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March 10, 2010

Prospectus Hit and Run

Ozzie's Baserunning Whizzes

by Jay Jaffe

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It's tough to beat the White Sox's Ozzie Guillen for entertainment value. His shoot-from-the-lip style creates controversies. His new Twitter account gives general manager Kenny Williams nightmares. Hell, he's got his own MLB Network reality TV show in the pipeline, and his views on professional wrestling are far more interesting than those of Tony La Russa. He's easily the CVORM (Comedic Value Above Replacement Manager) leader among skippers.

One of Ozzie's funnier bits is rather unintentional, however. Despite the coupling of his predilection for smallball tactics (bunting, base stealing, and manufacturing runs) with a desire to call attention to them that's so outsized you'd think these were the 1959 Go-Go Sox, his teams have been overly reliant on the longball in recent years. So reliant that colleague Joe Sheehan christened the Guillen Number, which measures the percentage of a team's runs derived from homers. Last year, the White Sox ranked third in the majors at 41.0 percent, trailing only the Yankees (45.1 percent) and the Phillies (42.1 percent). They've been among MLB's top four during every year of Guillen's tenure:

Year HR MLB rank %R/HR MLB rank
2004 242 1 44.4% 2
2005 200 5 42.4% 4
2006 236 1 45.9% 1
2007 190 6 43.4% 2
2008 235 1 47.5% 1
2009 184 8 41.0% 3
Tot. 1287 2 44.2% 1

Over the winter, Guillen pressed Williams to provide him with a more flexible roster, one which offered more speed than he had in the past. In reacting to the team's shedding of sluggers Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye and the addition of Juan Pierre, he declared that aggressive base running would be a major point of emphasis this spring. While the Sox have stolen 10 bases through their first five exhibition games, the skipper's statement highlights the fact that they've been hemorrhaging runs on the base paths, according to our Equivalent Stolen Base Runs (EqSBR) and Equivalent Base Running Runs (EqBRR) metrics, the latter of which incorporates not only steals and caught stealing but advancement on hits and outs:

Year EqSBR Rank EqBRR Rank
2004 -14.2 29 -2.1 12
2005 -7.4 19 -2 11
2006 -7.1 22 -22.3 30
2007 -6.5 24 -7 22
2008 -4.6 21 -3.2 14
2009 -4.1 16 -9.2 25
Tot. -43.8 27 -45.8 24

Under Guillen, the Sox have failed to break out of the bottom half in EqSBR, and they've done so only twice in EqBRR. In all, team has cost itself between four and five wins via base running over the past six years, which at least explains why Guillen thinks it's an area where the team needs improvement.

Still, that won't mean a whole lot more runs scored, particularly if the Sox can't rise above last year's measly rankings of 20th in on-base percentage (.328) and 27th in True Average (.249). PECOTA is cautiously optimistic, forecasting a .339 OBP and 750 runs scored, which would rank 15th in the majors, but consider the notable arrivals and departures in the White Sox lineup:

Incoming
Andruw Jones: 5/6 in stolen bases, but -1.8 EqBRR
Juan Pierre: 30 steals with the Dodgers last year, but 12 caught stealing and just 0.3 EqBRR
Alex Rios: 24/29 in stolen bases, but just 0.1 EqBRR, continuing a multi-season trend of good stolen base percentages but otherwise wayward base running
Mark Teahen: 8/9 in stolen bases, but -1.3 EqBRR

Outgoing
Jermaine Dye: 0/3 in stolen bases, -0.2 EqBRR
Chris Getz: 25/27 in stolen bases, and a team-high 6.2 EqBRR
Scot Podsednik: 30/43 in stolen bases (team highs in both SB and CS), 1.5 EqBRR
Jim Thome: no steal attempts last year (and just one since 2002), for a team-low -5.4 EqBRR

If there's a world-beating base runner added, he's invisible to everyone but Ozzie. Furthermore, only three Sox are forecast to reach at least 10 stolen bases (Pierre, Rios and Alexei Ramirez), while five are forecast for at least 20 homers (Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko, Ramirez, Gordon Beckham and Rios), with Jones at 18 and both Teahen and A.J. Pierzynski in double digits as well. Don't expect the Sox to change their stripes all that drastically.

As a tonic to Guillen, one can't help but think of the great Orioles manager Earl Weaver's famously blue moment (warning: NSFW) regarding the relative merits of team speed versus team power. Ozzie may not agree with the Earl's philosophy, but he'd certainly get a laugh out of it.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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