moreno and Calderon were good players. Chad Curtis: let’s just leave it that there are names that make you wince when they show up on a table.
 
These are runners more than hitters, which isn’t surprising. You can tally a lot of CS if you play for a manager who gives you the green light every time you’re on first base. Brock and Henderson and Moreno were speedsters. Pudge was fast-for-a-catcher…maybe the fastest catcher who stuck at the position. Guerrero and Calderon were more power hitters than speedsters, but they weren’t plodders.
 
But if you look further down the list, the speedsters don’t continue to dominate the table:
 
Season
Name
Team
G
PA
GDP
CS
Bad Outs
1953
Minnie Minoso
CHW
151
655
23
16
39
1985
Dave Parker
CIN
160
694
26
13
39
1992
Luis Polonia
CAL
149
635
18
21
39
2008
Miguel Tejada
HOU
158
666
32
7
39
1954
Jackie Jensen
BOS
152
673
32
7
39
1976
Lou Brock
STL
133
544
19
19
38
1978
Lyman Bostock
CAL
147
637
26
12
38
1988
Harold Reynolds
SEA
158
663
9
29
38
1983
Steve Sax
LAD
155
692
8
30
38
 
Minnie Minoso was fast, but there was a lot more to his game than speed. Dave Parker – the 1985 version of Dave Parker – was big and burly. Jensen and Miguel Tejada  and Lyman Bostock collected most of their Bad Outs on grounding into double plays, not getting caught stealing.
 
Of course, those numbers are cumulative numbers, not rates. The list has good players because good players will have more opportunities to hit into double plays or get caught stealing. There is a reason Rickey is number one: he was an exceptionally great baseball player.
 
 
*            *            *
 
So what happens if we look at the rate of Bad Outs?
 
Adjusting for Bad Outs Per 100 Plate Appearances knocks Rickey from the top of the list:
 
Season
Name
Team
PA
GDP
CS
Bad Outs
BO/100 PA
1976
Jim Wohlford
KCR
334
8
16
24
7.19
1982
Rickey Henderson
OAK
656
5
42
47
7.16
1991
Bernard Gilkey
STL
311
14
8
22
7.07
1995
Kevin Bass
BAL
327
15
8
23
7.03
1976
Lou Brock
STL
544
19
19
38
6.99
1982
John Wathan
KCR
502
26
9
35
6.97
1943
Jimmy Bloodworth
DET
519
29
7
36
6.94
1950
Billy Hitchcock
PHA
447
30
1
31
6.94
1961
Gene Green
WAS
405
26
2
28
6.91
1953
Carlos Bernier
PIT
366
11
14
25
6.83
1999
Ivan Rodriguez
TEX
630
31
12
43
6.83
1975
Duane Kuiper
CLE
388
8
18
26
6.70
2002
Brad Ausmus
HOU
496
30
3
33
6.65
2010
Ivan Rodriguez
WSN
421
25
3
28
6.65
1979
George Scott
- - -
384
24
1
25
6.51
 
Jim Wohlford, a backup outfielder for the 1976 pennant-winning Royals, edges out Rickey Henderson: he rises to the top of our list.
 
Mr. Wohlford is still alive on this earth, and I’m betting that he doesn’t know that he is ahead of the great Rickey Henderson, at least by one very specific and ignominious metric. If anyone has a line to him, please reach out and share the good news.
 
What really happens when you look at Bad Outs by rate is that the good players drop off, and lesser players (or good players in lesser years) start filling in the gaps. I don’t know anything about Jimmy Bloodworth or Carlos Beiner. Kevin Bass and George Scott were fine players in their primes, but this chart gives us the last season of each man’s career, when both were playing out the string. Bernand Gilkey is the other side of the coin: he would go on to have a few strong seasons in the majors, but this is his first extended sting in the big leagues, and he was probably trying to do too much.
 
 
*            *            *
 
How about career contributions?
 
Starting with careers of 5000+ plate appearances, here are the hitters credited with the most Bad Outs, by rate:
 
Name
PA
GDP
CS
BO
BO/100
Luis Polonia
5296
91
145
236
4.46
Otis Nixon
5800
72
186
258
4.45
Eric Young
6996
135
168
303
4.33
Pat Kelly
5011
97
119
216
4.31
Juan Beniquez
5151
146
76
222
4.31
Julio Franco
9731
310
107
417
4.29
Cesar Cedeno
8133
167
179
346
4.25
Steve Sax
7632
146
178
324
4.25
Tony Pena
7073
235
63
298
4.21
Omar Moreno
5481
45
182
227
4.14
Vlad Guerrero
9059
278
94
372
4.11
Enos Cabell
6304
133
124
257
4.08
George Scott
8269
279
57
336
4.06
Minnie Minoso
7690
183
129
312
4.06
Jackie Jensen
6001
182
55
237
3.95
 
Burners, mostly. Speed-first players. It’s surprising to see Julio Franco, one of my all-time favorite players, on this list. Tony Pena never struck me as a liability, but…he gives the catchers representation. Vlad Guerrero isn’t a surprise, considering that he’s already had some appearances.
 
What about the players who avoid bad outs? Whose the best at that?
 
Name
PA
GDP
CS
BO
BO/100
Matt Carpenter
5095
35
17
52
1.02
Chris Davis
5630
62
11
73
1.30
C. Granderson
8306
64
50
114
1.37
Roger Maris
5846
75
9
84
1.44
Chase Utley
7863
93
22
115
1.46
Adam Dunn
8328
100
25
125
1.50
Mickey Mantle
9909
113
38
151
1.52
Carlos Pena
5893
71
22
93
1.58
Eddie Mathews
10101
123
39
162
1.60
Mike Trout
5660
58
37
95
1.68
Norm Siebern
5267
64
25
89
1.69
Don Blasingame
5938
43
60
103
1.73
Dan Uggla
5509
75
21
96
1.74
Willie Stargell
9026
143
16
159
1.76
Will Clark
8283
100
48
148
1.79
 
This is an unusual list of players, starting with an unusual hitter in Matt Carpenter.
 
I will confess that I haven’t followed Carpenter’s career as closely as I perhaps should have. He’s a player that doesn’t fit an easy category: a leadoff hitter who doesn’t run, an on-base player who had decent power but strikes out, a defender who can play a lot of positions passably, but not brilliantly. He’s hard to categorize. He could be viewed as paralleling Will Clark, who comes in at 15th.
 
Chris Davis is #2. That’s easier to categorize: pull sluggers who strike out too much to ground into double plays. Him and Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena.

Curtis Granderson was a favorite player of mine: an underrated player who did a lot to help his teams win. There are players like Granderson who show up doing well by this metric: Brett Gardner (22nd), Jayson Werth (27th), Jason Bay (28th), J.D. Drew (32nd), Tim Salmon (34th), Shane Victorino (51st). This metric is good at identifying lesser known players who won games by making good baseball decisions.
 
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – the M&M Boys - both show up as a player who avoided Bad Outs: I was surprised to see both of them on the list. Yogi Berra is also terrific at avoiding Bad Outs: he ranks 43rd among the players listed.
 
Chase Utley’s appearance does not surprise me: he was an absolutely terrific percentage player. The same holds for Mike Trout.
 
*            *            *
 
All-Time Leaders? Ok.
 
Name
PA
GDP
CS
BO
R. Henderson
13346
173
335
508
Albert Pujols
12542
406
41
447
C. Yastrzemski
13991
323
116
439
Lou Brock
11238
114
307
421
Julio Franco
9731
310
107
417
Dave Winfield
12358
319
96
415
Rod Carew
10550
216
186
402
Hank Aaron
13940
328
73
401
Ivan Rodriguez
10270
337
64
401
Pete Rose
15876
247
149
396
Cal Ripken
12883
350
39
389
Tony Gwynn
10232
261
125
386
Derek Jeter
12602
287
96
383
D. Concepcion
9641
266
109
375
Omar Vizquel
12013
207
167
374
V. Guerrero
9059
278
94
372
Torii Hunter
9692
262
99
361
Eddie Murray
12817
315
43
358
Willie Mays
12493
251
103
354
Miguel Cabrera
10648
329
21
350
 
Mostly Hall-of-Fame players, as you could guess.
 
 
*            *            *
 
Well, OK. We’re about done here. Just one more thing.
 
Has any player ever have a season without getting caught stealing or grounding into a double play?
 
I actually went further back, checking the records all the way from 1939. That was a sample of 16,000 individual seasons. And there was one player, anonymous to all but the most discerning baseball fan, who accomplished this feat.
 
Let’s let a skeptic ask a few questions about our mystery man.
 
You set the bar at 300 plate appearances: I’m guessing this player must’ve just clipped that bar.
 
This player, while not playing a full season, managed to collect 430 plate appearances. He didn’t cheap out on plate appearance.
 
Fine. He was a plodding power hitter who struck out a billion times. Never thought of stealing second base. Sam Horn. Rob Deer. Gorman Thomas
 
No. This man was a runner. He attempted fourteen stolen bases, which was good enough to finish 19th in the league in the year he accomplished this feat. He was a perfect 14-for-14.
 
So it’s slap-hitter. Punch-and-judy singles hitter. A bunting expert like Billy Butler, or a contact-first hitter.
 
No. He hit 16 homeruns, so he showed at least some capacity to hit the ball hard. He wasn’t a contact specialist, either: he struck out 123 times.
 
Okay: this is a crafty player. Rickey ran into a lot of outs with Billy Martin, and then learned to choose his moments. Same for Beltran. Middle-career, great player, right?
 
No. This player pulled this feat off as a rookie. First season in the majors.
 
Then this is some anonymous player from some era where weird things happen. A World War II, player, or someone who snuck up on an expansion squad and bounced around for a few years.
 
No. He is a starting player on a team that was in the playoffs last year.
 
So what gives?
 
It’s genes. It has to be something in the genetic code. That’s the only explanation.
 
The only player to never ground into a double play or get caught stealing is Cavan Biggio. He accomplished this feat in 2019, his rookie season, when he went 14-for-14 in stolen bases while never grounding into a double play.
 
And his father, Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio, was also famously good at avoiding bad outs: in 1997 Craig become just the third player to have a full season without hitting into a double play, and the first to do it while playing in all of his team’s games.
 
The younger Biggio is just starting his career, but he is well head of his father (2.19 BO, good enough for 76th all-time), and he’s certainly in line to challenge Matt Carpenter’s record. Carpenter has averaged 1.02 Bad Outs per 100 PA: Cavan is sitting at 0.59 through 846 plate appearances (one caught stealing, four GIDP).
 
The apple is outpacing the tree.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in southwest Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
 
 
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COMMENTS (16 Comments, most recent shown first)

RichEddy44
Not quite. He used stolen base percentage and some other stuff, but it wasn’t a total of anything like the total outs we’re measuring here.
5:13 PM Jun 17th
 
3for3
Rich: I think Bill did something like that. He called it being a good or bad percentage player.
11:14 AM Jun 16th
 
DaveFleming
I laughed out loud, OBS. I've actually had to kill a pet bunny rabbit once: it wasn't fun. That was a strange google search: 'what is the most humane way to kill a rabbit?'
11:59 AM Jun 14th
 
RichEddy44
So you’re combining 1 hitting stat with 1 baserunning stat. How about going for the trifecta and adding a fielding stat: errors. Those are bad outs for the defense. The drawback is that now the leaders would all be 2B, 3B, SS.
7:27 PM Jun 13th
 
OBS2.0
Hi Dave,

Gawd. Reading your stuff is like listening in my head to a cat in a blender mixed with nails on a blacboard mixed with a baby rabbit being murdered.

Anyway, the leap in SBs from with the ChiSox from 1989 to 1990 was interesting. Team SBs went from 97 to 140. Sammy Sosa went from 16 to 32, and Lance Johnson had his first big year with 36.

The White Sox moved feom tenth in the league in steals to 3rd -- and only 1 in back of the 2nd place team. (Torborg felt the need. The need for speed....)
12:33 PM Jun 12th
 
DaveFleming
Oh, I only mean that they're 'bad' for the prospect of scoring. A guy gets on first, and you sit up a little thinking this could be something. He gets caught stealing or the next guy grounds into a double play, you feel the wind come out of the sails. They're bad outs in that regard.

They're not always 'bad' baseball. I very much think baseball would be better off if it had players like Rickey going 130-for-170 on stolen bases. I 1000% advocate that.

And thanks for the kind words, Gfletch. It is certainly not a gift: I am not a natural in any way at 'ritten.
6:22 PM Jun 11th
 
steve161
Carlos Bernier, how long since I've heard that name. He makes this list from his single season in the majors on the strength of being caught on 14 of 29 attempted steals, but I remember him as a speedy outfielder for the Hollywood Stars from 1952-57, a pretty good hitter without much power. I see on BBRef that he went with the Stars to Salt Lake City when the Dodgers shoved the Stars and Angels out of Los Angeles, and played in the minors until the age of 38, all but the last year in AAA. He returned to his native Puerto Rico, where he died in 1989 at age 62.

When I look at the Hollywood rosters from the fifties, I draw a blank on most of the names. I wonder why I remember Bernier.​
5:50 PM Jun 11th
 
DanaKing
As always, this is an interesting, well-written, and well-researched article. I have a problem with the premise. Those are outs you'd rather not make, but they are also not necessarily the result of "bad" baseball. For years Henry Aaron had the all-time record for GIDP; he might still. All it really meant was he hit the ball hard and batted with a lot of men on base. He ran well, and, if a ball hit that hard was elevated, it might be a two-run homer. (Or more.) Rickey Henderson stole 130 the year he was caught 42 times. That's 76%, which is a good percentage in any era. Sure, they'd prefer he was caught fewer times, but I doubt they trade the 130 steals. The caught srtealing numbers are the cost of doing business.


1:45 PM Jun 11th
 
Gfletch
Fun article, Dave, a pleasure to read (as always).

It's a gift that some writers, even otherwise very good writers, don't have. You've either been blessed or else developed it. I imagine that it comes from a love of reading.

Anyway, I should stop with the compliments, already.??​
1:15 PM Jun 11th
 
RipCity
Cards fan here -- Matt Carpenter is indeed an interesting player. He's changed so much over his career -- first, he was a line-drive spray hitter who commanded the strike zone and never struck out; then, overnight, he became a pull-hitting guy who would sell out enough that the k's started to creep up, but it was a worthwhile tradeoff; now, he's an aging bench bat who still scorches the ball when he can catch up, but hits it right into the shift and doesn't quite have the power anymore to hit it OVER the shift often enough to be a really good player. (His current spray charts are deceiving: while they say he still hits the ball the other way fairly often, when he does it's almost always a lazy fly ball; nearly all of his potential hits are pulled.) It's a polarizing profile for Cards fans, but one that, among other quirks, stays out of the double play. He just doesn't hit many weak / routine ground balls; the ones he does hit tend to be right at the 1B, and 3-6-1 or 3-6-3 are tougher to turn. More typical are worm-burners right into the shift, which are also hard to turn two on, for a different reason. Hitting leadoff for much of his career also may keep his DP numbers down...
12:16 AM Jun 11th
 
BobGill
Stevemaxon: No, a double play only creates one bad out. The first out is just a normal at-bat that failed; it's the second out, the extra out, that's the bad one. And since you might assume that the guys who hit into a lot of double plays (slower right-handed hitters) are not usually the same guys who get thrown out stealing, that should give this "stat" a reasonably fair balance.

3for3: I was going to say the same thing. It's too bad they haven't been counting outs on the basepaths since 1900; it would've been easy enough to do. And they would certainly qualify as bad outs.
11:03 PM Jun 10th
 
3for3
How about adding in outs on base? Not sure when they started keeping track of those.
7:45 PM Jun 10th
 
stevemaxon
The list is biased toward the fast and good because, as you note, only they can ring up high CS numbers. What if you'd doubled the weight for GIDPs? After all, the double play creates two bad outs.
4:23 PM Jun 10th
 
MWeddell
"Chad Curtis: let’s just leave it that there are names that make you wince when they show up on a table."

"Luis Polonia" also is a name that makes me wince. Kind of a similar player. A Yankee outfielder who didn't have great baseball instincts, who seemed to make bad baseball decisions. Too many caught stealing obviously, but I suspect that other aspects of defensive awareness and baserunning also weren't strengths for Polonia and Curtis.
3:49 PM Jun 10th
 
DaveFleming
That early sentence should read: "I sometimes think of double-plays and caught stealing as ‘twin’ events, though they aren't exactly parallel."

I'm a terrible editor. Sorry, all.
2:58 PM Jun 10th
 
bhalbleib
Haven't read the whole article yet, but in 1987 they had a rabbit ball for most of the year. Lots of people had career highs in HR. Wade Boggs pretty famously (23 vs. 11 in 2nd highest year).
2:54 PM Jun 10th
 
 
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