You’ve heard of a strikeout. You’ve heard of a shutout. But in baseball, there’s another term that can sometimes drum up confusion: the putout. In simplest terms, a putout is what happens when a fielder completes an out themselves. That typically happens in one of four ways:
- Stepping on the base before the runner does, in a term known as a “force out” as well
- Tagging a runner themselves
- Catching a ball that came their way
- For catchers, for technically catching the third strike
In MLB, the statistics can get confusing. Sometimes they overlap each other—as a putout and a force out sometimes do—and sometimes they sound similar without being the same thing at all. Let’s clarify the putout and explain how it differs from other popular terms.
What is the Difference Between a Putout and an Assist?
On the surface, it might seem like a putout is a type of an assist—a fielder might assist an MLB pitcher by taking care of the play themselves. However, an assist has a precise definition. Let’s start by defining the terms.
- Assist: According to the MLB glossary, an assist happens when a fielder touches the ball before another fielder makes the play. Technically, a fielder can record an assist even when this kind of touch was intentional. For example, an assist happens if one fielder takes a ground ball and throws it to someone else, who records the out. There may even be two assists happening, as with a double play.
- Putout: As defined above, a putout happens when the fielder is the first to contact the ball and completes the play themselves. A fielder does not receive credit for an assist.
Let’s take an example to demonstrate the difference. If the batter hits a ground ball towards second base, the first fielder to reach it might be the second baseman. The second baseman can’t make the play at first, but he can throw it to the first baseman. In that case, it’s the first baseman who has the putout (by catching the ball and tagging the base). The second baseman is the one who records the assist. The same is true no matter where the play might start, such as if the ball goes to the shortstop, who tosses the ball to the second baseman who’s covering the base.
Is a Strikeout a Putout?
Technically, yes. As the MLB glossary states, “Catchers — who record putouts by catching pitches that result in strikeouts — and first basemen — who record putouts by catching throws on ground-ball outs — generally amass the highest putout totals.” In other words, the two players who end up on the receiving end of most outs are the ones who generally rack up putout stats. For this reason, you typically won’t see that people always pay particularly close attention to putouts as a defensive statistic.
Catchers do influence strikeouts considering their relationship with the pitcher, but technically, catching a ball that came through as a strike is as much a putout as catching an infield fly.
What Positions Get the Most Putouts in Baseball?
The all-time putout leader in MLB history is Jake Beckley. Jake Beckley was a first baseman who played baseball at the turn of the century. With over 23,000 putouts, his statistics help demonstrate just how many putouts first basemen tend to get.
Because catchers technically record a putout when they catch the third strike, it means that they also tend to rack up these numbers. Catchers, after all, are playing the game in and out, while pitchers will rotate. However, if a team fails to convert a lot of strikeouts, many putouts end up for the first baseman. A first baseman also receives putouts by recording outs on grounders and flyouts.
Learning Some Unique Putout Situations
Although a strikeout technically results in a putout for the catcher, most people think of putouts in the context of a ball in play. With that in mind, let’s look at the unique putout situations that can run the gamut across Major League Baseball:
- Batted ball: Technically, in MLB, a batted ball happens any time a bat comes in contact with the ball. In other words, a batted ball can be a home run—or it might be a fly out to the center field. It can be a foul ball. As long as the ball hits the bat, a batted ball statistic comes into play. Once the bat strikes the ball, the question is who will get the putout. Will it go to the third baseman? In that case, it’s likely to end in an assist for the third baseman, who has to throw it to the first baseman, who’s the one who gets the putout.
- Fly out: What happens if a batter hits one out to the centerfielder, who subsequently puts up his glove and comes down with an easy out? The center fielder is then responsible for the putout without an assist from anyone else on the defense.
- Ground out: The same idea as a flyout. However, with a ground out, it typically assists the shortstop or third baseman—whoever picks up the ball and throws it to the base in question.
- Tag out: Let’s imagine someone for the Chicago Cubs hits a ball to short left field, and someone on the Seattle Mariners picks it up, but not in time. The Mariners player may have to tag out instead of tossing the ball to a base. This putout results in a putout for the person doing the tagging.
- Popup: A “pop-up” is just another term for a flyout, typically when the ball goes almost straight up in the air. Anyone who catches it is free to record the putout. And it’s another reason you see so many catchers recording so many putouts in a single season.
- Triple play: Since every out is a “putout,” there can be as many as three putouts in a single play and all sorts of assists. For example, if someone for the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a ball toward third base, where the baseman gets a man out, that’s a putout—the third baseman can then throw it to second base for a putout, and so on.
Whether you’re an outfielder, an infielder, or any defensive player, a putout is always a possibility on any given play. But if you’re on offense, you’re always on the lookout for a putout: avoiding getting caught stealing, or becoming a baserunner between two defensive players. A putout happens with every out in baseball, which usually means twenty-seven outs. The only question is: where will it happen?
Finally, fantasy baseball owners need to be aware of putouts if that is a scoring metric. First baseman and catchers receive the most putouts, so try and add them to your utility spot. Adding a player who receives putouts can help you win your fantasy baseball league!