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Major League Baseball is famously one of the most stat-driven sports among all professional sports leagues. Everything from a hitter’s batting average and RBI to his average exit velocity on batted balls is tracked throughout his career to analyze his value to a team.
While offensive and pitching stats get the majority of attention from fans, there are several defensive stats that have been tracked for a long time as well. One of those statistical categories is putouts.
A putout is a defensive statistical category that is recorded when a player is responsible for finishing a play that results in an out. Putouts are recorded when a player catches a ball in the air, completes a force-out, tags a runner out, or catches strike three.
Putouts are not the most popular statistic among scouts and executives, but they have been recorded for many years now and will likely continue to be tracked as long as Major League Baseball exists.
Here is some more information about putouts:
What is Fly Outs?
When a batter hits a ball that is caught before it touches the ground, the batter is out. The player that catches this ball receives a putout in the scorebook.
Players can receive putouts for catching both fly balls and line drives because both scenarios result in outs immediately upon catching the ball.
What is Force-Outs
When a runner must advance to the next base because there is a runner behind him, the defense only needs to touch the base to which the runner tries to advance. This is called a force out.
Plays to get the batter out at first base are always force-outs because the batter must attempt to advance to first base. Double plays also often involve force-outs.
The player who touches the base for the force-out is credited with a putout.
What is Tag Plays
When a runner tries to advance to the next base at his own will, he must be tagged by a defensive player with possession of the ball before he reaches the base in order to be called out.
This happens when runners try to steal bases or attempt to advance multiple bases on a batted ball. Runners are only required to advance one base at a time if there is a runner behind them; therefore, the force-out does not apply in these situations.
The defensive player who makes the tag on the runner receives a putout.
What is Strike Three?
Even people who don’t follow baseball know the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. What they often don’t understand, though, is that strike three must be caught in order for the batter to be called out.
When the catcher catches strike three he is credited with a putout. Many fans are confused by this, but by catching the pitch, the catcher was responsible for finishing a play that resulted in an out, so he is credited with a putout in the book.
The exception to this rule is the dropped third strike rule. With no one on first base or with two outs, if the catcher does not catch strike three, the runner may attempt to advance to first base. If he makes it there before either being tagged out or thrown out via force-out, then he is safe.
If the catcher throws the ball to first base, and the first baseman catches the force-out, then the first baseman receives the putout. If the catcher drops the third strike but tags the runner before he reaches first, then he is credited with the putout.
The Difference Between an Assist and a Putout
When you hear the word assist, you often think about sports like basketball, soccer, and hockey. An assist is also a defensive statistic in baseball. When a defensive player touches the baseball before a putout, he is credited with an assist.
Let’s say an outfielder fields a ground ball and notices the runner trying to advance to second. If he throws the ball to second base, and the second baseman tags the runner out, the outfielder gets an assist, and the second baseman gets a putout.
While putouts are sometimes viewed as insignificant, there is actually some stock put into assists for outfielders.
Throwing runners out from the outfield is difficult and viewed by many as a valuable asset to a defense. Therefore, when determining an outfielder’s defensive value, assists are sometimes considered.
Some people even distinguish them from assists by other players on the defense by calling them “outfield assists”. Infielders receive assists as well every time they throw someone out at first.
The throw is often considered the easiest part of making a play in the infield, so evaluators usually care more about an infielder’s fielding percentage than his assists.
It is important to know that while assists are usually recorded for throws that result in outs, all a fielder has to do to receive an assist is touch the ball before an out is made.
For example, if a hitter hits a line drive that bounces off the pitcher’s foot and over to the first baseman who fields the ball and touches first, the pitcher receives an assist. Although his contact with the ball was incidental, he was still the last person to touch it before the out.
Which Defensive Position Normally Gets the Most Putouts?
While putouts are not often the most useful defensive statistic to evaluate defensive players, they are their own stat category that players can hang their hat on.
Most of the time, first basemen are at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to ranking putouts. Catchers are sometimes at the top of the leaderboard as well.
The majority of strikeouts and groundouts are caught by the catcher and first baseman making them great candidates to receive a lot of putouts.
Pay attention to the players’ positions at the end of the article when we discuss MLB leaders in assists. You will notice that most of them are either first basemen or catchers.
Outfielders often rack up their fair share of putouts as they catch a lot of fly balls. But with there being three outfielders to catch fly balls, those putouts are often spread among the three of them.
Infielders are usually the lowest on the list of total putouts because their job is normally to throw runners out at first. Unless there is a force play or a tag play, infielders do not get as many chances at getting putouts.
Why Aren’t Defensive Players Evaluated by Putouts?
Putouts don’t necessarily prove a defensive player’s ability or value. They normally just showcase the number of times a player was in a position to get someone out.
Fielding percentage and total errors are the most used defensive statistics to evaluate players’ defensive abilities.
Fielding percentage is the player’s assists and putouts divided by his total chances. This proves the percentage of the time the player makes a play when given the opportunity.
Total errors are the number of errors a player makes on defense. Plays that are not made because of a physical mistake on defense are recorded as errors.
The more errors a player makes, the lower his fielding percentage will be. Instead of just knowing how many opportunities a defensive player gets, evaluators like to know what the player does with those opportunities.
This is why fielding percentage and errors are more valuable tools when evaluating a defensive player.
Most Putouts in a Season
In 1907, Jiggs Donahue recorded 1,846 putouts which are the most of any player in Major League Baseball history. Donahue was a first baseman and a catcher, so his opportunities for putouts were plentiful.
Here is the top ten list of putouts in a single season:
- Jiggs Donahue 1B/C, 1,846 (1907)
- High Pockets Kelly 1B/2B/OF, 1,759 (1920)
- Phil Todt 1B, 1,755 (1926)
- Wally Pipp 1B, 1,710 (1926)
- Jiggs Donahue 1B/C, 1,697 (1906)
- Candy LaChance 1B/SS, 1,691 (1904)
- Tom Jones 1B, 1,687 (1904)
- Ernie Banks 1B/SS, 1,682 (1965)
- Wally Pipp 1B, 1,667 (1922)
- Lou Gehrig 1B, 1,662 (1927)
Notice the position that tops the list. All of the players in the top ten were first basemen. While some of them played other positions as well throughout their careers, in the season that is recorded in the top ten for putouts, they all played first base almost exclusively.
Most Putouts in a Career
Here is the top ten list for career putouts in Major League Baseball:
- Jake Beckley 1B, 23,767
- Cap Anson 1B/3B/C, 22,572
- Ed Konetchy 1B, 21,378
- Eddie Murray 1B, 21,265
- Charlie Grimm 1B, 20,722
- Stuffy McInnis 1B, 20,120
- Mickey Vernon 1B, 19,819
- Jake Daubert 1B, 19,634
- Lou Gehrig 1B, 19,525
- Joe Kuhel 1B, 19,386
All of the players on the top ten list are first basemen which support our claim earlier that first basemen normally receive the most putouts.
Of these players on the top ten list, only four of them are in the Hall of Fame: Jake Beckley, Cap Anson, Eddie Murrary, and Lou Gehrig. On most career top ten lists, just about all of the players are Hall of Famers.
This proves that putouts are not taken into consideration when assessing a player’s greatness. The four Hall of Famers are more known for their offensive prowess than their defensive abilities.
While there is certainly no shame in these players ranking in the top ten in total putouts over their careers in Major League Baseball, there are likely other greater accomplishments in their careers that brought them more pride.
Who led the MLB in putouts in 2021?
Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman led Major League Baseball in putouts in 2021 with 1,252. The top ten list consists of six first basemen and four catchers. More catchers are starting to crack the top of the putouts charts these days because of the increased emphasis on strikeouts.
Who is the active leader in career putouts?
Albert Pujols leads all active players with 17,460 career putouts through 21 Major League seasons. Right behind him is long-time St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina with 14,720 career putouts in 17 seasons. Both Pujols and Molina will be first ballot Hall of Famers when they retire but likely not because of their putouts.
Who has the most outfield assists in MLB history?
Hall of Famer Tris Speaker has the most assists as an outfielder in MLB history with 449 over 22 seasons. Fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb is second with 392 over 24 seasons.