In a recent interview, Washington Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty expressed his antipathy for the strikeout. McCatty called the strikeout an "arbitration stat" and said that "Outs are outs. If you don't need the strikeout, why use all the pitches to get one?" The thinking here is that his pitchers can generate weak contact and get easy outs on fewer pitches than they would need to record a strikeout, so the strikeout is wasteful.
It makes some sense, right? An out is an out, and why should we value strikeouts higher than lazy fly balls to left or routine grounders to short? The name of the game is to get outs, not necessarily to get strikeouts, and, if a pitcher can induce routine balls in play, then that should be his focus, not getting strikeouts.
Baseball Info Solutions assigns a probability to every ball in play for how likely that ball is to become an out. These probabilities are calculated off the historical odds for balls with similar hang times, velocities, trajectories and locations. If we consider a "routine" out to be any ball in play that has at least a 90 percent chance of being successfully fielded, "routine" balls in play account for about 34 percent of all balls in play over the past three seasons. Which pitchers do the best job of inducing "routine" balls in play?