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As baseball developed, people deeply involved with the game wanted more ways to judge the quality of play. The term “quality at bat,” or QAB, comes to mind. It’s natural for someone new to the game to wonder: What exactly is a quality at bat?
A quality at bat is a hitter’s turn in the batting order that resulted in helping his team succeed in game play, regardless of whether or not he reached base safely, or knocked in any runs. There are no official rules determining what exactly qualifies as a QAB, or not.
It is subjective, but most baseball insiders and experts agree on about a dozen acts and/or results that are deemed quality at bats. Let’s examine the term, what makes up quality at bats, why it matters, and more.
- 1 Definition of Quality At Bat in Baseball
- 2 What Qualifies as a Quality At Bat
- 3 Significance of Quality at Bats in Baseball
- 4 Quality At Bat vs. Batting Average
- 5 Final Words on Quality At Bats in Baseball
The Major League Baseball glossary does not include quality at bat as an entry. For our purposes, we like this definition:
A quality at bat in baseball is when a batter does something productive during his turn at the plate to help his team achieve a goal ~ the most notable being winning the game.
Note use of the term “goal.” A team goal and a player’s goal can be quite different.
All teams play to win games. Not all players play to win. Some do it for the money, to accumulate statistics, for the fame, for the girls, or a combination thereof.
This is pretty much why the statistic known as quality at bat was invented. There are times when a batter, either purposely or by chance, makes an out, but still helps his team score a run or make progress toward scoring.
A great example is the sacrifice bunt ~ when a hitter taps a pitch into play, without the expectation of reaching base (though that would be nice). A sacrifice bunt is a player giving away his out in order to let runners move on to advanced bases, and therefore closer to home plate (and scoring runs).
You usually don’t see quality at bats on sports news reports, or read about them in game recap articles. However, a player’s teammates and coaches will know that that lone, single at bat helped change the game ~ in their favor.
Following are results of at bats that most baseball experts consider a quality at bat. To differ from other articles about this subject, we attach a why comment:
- Sacrifice Bunt. Laying down a bunt that results in the batter being put out, but the baserunner(s) advanced to bases closer to scoring (home plate), to be in scoring position for the following batter(s).
- Base on Balls. Walks are productive, or quality, at bats.
- Home Run. How would that not be considered quality?
- Base Hit. Ditto.
- Extra Base Hit. Even more so than a single.
- (Successful) Long At-Bat. Any type of base hit (including a home run) after a batter takes many pitches. These at bats wear down the stamina of both the pitcher and his teammates on defense, who were forced to stand longer out on the field. It lets teammates see more of the hurlers’ pitches, a positive for hitting; and the conclusion can be demoralizing to the opponents.
- Long At Bat (Any). Any at bat that forces the pitcher to toss 3 pitches after he got 2 strikes on the batter; or an at bat with 6 or more pitches total. See above for importance: hitter teammates can better see a pitcher’s release point and work on their timing; and long at bats tend to deflate the other team.
- 2-Out RBI. The ability to deliver runs batted in when there are 2 outs is usually crucial toward the success (or failure) of a baseball team. Not only does the offense “cash in” a runner, the action discourages the defenders who thought they were close to returning to the dugout at inning’s end.
- Sacrifice Fly. With less than 2 outs, hitting a fly ball far enough that if caught a runner on 3rd base can score. (This is also true of moving runners along to 2nd or 3rd base, noted below).
- Hard Hits. A well-smacked line drive or ground ball, even if it results in a putout. This is important to send a message to the pitcher that he is not fooling anyone; and make the plays harder for defenders to make successfully.
- Hit By Pitch. Running to 1st base after a HBP is a statement by the batter to the pitcher: that did not bother me; and now I’m on base to bother you.
- Moving Runners. Any putout that moves a runner to the next base, e.g. a fly ball for a tag, or purposely hitting a ground ball to the right side of the infield (1st or 2nd base) so runners can advance to 3rd base or even home plate.
There are so many statistics kept in baseball that it’s nearly impossible to list them all. New ones seem to emerge every week.
One thing about baseball that will not change is this: the team that scores the most runs wins the game. Therefore, remember, scoring runs should be the utmost priority for ballplayers.
With that in mind, any action they take on the field, whether it’s striking a ball with a bat, catching a hit ball in mid-air, or throwing the baseball accurately, is executed with the hope of contributing toward a team victory.
The original baseball stats born with the box score in the mid-1800s ~ at bats, runs, hits, and, later runs batted in (RBI), batting average, and earned run average (ERA) ~ were not enough for baseball executives and analysts to use in trying to improve their team and boost its ability to win.
Some insiders understood that some baseball game actions, like the sacrifice bunt, might help the team but would hurt the player’s personal batting statistics, and therefore his value (and future salary potential). They needed to incentivize unselfish play.
Hence, over the years things like the base on balls, or sacrifice fly, were not included as putouts for batters. Those at bats do not count in the tabulation of batting averages, so players would be more inclined to execute them to help the team.
Eventually, baseball experts realized that there are, indeed, times at bat where a hitter does not appear to do much ~ but in reality has done quite a bit to set the stage for the rest of his team to succeed.
The quality at bat, and later for pitchers, the quality start, were invented to give credit to players for doing something very good for his team, but maybe not so good for himself.
Let’s examine some of the most notable quality at bats in recent baseball memory:
- Kevin Millar of the Boston Red Sox was the first batter in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in 2004. On the mound was all-time great closer Mariano Rivera, and the Sox needed at least a run to tie the game and prevent the hated Yankees from advancing to the World Series. Millar coerced a walk on 5 pitches. Though not not enough pitches to qualify as a QAB according to some parameters, the turn in the batter’s box most definitely was a quality at bat. It resulted in a baserunner who stole a base and then scored to tie the game.
- With the 1975 World Series tied at a game apiece between the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds, Game 3 was crucial ~ and it went extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning with the leadoff runner at 1st base, pinch-hitter Ed Arbrister tapped the ball for a sacrifice bunt. However, the ball went straight down and then bounded hard off the artificial turf, and shot straight up, coming down right in front of home plate. Sox Catcher Carlton Fisk bounded out to grab the ball to throw to 2nd base to put out the lead runner, but he and Armbrister as base runner collided. Due to the brief hesitation, Fisk hurried his throw and sailed it into center field for an error. Instead of 1 out and a runner on first, it was runners on 2nd and 3rd base with no outs. Fisk and his manager claimed Arbrister should have been called out for interference. He was not, and the Reds won the game a couple of batters later (and they eventually won the thrilling Series in 7 games). While not conventional, Armbrister had to be credited with a quality at bat; the runner (as well as himself) advanced as desired.
- Most any time an offense has runners on 2nd and/or 3rd base with less than 2 outs, and fails to score, those who batted into putouts in all likelihood did not have quality at bats. They failed to knock the runners in to score.
As with the batting average, baseball stat-heads can compute an average for quality at bats by each hitter over periods of time, as well as over a career.
For instance, assume a batter had 100 at bats so far in a season. In those ABs, the hitter recorded 25 at bats that were considered quality (per the parameters noted above). For this, the batter would have a 25% QAB score.
This metric can be useful for managers when setting a batting lineup, and especially in choosing between players to pinch hit. That 25% QAB score player would be preferred with runners in scoring position than, say, a hitter who records just 15% of his turns at the plate as quality at bats.
It could be that the latter hitter, the 15% guy, is not known to hit grounders to the opposite field to move runners forward, or to choke up or shorten a swing to ensure contact (and hence more foul balls and hopefully less strikeouts). These little factoids may seem trivial, but in a game where inches matter, they can be the difference between winning and losing.
It is just a way for baseball game managers to try to tilt odds in the team’s favor. Those teams just seem to win more close games than less successful squads.
The quality at bat metric in baseball is a way to measure how well turns at the plate helped the team to succeed. There is no official definition, and what constitutes a QAB can be subjective, depending on the values or goals of those managing a baseball team.
However, most coaches, players, and longtime baseball fans can call a quality at bat when they see it.