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PO'd

Buster Olney, the Yankee-loving assmunch that he is, has written an interesting, albeit retarded (and by that I mean "retarded"), article on the usefulness of the Productive Out; or "PO." ESPN.com continues to publish this sausage-chugging idiot's work, as if he were something more than Steinbrenner's hairless monkey-boy. But he isn't.

Read it for yourself, but you'll likely be frustrated by the principle assumption of his argument: that the game of baseball follows different rules in the postseason than it does in the regular season. This is, of course, utterly asinine. It's a deeply entrenched myth, granted, but no more accurate than the idea that a baseball player must be physically attractive to be valuable (see also: the '93 Phillies). Olney cites the failure of the Oakland A's to advance beyond the divisional round in the last four years as an indictment of the "other side:" those who feel on-base percentage is more important to run scoring and winning than "productive outs." This, which is obvious to Buster, is because the A's don't use outs productively.

Clearly, Buster. After all, there are fewer outs in postseason games, so the strategy that was wildly successful during the regular season will need some tweaking in order to succeed in the postseason. That's a good point you make, asshat.

Don't get me wrong, using outs productively can be very helpful. But here's the thing: how does one go about "getting" a productive out? Does he try to get out? Has he already conceded that an out will be made on this play, and he will now react to that knowledge, using that out to gain an advantage over his opponent? Let's use an example: there are men on second and third, and your team is down by one. What should the batter do? Walk? Hit? Make an out? Ideally, he gets a hit (a home run, actually, which is the perfect at-bat). The next valuable is the walk. It adds another potential run, depletes the strength and stamina of the pitcher, and complicates the defensive positioning of the fielders. The walk is good, not only for itself, but also for the following batter.

Statistically, the following batter is more likely to create a run. He has the same number of outs as the batter who walked, but he also faces a more fatigued and demoralized pitcher and has 50% more baserunners and 33% more potential runs. The defense has gained nothing. Can the defense more easily turn a double play? Yes. But the ground ball is not a productive out, and not useful in either scenario (walk vs. long flyball out). Furthermore, the double play is more of a concern for a batter whose goal is to put the ball into play at any cost. This player is unwilling to accept a strikeout, the most "unproductive" out. Reacting out of fear of the potential double play in this scenario is to unfairly discount the amount of control the batter has over how and if the ball will be put into play.

Outs are ordered in terms of their productivity, but they are not a statistical end in themselves. Pursuing a certain type of out is akin to pursuing perfect rotation on a jumpshot: useful, worthy of consideration, but not the point of the game. On base percentage is a tangible, achievable end for every batter. The PO is not. There is no PO for the batter with no runners on, or the batter facing two outs.

Hidden in Olney's argument is the belief that each batter ought to fit into a different niche. Batters 1 and 2 are slap-hitting speedsters. Batters 3-4 are consistent power hitters. Batters 5-6 have lower batting average, but still have power and a knack for "clutch" hits (clutch hits being another humongous myth similar to the PO). Batters 7-9 aren't usually that great, and generally have their lack of run-production compensated by the ability of batters 1-6. According to this traditional perception, therefore, when runners are on second and third, batter 6 ought to really lambast one to the track, scoring at least one, because there's a much lower chance of batter 7 or 8 being able to do the same.

This sort of lineup profiling has also led to the superstar (in salary only) utility player, and has created a demand for each niche-filling player, driving the market for them higher and higher. The antidote to this idiocy is to teach all of a team's batters proper plate discipline, and to pursue players who fit this "new" profile.

In short, Olney is a freakin' slobber-jobber.
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