The League-Leaders You Didn't Ask For

Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) throws to first in a pick off attempt during a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Included you will find the league leaders in a statistical category you didn't know anyone tracked. It feels good to know that it's tracked, though. Right?

Baseball is a game of meticulous record-keeping. These days, we have data on the movement and location of pretty much every single pitch. It's publicly available for anyone to look at. That's just a new advance, but baseball's always been half about keeping track of the numbers. Watch! Say I'm curious about, I don't know, how well the Tigers' shortstop in 1948 hit at home. Let me just go over to Baseball-Reference ... ah, Johnny Lipon, sure. Batted .287 at home that year, with six strikeouts, eight sacrifice bunts, and zero bases reached on error. Now I know that information, although I don't know for how long.

It can be enough to make you greedy. Having access to so many different numbers can leave you wanting the numbers to which you might not have access. It's great that we have more available to us than ever before, but all that does it make you want everything, every last bit. Even if you might not ever use it, you just want to be able to know that you have it.

Something I've personally wondered about from time to time are pickoff attempts. While most fans tend to boo them, you don't read a lot about the pitchers who attempt the most and least pickoffs. Sometimes you'll read about pitchers with the most successful pickoffs, resulting in outs, or you'll read about pitchers who commit throwing errors going to a base, but raw pickoff data is infrequently cited.

Which on the one hand is fine, because honestly, who really cares? What difference does it make? But on the other hand, when you see data you haven't seen before, it's a sort of mental adventure. You're processing something for the first time, so it's not unlike trying a new food. For that reason, I'd like to present to you a top-10 leaderboard. I was curious about this, and now maybe you are, too. Shown below are this year's top 10 in pickoff attempts per baserunner. The data comes from the STATS website, and I've never seen it anywhere else. The STATS website doesn't even allow you to look at the AL and NL data together. This data is not easily accessible, which on its own makes it worth looking at. I think.

Pickoff attempts per baserunner

1. Anibal Sanchez, 0.93
2. Chris Capuano, 0.82
3. Bruce Chen, 0.75
4. Josh Johnson, 0.71
5. Clayton Kershaw, 0.66
6. Randy Wolf, 0.56
7. Jarrod Parker, 0.55
8. Justin Verlander, 0.54
9t. Francisco Liriano, 0.53
9t. Wade Miley, 0.53

Okay, so, now what? That's a good question. Unfortunately, we can't do much more. We're limited to the AL and NL top-20, we don't have league-wide numbers, and we can't access numbers from years past. All we have is 2012. And I'm even noticing that the baserunner denominator doesn't include errors or exclude home runs. That's just sloppy on the part of the providing company, indicating just how little anybody cares about this. I wonder how many hands I would need in order to count the number of times people have looked up these leaderboards. Probably more hands than I have, but probably not more hands than you'd find at three in the afternoon in a neighborhood coffee shop. They're pickoff attempts. Per baserunner. There's a reason these numbers don't go on the backs of baseball cards.

But it's precisely that lack of use that makes me want to look the numbers up and down. Maybe there's something to discover. Maybe there's something actually meaningful in here. There are three Marlins among the National League top seven. Something there? There aren't any Rangers, Indians, Blue Jays, or Orioles starters among the American League top 20. Something there? No idea, and I don't know how I'd begin trying to figure something like that out. What we have is so limited and so imperfect.

What I like about unfamiliar stats is that, when you mull them over, you're mulling over something that feels new and fresh. Maybe they don't always matter that much, but the process of identifying whether something is interesting is interesting, and so much of baseball is just repetition and routine. Right now, you're thinking about pitcher pickoff attempts. That's not something you think about very often, if you've ever thought about them before at all. And so you're thinking about baseball in a different way from normal, if only for a few minutes. It's increasingly difficult to do that, so I say embrace these occasions.

So what if pickoff attempts are just pickoff attempts? Doubles are just doubles.

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