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January 11, 2007

Schrodinger's Bat

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

by Dan Fox

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"The most entertaining ball is one that's aggressive on the base paths. It's a funny thing: Running brings your team together - and also brings the crowd to its feet."

- Davey Lopes

Back in September in this space I explored the components of baserunning. Along with a breakdown of how teams performed from 2000-2005, that analysis looked at how each component contributed to the whole and where baserunning fit into the big picture. In total magnitude, baserunning probably accounts for somewhere a shade under 15% of total offensive output. Within that 15%, advancing on hits (measured by EqHAR) accounts for 50% of that while advancing on fly balls takes a slightly larger share (EqAAR, 27%) of the remaining pie than does advancing on ground outs (EqGAR, 20%). Stolen bases, caught stealing, and pickoffs (EqSBR), have an overall negative value and so do not represent any of the pie.

This week we'll update that piece by looking at the team results from 2006 and then move on to breaking down the metrics by position in an attempt to investigate differences between the leagues.

It's a Team Game

Let's kick things off with a look at the team totals for 2006.

2006 Team Baserunning Totals
Team   Lg     Opp  EqGAR     Opp   EqAAR   Opp   EqSBR   Opp   EqHAR   Total
ANA    AL     311   5.08     304    1.77   196   -8.83   462   15.62   13.64
NYN    NL     305   0.41     261    4.58   182    0.61   362    2.70    8.31
PHI    NL     267   0.87     261   -0.40   118    1.16   419    3.45    5.08
SDN    NL     282   0.44     299    1.12   159    2.76   427   -4.87   -0.56
PIT    NL     295   0.53     265    3.42    97   -4.00   444   -0.81   -0.86
KCA    AL     317  -0.94     236    5.88   101   -8.95   456    3.14   -0.87
ARI    NL     324  -4.04     278    3.14   106   -3.41   447    3.05   -1.26
HOU    NL     331   1.56     264   -4.33   121   -8.33   406    9.60   -1.50
CHN    NL     352   0.47     243   -0.67   171   -5.60   395    2.86   -2.94
TEX    AL     269  -2.59     298   -1.06    76   -3.17   440    2.53   -4.29
SLN    NL     335   1.01     243    0.88    88   -8.42   426    1.93   -4.61
MIN    AL     309  -0.54     263   -3.04   148   -7.27   493    5.88   -4.97
SEA    AL     291   3.61     280   -1.05   149   -5.09   448   -2.64   -5.18
CLE    AL     267  -3.49     244    0.95    82   -3.77   480   -0.50   -6.81
SFN    NL     309   5.63     283   -6.70    84   -4.17   402   -1.65   -6.89
FLO    NL     297   4.08     212   -0.43   172  -15.98   402    5.23   -7.09
BAL    AL     308  -3.11     296   -2.85   151    1.99   495   -3.38   -7.34
LAN    NL     318   2.06     300   -0.50   177   -6.99   457   -2.31   -7.74
CIN    NL     274  -1.14     239    1.00   156   -4.96   382   -2.67   -7.77
TBA    AL     291  -0.56     256   -2.43   189   -5.66   355    0.00   -8.64
NYA    AL     298  -4.04     294    0.66   171   -0.05   461   -5.91   -9.33
OAK    AL     269  -0.84     296    0.36    82   -0.14   439   -8.71   -9.33
COL    NL     337   1.16     271   -1.46   140  -12.96   430    3.91   -9.35
DET    AL     296   2.70     279   -5.82   107  -15.49   444    9.14   -9.47
BOS    AL     238  -1.89     297    2.68    75   -3.15   479   -7.65  -10.01
MIL    NL     282   0.11     268    2.79   109   -8.47   384   -5.24  -10.81
ATL    NL     326   1.50     265    0.70    88   -8.12   426   -6.30  -12.23
WAS    NL     303   2.03     271    0.64   185  -15.29   421   -0.46  -13.08
TOR    AL     294  -3.59     288    1.45    98   -8.22   456   -5.46  -15.82
CHA    AL     245  -2.34     299    0.62   144   -9.29   459  -10.77  -21.77

The first thing that probably jumps out at you is that only three teams posted a net gain on the bases in 2006. That is not unexpected, and the direct result of the influence of EqSBR, where only four teams kept their head above water and 17 teams were at -5 or fewer runs thereby forcing many of the aggregates below zero. Without taking EqSBR into account, 14 teams scored positively with the Angels picking up an astounding 22.47 runs to the next highest total of 8.88 by the Marlins.

Even with EqSBR taken into account, and as discussed in a previous piece, the Angels looked good once again in 2006 perhaps as a result of an applied philosophy, this year contributing an additional 13.64 theoretical runs on the bases over what would be expected. This time they did it on the strength of an EqHAR of 15.62 (shown in the table below), outpacing the previous all-time high (since 2000 anyway) of the Devil Rays in 2005 (12.42). Had they not cost themselves almost nine runs in EqSBR (Adam Kennedy and Juan Rivera combined for -4.92 runs all by themselves on the strength of getting picked off once and caught stealing 14 times in 29 opportunities) they would have far outdistanced the competition.

2006 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Name                 Opp       OA   EqHAR  HARate
Chone Figgins         56        0    4.93     171
Maicer Izturis        46        1    3.02     135
Orlando Cabrera       67        2    2.64     118
Juan Rivera           45        0    1.52     121
Robb Quinlan          13        0    1.49     141
Adam Kennedy          31        0    1.33     125
Tim Salmon            14        0    0.80     143
Reggie Willits         7        0    0.66     142
Erick Aybar            3        0    0.65     223
Dallas McPherson       5        0    0.50     196
Tommy Murphy           7        0    0.34     244
Garret Anderson       42        0    0.31     105
Mike Napoli           19        1    0.29     113
Edgardo Alfonzo        2        0    0.15     306
Vladimir Guerrero     39        0    0.09     102
Jeff Weaver            1        0   -0.01       0
Howie Kendrick        19        1   -0.02      99
Jose Molina           17        0   -0.08      97
Darin Erstad           7        0   -0.10      88
Jeff Mathis            3        0   -0.12      66
Curtis Pride           3        0   -0.34       0
Casey Kotchman         2        0   -0.45       0
Kendry Morales        14        2   -1.98     -16

The 2006 Devil Rays, on the other hand, after posting that 12.42 EqHAR in 2005 came out exactly even at 0.00 in 2006. Part of the reason was that Carl Crawford came in at only 0.40, since he was thrown out twice in his 40 opportunities and Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, and Joey Gathright weren't enough to overcome Damon Hollins, Jonny Gomes, Travis Lee, and especially Toby Hall as shown in the table below.

2006 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Name                 Opp   OA  EqHAR  HARate
Aubrey Huff           17    0   1.85     201
Julio Lugo            23    0   0.69     126
Joey Gathright        15    0   0.57     127
Russell Branyan        8    0   0.56     152
B.J. Upton             9    0   0.56     129
Josh Paul             10    0   0.54     181
Dioner Navarro        11    0   0.47     135
Carl Crawford         40    2   0.40     105
Ty Wigginton          26    0   0.36     109
Jorge Cantu           24    0   0.21     105
Sean Burroughs         1    0   0.14     273
Delmon Young           9    0   0.10     122
Rocco Baldelli        20    0   0.01     100
James Shields          1    0  -0.02       0
Nick Green             1    0  -0.03       0
Ben Zobrist           10    0  -0.11      90
Shawn Riggans          4    0  -0.20       0
Greg Norton           25    1  -0.28      95
Tomas Perez           21    1  -0.55      80
Toby Hall             10    1  -1.02     -57
Travis Lee            21    0  -1.27      68
Jonny Gomes           27    1  -1.27      75
Damon Hollins         22    1  -1.71      48

On the other end of the spectrum the White Sox were a shade more than 21 runs in the hole. The Sox did especially poorly in EqHAR as only Scott Podsednik (although he gave it all away and then some in EqSBR by getting caught stealing 19 times and picked-off three times) and Pablo Ozuna contributed much on the positive side, as shown in the following table.

2006 Chicago White Sox
Name                 Opp   OA  EqHAR  HARate
Scott Podsednik       50    0   1.74     127
Pablo Ozuna           22    0   1.16     142
Jerry Owens            2    0   0.33     221
Brian Anderson        21    0   0.33     106
Ryan Sweeney           3    0   0.16     243
Jose Contreras         1    0  -0.01       0
Juan Uribe            17    0  -0.08      96
Chris Widger           3    0  -0.28       0
Ross Gload            17    1  -0.40      90
Sandy Alomar Jr.       6    0  -0.41       0
Jermaine Dye          38    2  -0.70      88
Rob Mackowiak         18    1  -0.71      47
Alex Cintron          21    1  -0.79      74
Tadahito Iguchi       55    3  -1.01      89
Jim Thome             63    2  -1.11      90
Joe Crede             33    3  -2.44      54
A.J. Pierzynski       39    1  -2.69      52
Paul Konerko          50    0  -3.86      51

The Sox were also thrown out advancing 14 times, tied for third highest since 2000 with only the 2005 Phillies (18), the 2001 Braves (15), and the 2003 Cubs (15) racking up more. Incidentally, ChiSox fans who may be wondering whether new third base coach in 2006 Joey Cora was to blame should know that based on some preliminary research into the effect of third base coaches, Cora seems to have outperformed the personnel he had to work with. In other words, in baserunning opportunities over which he could have been said to have some influence, the team did slightly better in terms of theoretical runs than in other opportunities. The same can be said (surprisingly I know) for "Waving" Wendell Kim with the 2003 Cubs. No, the White Sox in 2006 were simply a very slow and distinctly non-"small ball" team, just as they were in their 2005 World Championship season.

The Blue Jays were also uniformly bad in 2006, while the Nationals were driven to the bottom in large part because of Alfonso Soriano's quest for the magical 40-40 distinction (-3.88 EqSBR but overall totals for 2006 can be found on my blog).

Once again this indicates that from top to bottom the spread in the number of theoretical runs gained on the bases is on the order of 30 in a single season, or the equivalent of three wins.

A League of Their Own

Although an AL team grabbed both the top and bottom spots, readers who look closely will note that NL teams captured seven of the top nine slots and AL teams seven of the bottom eleven. When totaled for the respective leagues what we find is shown in the following table.

2006 Total Baserunning by League
Lg          Opp   EqGAR     Opp   EqAAR    Opp    EqSBR   Opp    EqHAR   Total
NL         4937   16.67    4223    3.78   2153  -102.18   6630    8.41  -73.32
AL         4003  -12.54    3930   -1.86   1769   -77.09   6367   -8.71 -100.20

As you can see, the NL outperforms the AL in each of the metrics except EqSBR, where their greater number of stolen base attempts leads to a lower overall figure. With EqSBR excluded, the AL is at -23.11 and the NL at 28.86. This disparity between the leagues can be interpreted as meaning that the NL is generally populated with baserunners who are more aggressive and more successful than their AL counterparts.

However, as with the recent discussion related to outfield arms on the Unfiltered blog, it could also be the case that the existence of the plodding designated hitters so weighs down AL teams that they perform worse on baserunning metrics. This would have the ancillary effect of making it appear AL outfielders do a better job of stopping runner advancement on hits. To help determine if this is indeed the case, I calculated the metrics aggregated on the primary position of the runner (the position at which they had the most plate appearances) across both leagues for 2006. The results are shown in the table below sorted by Total Runs.

2006 Break Down by Position
POS   Opps   EqGAR  GARate   Opps   EqAAR  AARate  Opps   EqSBR   Opps   EqHAR HARate   Total
CF    1258    8.84    1.09   1034   12.87    1.11   984  -11.98   1554   48.36   1.19   58.10
SS    1098   15.11    1.17    993    0.79    1.01   751  -17.61   1517   12.47   1.05   10.76
2B    1114    7.10    1.08   1037   -2.06    0.98   543  -27.05   1541   27.88   1.12    5.87
LF    1116   -1.16    0.99   1049    0.62    1.01   563  -17.93   1715   11.93   1.04   -6.54
RF    1017   -0.08    1.00    925   -0.72    0.99   406  -25.48   1443   13.99   1.07  -12.29
3B     919   -0.77    0.99    877    0.58    1.01   287  -24.69   1548    8.87   1.04  -16.01
P      166   -2.64    0.71    151   -1.91    0.85     8   -1.40    262  -18.31   0.50  -24.27
DH     254   -3.78    0.75    296   -4.20    0.85    35   -9.88    493  -14.04   0.82  -31.89
1B     867 - 10.09    0.82    963   -1.18    0.99   175  -19.75   1541  -39.23   0.84  -70.25
C     1067   -9.03    0.88    781   -1.69    0.98   145  -22.63   1312  -52.75   0.73  -86.10

As intuition would tell us, neither DHs nor pitchers are very good baserunners. Looking at the rate statistics for EqGAR, EqAAR, and EqHAR, pitchers are slightly worse than DHs but garner fewer opportunities. Center fielders, on the other hand, are clearly the best baserunners with shortstops next followed by second basemen and then groupings of the corner outfielders and third basemen, first baseman and catchers, and finally DHs and pitchers bringing up the rear.

When we apply this positional analysis to EqHAR by removing the influence of DHs in the AL (comprising 484 opportunities or 7.6%) and pitchers in the NL (250 opportunities or 3.8%) we still find that the NL comes out on top 26.22 runs to 5.35, actually widening the gap somewhat. So even in removing the bad baserunners in both leagues we find the NL is superior in this metric. The only conclusion I can draw from this, at least until new evidence or a new theory comes to light, is that indeed the NL features more aggressive and better baserunners overall.

That's a small consolation when you consider the recent dominance of the AL in interleague competition that has led some to apply different weightings to the leagues. But at this point fans of the NL will probably take what they can get.

Related Content:  AL Center Fielders,  The Who,  Al,  Nl,  Baserunning

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