CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

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

<< Previous Article
Baseball ProGUESTus: T... (03/05)
<< Previous Column
Out of Left Field: Rev... (02/28)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The... (03/12)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: Life on t... (03/05)

March 5, 2013

Out of Left Field

Cabrera, Trout, and the Baserunning Portion of WARP

by Matthew Kory

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.

The last thing I want to do is rehash the American League MVP debate. There is a long list of sharp objects I’d fit into my cornea before doing that. So I’m not doing that, I promise. However, the Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout matchup highlights an interesting aspect of player value that's easy to measure but hard to see.

In contrast to hitting and fielding, baserunning can go unnoticed if you’re not specifically looking for it. It’s easy to focus on the pitcher and the hitter while ignoring what goes on just beyond the camera’s lens. Fortunately, there are stats that track who was good at running the bases and who wasn’t, and looking at the differences between the two AL MVP candidates is a convenient if untimely way to illustrate them.

Here at BP we have a stat we call Baserunning Runs, which measures, as you might have guessed, how many runs a player contributed on the basepaths. According to BRR, Trout was the third-best baserunner in baseball last season (8.7), behind Michael Bourn (11.7) and Ben Revere (10.0). Cabrera finished sixth from last (-5.5), or as Miguel Cabrera’s grandma would put it, 829th best (and look at those ADORABLE cheeks don’t you just want to pinch them!) By BRR, Trout’s baserunning bettered Cabrera’s by 14.2 runs, making Trout worth about a win and a half more than Cabrera on the bases alone. Cabrera’s cheeks, though pinch-able, were worth nothing.

But what does that mean, really? There are two basic components to baserunning. The first is what the runner does independent of the batter. This is also called “stealing bases.” Steals are easy to measure. The base was either stolen or it wasn’t. There are also caught-stealings, and those work the same way.

Miguel Cabrera stole four bases and was caught once. That’s a good percentage but he didn’t take a lot of chances. Still, he deserves credit for his high stolen base percentage for, if nothing else, not actively hurting his team by getting thrown out trying to steal. Mike Trout stole 49 bases and was caught five times. Trout stole 10 times as many bases and was thrown out less frequently on a percentage basis than Cabrera (91 percent to 80 percent). Even the most ardent Cabrera supporter would have trouble admitting that isn’t a huge advantage for Trout. I checked with Grandma Cabrera and even she agrees.

The second part of baserunning is how the runner responded to what the batter did. This one gets more complicated. First let’s look at how the runner responded to a base hit. There are only a limited number of situations so we can examine each to see how Trout and Cabrera fared.

On First Base When The Batter Hit A Single
The difference between a runner on third versus second is worth between a quarter of a run and 1/20th of a run, depending on the number of outs and the number of other runners on base.

Miguel Cabrera was on first base when the batter singled 46 times. Mike Trout was in the same situation 45 times. Following those singles Miguel Cabrera ended up on third base 14 times (30 percent). Mike Trout ended up on third base 28 times (62 percent). So, carrying the one, Trout ended up on third base a little more than twice as frequently as Cabrera. So to you all you fellow English majors, if you could pick between having Cabrera or Trout at first base, you’d take Trout because he was twice as good.

On First Base When The Batter Hit A Double
The difference between the runner scoring or only reaching third is a bit tougher to quantify as it depends on the number of outs. Runners on second and third with no outs resulted in about 1.8 runs scored last season on average. With one out, that same situation resulted in 1.3 runs scored, and with two outs, 0.6. The difference between scoring or ending up at third can be as little as a 0.2 runs to about 0.8 runs, depending on the number of outs. While the value was variable, the candidates were similar. Trout was on first when the batter doubled 11 times. He scored seven of those times (64 percent). Cabrera was on first for a double eight times. He scored six times (75 percent). MVP! MVP!

On Second Base When The Batter Hit A Single
Mike Trout was on second when the batter singled 29 times. He scored 20 of those times (69 percent). Miguel Cabrera was on second when the batter singled 23 times. He scored 14 of those times (61 percent). Eight percentage points aren’t nothing, but with this sample it’s pretty close. This is probably a good time to point out that the context surrounding the hit can make a big difference. Cabrera hit third in the lineup all year, in front of Prince Fielder who, considering his girth, probably had a few singles that maybe other batters would have turned in to doubles. Trout was different as the hitters behind him could move. In an odd way having faster players behind you in the lineup could subtly suppress your baserunning stats.

Overall
Mike Trout successfully took the extra base 65 percent of the time while Miguel Cabrera did so 44 percent of the time. That’s a big difference, but those are just hits. What about advancing on grounders, fly balls, and sacrifices? BP happens to keep track of those and it turns out that, and this’ll certainly shock you, Trout bests Cabrera in every category except advancing on balls hit in the air, where Cabrera holds a slight edge. Considering their respective speeds, that should not be surprising.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Trout was very good at avoiding grounding into double plays. Faced with 87 opportunities, he did so seven times (8 percent). Cabrera had 146 opportunities (likely the product of hitting in the middle of the lineup, not leadoff) and grounded into 28 double plays (19 percent). Judgment plays less of a role here than straight-line speed. This is more like saying Trout is fast and Cabrera is slow but since that isn’t wrong...

We can see that Mike Trout stole more bases, was less likely to get caught, took more bases after hits, was more likely to advance on a sacrifice attempt, and grounded into fewer double plays. On the whole, when Mike Trout got on base, he scored 44 percent of the time. When Cabrera got on base, he scored 28 percent of the time. Judging by that, having Mike Trout on base rather than Miguel Cabrera last season meant your team was 16 percent more likely to score a run, which puts Trout’s .399 on-base percentage in a very favorable light.

I suspect that I, like many fans, undervalue baserunning because it’s not something I can easily pick out while watching a game. The pitcher throws the ball, the batter hits the ball and the fielder fields the ball. The camera follows each of those events in sequence. After the play we probably see the pitcher with his head down kicking dirt on the mound, or the hitter fist-bumping the base coach or calling time out to take off his shin guard. Maybe we see that the runner on second got a good jump on replay if the color commentator is good, but probably not. The runner is in the dugout anyway, high-fiving teammates, putting his helmet away, heading down the tunnel for whatever it is players do after they head down the tunnel. In any case, he’s out of view of the camera. Unless he’s Miguel Cabrera in which case, he’s probably standing on base.

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

Related Content:  Mike Trout,  Miguel Cabrera

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

andrews

Interesting article, agree that baserunning is undervalued.

"The last thing I want to do is rehash the American League MVP debate. There is a long list of sharp objects I’d fit into my cornea before doing that. So I’m not doing that, I promise."

Can we have an article about Verlander being unfairly denied a 2nd consecutive Cy Young. The ratio between Verlander and Price in Warp (4.7 vs 3.1) is higher than that between Trout and Cabrera (9.1 vs 6.1) so he was more "wronged".

Mar 05, 2013 02:30 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

If we write that article we'd probably also have to note that there is a good argument against Verlander's MVP two seasons ago.

Mar 05, 2013 15:55 PM
 
andrews

That's completely fine, just very bored at all the continuing comments about Trout and the MVP this offseason and in contrast no mention if the Cy Young.

Mar 05, 2013 23:47 PM
rating: 0
 
andrews

This raises another interesting point though, pitchers in the current game just can't be in the games enough to accumulate as much WARP as position players, maybe in the old days with 4 man rotations and 300+ IP they could. This is reflected in the fact that position players are by and large paid more.

So, as it stands, the reason that pitchers should not win the MVP is not because they have the Cy Young but rather just because it's very very hard for them to be as valuable to their teams.

Mar 06, 2013 00:55 AM
rating: 0
 
cmaczkow

That is an interesting point. It seems kind of counter-intuitive to me as well, though, that starting pitchers should have that much less WARP. If you think about it, a 200 inning starter accounts for an equal or larger percentage of his teams innings (roughly 2/15ths or about 13%) than a 700 plate appearance player does of his team's at bats (a leadoff hitter who played every game and always got one more plate appearance than his teammates would top out at 1/7th, or about 14%).

Is defense that large a contributor to the WARP formula? Or is the difference between great and replacement hitters that much larger than between great and replacement pitchers?

Mar 06, 2013 11:46 AM
rating: 1
 
andrews

Yes, don't forget that position players accumulate defensive warp as well as offensive, and it's quite often two way players that score highest.

Simple warp is too simplistic, for one reason is the concept of high leverage and low leverage innings, a stopper like Verlander who goes out and almost always gives his team a great chance to win is a valuable player. The fact that a whole team rides the back of a player like that can never be quantified in a stat.

Mar 06, 2013 17:01 PM
rating: 0
 
GoTribe06

Great article! I thought of the point about Fielder batting behind Cabrera one paragraph earlier: runner on first when the batter doubles. As an outfielder I am thinking that catching Fielder chugging into second is my best play.

Mar 05, 2013 05:31 AM
rating: 1
 
SaberTJ

I would also think that the expansive outfield with which the Tigers play could influence some of the numbers for Cabrera.

Mar 05, 2013 06:38 AM
rating: 0
 
jdeich

1) It would be worth controlling for ground-rule doubles, where the runner can't score from first. B-Ref didn't seem to track these separately, though, and they're pretty scarce. But if you had the data, you'd discard these.

2) Also, Fielder may have hit more "no doubt" doubles than Torii Hunter. Here, I'm thinking of hits where the only question was whether a faster runner could have made a triple out of it. These would make scoring from first easy, relative to short gappers or flares down the line where the batter has to hustle to beat the throw to second.

3) For the first-to-third-on-a-single issues, the typical lineup behind Trout was: Hunter (R), Pujols (R), and Morales (S). Behind Cabrera, it was most often Fielder (L), Young (R), and Boesch (L)/Avila (L). It's possible that Trout saw a lot more singles to LF than Cabrera did while on base, which implies the gap is a little wider than it looks at first glance.

Mar 05, 2013 12:31 PM
rating: 2
 
Lindemann
(852)

Tangential note: The difficulty associated with assessing baserunning on TV is just another reason it's more fun to watch baseball live. Baseball's the same as football in that there are a number of processes happening at once when a ball is in play, but in baseball those processes are few enough that you can (mostly) pay attention to all of them at once. You see the ball drop, you see how far the runner is off first, and you know he got a good jump.

Mar 05, 2013 06:58 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I agree, but watching baseball on TV has its advantages. At least at a major league park it's very tough to get a sense of the movement and placement of the pitches because I'm so far away. That's where TV can really elucidate the batter/pitcher match-up.

Mar 05, 2013 15:58 PM
 
myshkin

Trout also scored at least once from first base on a single (June 22, versus the Dodgers, bottom of the 6th).

Mar 05, 2013 15:10 PM
rating: 0
 
MikeyVoges

"But, triple crown, man!!!1"

Mar 05, 2013 20:03 PM
rating: 0
 
cmaczkow

Just for the record, not everyone who thought Cabrera was the MVP was a mouth-breathing idiot. I get that it's easy to categorize the camps that way, and people like to simplify and generalize as much as possible. But there are a couple of reasons that support Cabrera's MVP case that, while you may not agree with them, do amount to more than just "But, triple crown, man!!!"

1. Cabrera played for a playoff team. Whether it's fair or not, it's widely *accepted* that a great year that helps a team to the playoffs is more valuable than one that does not.

2. Cabrera played all season in the majors. Now, you can argue that this fact makes Trout's year even MORE amazing (he accumulated his WARP in fewer games), and you can also point out that it isn't Trout's fault he wasn't up all year. But it isn't David Ortiz's fault he got injured, either, and the fact is that you are not providing any value to the big league club when you're in the AAA lineup.

Sorry, I know you didn't mean to rehash the debate, but there was enough snark in the (very interesting) article to make that seem like a rather disingenuous statement. And it does get tiring when a site that is supposed to be open to questioning commonly held beliefs takes a completely dismissive and condescending attitude toward those that disagree with its champion for MVP without acknowledging that there ARE several factors that could lead a rational person to vote for Cabrera for what is an ill-defined award.

Mar 06, 2013 11:41 AM
rating: -1
 
andrews

I may be opening a small can of worms here but was Cabrera's home run off Chris Perez on Sunday 5th August more valuable than a solo shot in a 8 - 0 blowout?

The Warp formula values them the same.

Mar 06, 2013 17:14 PM
rating: 0
 
sturza

Trout's team had a better record...

Mar 07, 2013 00:13 AM
rating: 1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Baseball ProGUESTus: T... (03/05)
<< Previous Column
Out of Left Field: Rev... (02/28)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The... (03/12)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: Life on t... (03/05)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Rounders: The Young and the Splitles...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Thursday, May ...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Bummed!
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, May 22
West Coast By Us: Day 1: In The Land Where E...
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Quarter-Season Odds Report
Going Yard: The Near Perfection of Pederson

MORE FROM MARCH 5, 2013
Premium Article MLBDepthCharts: Detroit Tigers
Premium Article MLBDepthCharts: Cleveland Indians
Premium Article MLBDepthCharts: Chicago White Sox
Premium Article MLBDepthCharts: Toronto Blue Jays
Premium Article MLBDepthCharts: Tampa Bay Rays
Premium Article MLBDepthCharts: New York Yankees
Fantasy Article Pre-Season Positional Rankings: Top 80 Fanta...

MORE BY MATTHEW KORY
2013-03-26 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: Wrongs of Spring
2013-03-19 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The More You Know
2013-03-12 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The Letting Go
2013-03-05 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: Cabrera, Trout, and the B...
2013-02-28 - Out of Left Field: Revisiting a Blockbuster
2013-02-19 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The 10,786 Miles Not Tech...
2013-02-15 - Premium Article Arbitration Showdown: Mock Hearing: Dexter F...
More...

MORE OUT OF LEFT FIELD
2013-03-26 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: Wrongs of Spring
2013-03-19 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The More You Know
2013-03-12 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The Letting Go
2013-03-05 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: Cabrera, Trout, and the B...
2013-02-28 - Out of Left Field: Revisiting a Blockbuster
2013-02-19 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: The 10,786 Miles Not Tech...
2013-02-07 - Premium Article Out of Left Field: Shorting the Red Sox
More...