CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Cra... (08/12)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL... (08/05)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL... (08/19)
Next Article >>
Baseball ProGUESTus: Y... (08/12)

August 12, 2011

Divide and Conquer, AL West

Racing for the Title

by Joey Matschulat

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Last season, there were two divisions (the NL West, from which the reigning world champion Giants arose, and the AL East) that were decided by a margin of three games or fewer. In 2009, there were two more division races (the AL Central, which the Twins captured by a single game, and again the NL West) that came down to a swing of three or fewer games. 2008? Three races. 2007? Four races. Over the last four years, every division in baseball has been able to boast at least one pennant race resolved within the final three days of the season—well, every division except the AL West.

Throughout the better part of the early- to mid-aughts, the AL West stood proud and tall as one of the more hotly-contested divisions in the game; four of the five division titles between 2002-06 were secured by a margin of no more than four games. But over the last four seasons, the average margin of victory in the AL West has been a far less suspenseful 11.5 games. That’s great for the conquering team but not so great for those fans of AL West teams who enjoy an ample dose of divisional parity, and definitely not so great for the distant second-place team whose late-season gate receipts are inhibited by their non-contender status.

This season, though? As I've been hammering home lately, and as Jay Jaffe discussed Wednesday, the second-place Angels aren't going away, and we finally have another legitimate AL West race on our hands. And when you start discussing a potentially slim margin of victory, you end up more inclined to whip out the sabermetric microscope to zero in on things that might not be paid as much attention under less competitive conditions—like the number of runs added by a 'clutch' performance, or the runs gained by smart, opportunistic baserunning, and/or the runs saved by a premium defensive catcher able to suppress the opposition's basestealing success rate. They may only amount to a small sliver of the team production pie, but in a race as tight as the AL West, a 10-15 run swing could play a meaningful role in deciding a team’s fate.

For everything else that has troubled the Rangers over the last decade, their baserunning has consistently proven to be an asset despite an abundance of player and coaching personnel changes (+48 EqBRR from 2001-10). This season is proving to be no exception (each statistic's definition is linked in the table):

 

MLB Rank
(AL Rank)

EqGAR

EqSBR

EqAAR

EqHAR

EqOAR

EqBRR

TEX

14th (1st)

0.61

0.38

2.83

5.59

-1.44

8.0

SEA

6th (4th)

5.12

1.70

0.76

-3.20

0.49

4.9

OAK

8th (5th)

5.19

0.09

1.29

-2.63

-0.52

3.4

LAA

11th (7th)

2.89

-2.10

-3.88

4.57

1.06

2.5

Of note here is that the Rangers have derived the bulk of their baserunning value this season not from the stolen base (though their team stolen-base success ratio of 75.7 percent does lead the American League), but rather from baserunning advancements on hits (EqHAR)—that is, advancements from first base on singles and doubles, and from second base on singles. This conforms with Ron Washington's aggressive baserunning philosophy, which ties into his belief that pressure needs to be continuously applied to the opposing pitcher by pushing baserunners as far forward as possible by whatever means necessary. Of course, that same expectation has also led to a number of questionable early- and mid-game sacrifice bunts (including one memorable first-inning sac bunt when Texas was already in a 3-0 hole), but the Rangers appear to be doing everything right on this front.

The Athletics and Mariners sit squarely in the middle of the pack, with the vast majority of their baserunning value this season being contributed by baserunning advancements on ground-ball outs (EqGAR). To that end, Seattle and Oakland can respectively convey their thanks to Ichiro (+5.07 EqGAR; +9.3 EqBRR) and, curiously enough, Daric Barton (+3.21 EqGAR; +2.5 EqBRR), the latter of whom I have a difficult time explaining away. Residing in the divisional cellar (but still just outside the top 10 teams in baseball) are the Angels, who have procured +4.7 EqBRR from an unfairly quick Peter Bourjos this season, and may be positioned to reap much larger rewards over the next several years as Mike Trout and his 80-grade speed terrorize the division's catching corps.

"So," you're thinking, "the Rangers have come up with a 5-6 run edge in terms of baserunning over the Angels this season... but what else do you have?" Here's the thing—the flip side of the baserunning coin is tricky, and until the next great advancement is made on the catcher defense frontier, it's will continue to be tricky. You can begin and end with a catcher's caught-stealing rate, and you can even expand that to include the effects of passed balls, errors, wild pitches and the like, but without a somewhat reliable and applicable framework for the game-calling and pitch-framing elements, I personally won’t feel too comfortable attempting to label a catcher's entire defensive skill set based only on the statistics presently available to us. 

I mention this because there are a couple of interesting things happening on this front in the AL West right now. First, you have the Rangers catchers' caught-stealing ratio leading the AL (36 percent), the Mariners (31 percent) and the Athletics (29 percent) hovering around league average, and the Angels (22 percent) almost dead last. Combine the Angels' deficits relative to the Rangers on both sides of the baserunning equation, and you have a slight problem. Caught somewhere near the middle of all of that is Mike Napoli, who has authored an insane .295/.395/.603, 18-homer campaign in just 263 plate appearances this season, and now ranks third in the league in caught-stealing percentage (8-for-19, or 42 percent) among all backstops with at least 300 innings logged behind the plate this year.

Upon Napoli's arrival to the Rangers from the Blue Jays (who had acquired him as part of their haul from the Vernon Wells contract dump), the talk was that he wasn't good at throwing would-be basestealers out during his stint with the Angels (confirmed as true), that he wasn't a good game-caller, and that neither the Angels' pitchers nor Mike Scioscia were especially great fans of his work. I can't speak to the ratio of actual truth to hearsay there, but Napoli did recently shed some light on his perception of life in Anaheim: "I always felt like I was looking over my shoulder to see if I was doing things right. I had ‘bad hands.' I was so worried about my setup and the mechanics all the time. I learned a lot. I learned a lot of what I do there, but playing there just wasn't much fun.''

 It's entirely possible that Napoli was a poor defensive catcher from an objective standpoint during his time with Anaheim, and that he has taken a meaningful step forward this season. It's also possible that the perception of Napoli's defense in Anaheim was harsher than it should have been, and, based on Napoli's comments, it certainly seems more than possible that the nature of his work environment was deleterious to the quality of his defense during his time with the Angels. Whatever the case, it can be said that the Mariners and Athletics are faring just fine where the baserunning game is concerned, that the Rangers are excelling, and that the Angels have some issues that could prove problematic in their attempts to rally back into the AL West's pole position.  

Related Content:  The Who,  Divisional Races,  Baserunning

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Cra... (08/12)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL... (08/05)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL... (08/19)
Next Article >>
Baseball ProGUESTus: Y... (08/12)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Wednesday, July 30
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Tuesday, July ...
BBQ State of Mind
Eyewitness Accounts: July 30, 2014
Premium Article Scouting the Draft: The Cape League All-Star...
The Lineup Card: Nine Last-Minute Trades
Premium Article Moonshot: Separating the Phenoms Who'll Make...

MORE FROM AUGUST 12, 2011
Prospectus Hit and Run: WWWMW (What's Wrong ...
Baseball ProGUESTus: Your Worthless No-Count...
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Cracking the Morse Code
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Five-Tool Surprises
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Starting Pitchers for 8/12/11

MORE BY JOEY MATSCHULAT
2011-09-01 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: The Deals And T...
2011-08-25 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: The Jered Weave...
2011-08-19 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: The Battle Ahea...
2011-08-12 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Racing for the ...
2011-08-05 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Deadline Fallou...
2011-07-28 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Deadline Chaos
2011-07-21 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Streaking in th...
More...

MORE DIVIDE AND CONQUER, AL WEST
2011-09-01 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: The Deals And T...
2011-08-25 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: The Jered Weave...
2011-08-19 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: The Battle Ahea...
2011-08-12 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Racing for the ...
2011-08-05 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Deadline Fallou...
2011-07-28 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Deadline Chaos
2011-07-21 - Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL West: Streaking in th...
More...