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October 18, 2007

Schrodinger's Bat

The Baserunning Edition

by Dan Fox

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"Never trust a baserunner who's limping. Comes a base hit, and you'll think he just got back from Lourdes."
--Joe Garagiola

Yes, it's that time of year again. No, I don't mean the postseason, exciting as that is as we gear up for the (almost) inevitable Rockies/Indians matchup. No, this kind of excitement can only be generated as we break out the baserunning numbers for 2007. We'll skip the long introduction that connects today's topic with an event or concept from science or history, but only say that, as described in a previous column, I've added a fifth category to track runner advancement on wild pitches, passed balls, and balks, which is creatively termed Equivalent Other Advancement Runs, or EqOAR for short. Also, keep in mind that all of these metrics are based on the concept of run expectancy (and now all uniformly use three-year averages) and are measured in terms of theoretical runs above what would be expected given the number and context of the opportunities in which the runners find themselves.

So let's dig right in and go through the 2007 leaders and trailers in the five categories before cooking up the whole enchilada.

Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs

First, let's take a look at advancing on ground outs:

Name               GAOpps  EqGAR
Dave Roberts           41   2.81
Rafael Furcal          53   2.36
Aaron Rowand           34   1.80
Reggie Willits         25   1.70
Luis Rodriguez          6   1.16
Joey Gathright         23   1.14
Matthew Kemp           16   1.14
Melky Cabrera          34   1.13
Coco Crisp             36   1.11
Brad Ausmus            40   1.07
Andruw Jones           28  -1.25
Dmitri Young           20  -1.26
Jorge Posada           34  -1.30
Mark DeRosa            24  -1.36
Ron Belliard           36  -1.38
Freddy Sanchez         32  -1.38
Aramis Ramirez         27  -1.40
Joe Mauer              25  -1.54
Jason Kubel            21  -1.59
Alex Gordon            29  -1.59

Dave Roberts, despite getting up there in years, takes that top spot at +2.81 runs on the strength of scoring from third base five different times, and advancing from second to third twelve more; in total, he advanced 25 times in his 41 opportunities. In addition, you'll see that the Twins' Luis Rodriguez racked up a +1.16 EqGAR despite just six opportunities. He made them count by scoring twice from third (once when the third baseman fielded the ball). Brad Ausmus does well here--as he usually does--by virtue of being advanced on sacrifice hits 24 times. There is certainly an argument to be made for excluding or at least discounting sacrifices, but at this point they're still included.

On the other end of the spectrum we find Royals rookie Alex Gordon (-1.59), who was thrown out twice trying to score on groundouts, and failed to advance in 19 of his 29 opportunities. There aren't too many other surprises there, with Jorge Posada (-1.30), Dmitri Young (-1.26), and Aramis Ramirez (-1.40) no strangers to the bottom of the baserunning heap from their clomping around the bases.

Equivalent Stolen Base Runs

Next up is equivalent stolen base runs, which also includes getting picked off:

Name               SBOpps  EqSBR
Brian Roberts          59   6.01
Curtis Granderson      28   4.07
Juan Pierre            82   3.93
Kazuo Matsui           36   3.89
Jimmy Rollins          48   3.81
Shane Victorino        43   3.76
Rickie Weeks           28   3.47
Johnny Damon           29   3.17
Nathan McLouth         23   3.11
Ian Kinsler            26   3.02
Matt Kemp              15  -2.16
Andre Ethier            4  -2.25
Alfredo Amezaga        21  -2.30
Joey Gathright         18  -2.31
Jeff Kent               5  -2.33
Jack Wilson             8  -2.34
Casey Kotchman          7  -2.62
Brian Giles            10  -2.85
Tony Pena              12  -3.08
Juan Uribe             10  -4.58

The Orioles' Roberts handily blows by the competition with +6.01, by virtue of 22 of his 59 opportunities involving steals of third base, tops in the majors in 2007. In fact, he participated in eight double steals when he was the lead runner, and was only caught once (actually picked off with a runner on first). As you can imagine, Curtis Granderson also does quite well despite just 28 opportunities, less than half that of Juan Pierre who comes in just behind, since he was caught stealing only once (he was picked off twice but was safe on both occasions, which we credit to the runner).

On the flip side, Juan Uribe of the White Sox was safe just once in 10 opportunities, no doubt the victim of poor execution on hit-and-run plays, although he was picked off and caught stealing once as well. On the surface, Matt Kemp's 10 stolen bases in 15 attempts doesn't seem too bad, even as the major leagues set a record for stolen base percentage in 2007. However, that masks the fact that Kemp picked off third with one out and runners on second and third--costing him over a run--and was twice thrown out on strike'em out/throw'em out double plays, costing him just short of another run and a half. The Dodgers have three players in this list, costing them almost eight runs total.

Equivalent Air Advancement Runs

Now we'll take a look at advancing on fly outs via equivalent air advancement runs. This metric, as well as advancing on hits (discussed below), are park-adjusted using a single park factor based on a three-year average:

Name               AAOpps  EqAAR
Coco Crisp             30   2.48
Johnny Damon           38   2.01
Marcus Giles           28   1.90
Aubrey Huff            29   1.81
Ryan Braun             31   1.75
Grady Sizemore         43   1.70
Willy Taveras          32   1.66
Matt Holliday          52   1.60
Juan Pierre            35   1.56
Jeff Francoeur         28   1.49
Corey Patterson        22  -1.67
Placido Polanco        35  -1.70
Raul Ibanez            29  -1.81
Josh Bard              24  -1.95
Lyle Overbay           26  -2.03
Mike Lowell            36  -2.21
Mark Loretta           27  -2.28
Kenny Lofton           39  -2.31
Jose Lopez             23  -2.54
Carlos Delgado         32  -2.77

Here, Coco Crisp takes the top spot at +2.48 runs by advancing 14 times in 30 opportunities, with ten of those times scoring a run from third base. Interestingly, Ryan Braun, who might not seem like a player who runs very well (he ranked 98th overall at +1.44 runs), scored from third nine times, and advanced from second to third on two other occasions to run his total to +1.75 runs.

The fact that Carlos Delgado (-2.77) and Jose Lopez (-2.54) find themselves on the bottom is no shocker, because of their ultra-conservative approaches. Delgado always ranks poorly; this year he advanced on fly balls just four times in 32 chances, while Lopez did so just once in 23 opportunities. On the other hand, Kenny Lofton (-2.31) was overly aggressive and, despite advancing 10 times in his 39 opportunities, was also thrown out three times, accounting for -1.60 runs. And then there are those like Corey Patterson, who didn't advance very frequently (just five times in 22 chances) and was also thrown out once trying to score from third, which cost him -0.60 runs.

Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs

Advancing from first or second on singles and from first on a double is captured by equivalent hit advancement runs, with the leaders and trailers shown below:

Name               HAOpps  EqHAR
Juan Pierre            75   5.09
Chone Figgins          53   4.54
Grady Sizemore         54   4.01
Mike Cameron           49   3.69
Jose Reyes             46   3.57
Jason Bartlett         52   3.51
Jimmy Rollins          51   3.33
Orlando Cabrera        68   3.32
Brian Giles            40   3.22
Luis Castillo          61   3.07
David Eckstein         35  -3.20
David Ortiz            68  -3.30
Barry Bonds            41  -3.37
Carlos Delgado         37  -3.60
Ken Griffey            41  -3.74
Jorge Posada           56  -4.04
Ryan Howard            40  -4.44
Todd Helton            73  -4.52
Casey Kotchman         40  -4.75
Ryan Garko             52  -7.25

In this category, Juan Pierre had his finest season as far back as I've run the numbers (2000), contributing +5.09 runs over what would have been expected given his opportunities. He was never thrown out, and bested the average number of bases gained per opportunity in all three scenarios. In fewer opportunities Chone Figgins once again does very well (+4.54), in part by advancing from first to third on singles 16 times in 30 opportunities while scoring from first once and never getting thrown out. However, Mike Cameron (+3.69 overall) leads all runners in that department, as he made it to third 13 times and scored two additional times in just 23 opportunities. The rest of the top ten is populated with the usual suspects, reflective of the fact that EqHAR is the most persistent of the metrics in terms of capturing an individual runner's talent.

Speaking of suspects, what's up with the Tribe's Ryan Garko? With his colossal -7.25 runs, he blows away the previous all-time low value for this metric set by Pat Burrell at -5.60 in 2005. How did he do it, you ask? For starters he was thrown out trying to advance no less than five times, which was tops in the majors; Casey Kotchman (-4.75) and Ryan Howard (-4.44) were both thrown out four times. Getting thrown out at home twice by a left fielder alone cost him 2.14 runs, and when you couple that with the fact that he failed to advance beyond the proscribed number of bases in 42 of his 52 opportunities, it all adds up to being two and half runs worse than any other baserunner. The rest of the trailers--with the exception of David Eckstein--don't raise any eyebrows. Eckstein was thrown out three times, which cost him over three runs.

Equivalent Other Advancement Runs

And now, before putting it all together, we'll take a look at the newest member of this family, which is advancement on wild pitches, passed balls, and balks:

Name               OAOpps  EqOAR
Luis Castillo         602   2.78
Jose Reyes            393   2.56
Dustin Pedroia        348   2.33
Andruw Jones          248   1.91
Ichiro Suzuki         507   1.77
Ben Zobrist            50   1.69
Josh Barfield         231   1.62
Jason Tyner           241   1.62
Gary Sheffield        249   1.54
Kazuo Matsui          265   1.48
Randy Winn            394  -1.06
Shea Hillenbrand      118  -1.08
Jeff Francoeur        321  -1.10
Chone Figgins         314  -1.10
Chris Gomez           154  -1.11
Matt Holliday         457  -1.15
Justin Morneau        316  -1.37
Shawn Hill             16  -1.46
Jorge Posada          361  -1.53
Reggie Willits        357  -2.05

Luis Castillo led all runners at +2.78 by virtue of advancing 17 times and scoring six times, both of which topped the majors. Meanwhile Nick Punto (+1.19, good for 23rd) of the Twins advanced just five times, but scored on four of them. Ben Zobrist (+1.69) moved up only four times, but scored twice with two outs, driving his run total up, and placing him in the top 10.

On the flip side, the aggressiveness of the Angels seemingly cost them, as Reggie Willits ended up at -2.05 by being thrown out once at second and once at third, costing him 1.3 runs while only advancing four other times. Teammate Chone Figgins was also thrown out once at third with nobody out to cost a run, and strangely only advanced on six other opportunities. MVP candidate Matt Holliday also scored poorly here but, probably more due to a conservative approach coupled with some bad luck, as indicated by his good numbers both overall and historically. He wasn't thrown out, but only advanced six times, with three of those being advances to third with two outs, which add negligible run value. But the award for doing the most damage with the fewest opportunities has to belong to Nats pitcher Shawn Hill. Despite just 16 opportunities, he was on third base with the bases loaded and no outs on April 20th in Florida, managed to get himself in a rundown, and was thrown out 2-5-1-6, thereby debiting him 1.41 runs.*

The Whole Enchilada

Finally, let's total it all up and reveal the best and worst baserunners for 2007:

Name                 Opps  EqGAR  Opps EqSBR  Opps EqAAR  Opps EqHAR  Opps EqOAR EqRuns
Juan Pierre            38   0.24    82  3.93    35  1.56    75  5.09   414  0.65 11.47
Coco Crisp             36   1.11    35  1.95    30  2.48    47  1.64   323  1.41  8.60
Brian Roberts          67   0.60    59  6.01    32 -0.36    56  2.58   402 -0.41  8.43
Luis Castillo          46   0.95    22  0.63    45  1.00    61  3.07   602  2.78  8.42
Jose Reyes             62   0.61   104  1.46    39 -0.31    46  3.57   393  2.56  7.90
Jimmy Rollins          38  -0.01    48  3.81    52  0.83    51  3.33   425 -0.71  7.25
Grady Sizemore         44   0.45    45 -0.19    43  1.70    54  4.01   435  1.22  7.20
Johnny Damon           41   0.30    29  3.17    38  2.01    59  1.91   371 -0.32  7.06
Dave Roberts           41   2.81    37  2.63    33 -0.15    40  1.81   281 -0.12  6.98
Ichiro Suzuki          58  -0.45    45  2.52    54  0.54    73  2.35   507  1.77  6.72
Chone Figgins          31   0.46    52  1.71    31  1.01    53  4.54   314 -1.10  6.63
Curtis Granderson      43   0.58    28  4.07    56 -0.05    74  2.22   426 -0.56  6.26
Jason Bartlett         40   0.62    28  2.81    18  0.21    52  3.51   325 -0.95  6.21
Ian Kinsler            37   0.93    26  3.02    20  1.24    42  1.30   261 -0.30  6.19
Kazuo Matsui           22  -0.59    36  3.89    31 -1.21    40  2.62   265  1.48  6.18
Carlos Lee             27   0.43    14 -0.83    32 -1.32    55 -1.62   339 -0.86 -4.20
Troy Glaus             18  -0.65     2 -1.44    19 -0.52    27 -1.43   208 -0.20 -4.23
Frank Thomas           19  -0.79     0  0.00    36 -0.10    47 -3.08   335 -0.27 -4.25
Brad Hawpe             35   0.05     3 -1.95    22 -0.49    39 -1.79   289 -0.08 -4.27
Derrek Lee             22  -0.08    11 -1.84    35 -0.95    66 -0.83   416 -0.72 -4.42
Pedro Feliz            29  -0.28     3 -0.88    27 -1.52    43 -1.90   237 -0.08 -4.66
Ryan Howard            16  -0.41     1  0.11    30  0.58    40 -4.44   290 -0.53 -4.68
Ken Griffey            27   0.17     5  0.21    26 -0.60    41 -3.74   324 -0.73 -4.69
Mark Loretta           16   0.02     3 -0.56    27 -2.28    50 -2.07   307  0.17 -4.72
Todd Helton            25  -0.53     2 -1.11    35  1.35    73 -4.52   409 -0.15 -4.97
Casey Kotchman         25   0.14     7 -2.62    31  1.04    40 -4.75   266  0.39 -5.80
Mike Lowell            22  -0.43     5 -0.35    36 -2.21    41 -2.56   326 -0.80 -6.34
Carlos Delgado         30  -0.46     1 -0.23    32 -2.77    37 -3.60   281 -0.39 -7.45
Jorge Posada           34  -1.30     3 -0.13    40 -0.56    56 -4.04   361 -1.53 -7.56
Ryan Garko             20  -0.98     1 -0.44    27  0.33    52 -7.25   289 -0.49 -8.83

Juan Pierre unseats Chone Figgins (who led the majors at +9.19 in 2006) and takes the title at +11.47 runs, or a little more than a win, which is almost three runs more than the next runner. Figgins falls to eleventh because of his poor showing in the new EqOAR. Coco Crisp is solid all around, enabling him to come in second at +8.60, and place in the company of more famous speedsters Brian Roberts (+8.43) and Luis Castillo (+8.42). Once again, the remainder of the top 15 offer us no surprises, with four of the top repeating from 2006. Incidentally, Hanley Ramirez, who placed second in 2006 with +8.89 runs, falls to 57th at +2.25 runs, primarily because of a -0.58 in EqHAR in 2007.

Not surprisingly, Garko finds himself over a run worse than anyone else at -8.83 runs, while Jorge Posada (-7.56) and Carlos Delgado (-7.45) assume their traditional rankings. This list as well is populated with familiar names like Frank Thomas (-4.25), Ryan Howard (-4.68), and Todd Helton (-4.97).

What's missing here, as many readers will notice, is some measure of the rate at which all of these opportunities occurred. All the metrics here are essentially counting stats, and so a runner with more opportunities should do better, all other things being equal, than a runner who is on base less frequently. We'll run through the rate statistics for these metrics in a future article.

A Final Note About the Postseason

Since we are in the middle of that time of year, I should say a few words about the three remaining playoff teams and their baserunning.

Colorado Rockies: As a team, the Rockies ranked 16th overall, contributing an additional 6.1 runs on the bases. Most of this was due to EqOAR, as they were only slightly above zero in EqHAR and EqAAR, slightly below zero in EqGAR and actually -2.58 runs under in EqGAR. However, as with a lot of teams, there is a wide variance with the top runners: Kaz Matsui (+6.47), Matt Holliday (+4.58), and Jamey Carroll (+3.16) balance out Garrett Atkins (-1.52), Brad Hawpe (-3.75), and Todd Helton (-4.30). Willy Taveras has ranked very well in previous seasons, but in 2007 had a negative EqGAR while performing above average (though not spectacularly) in all the other metrics. The bottom line is that you shouldn't look for much adventurous running from those bottom three; Clint Hurdle will run for Atkins with Carroll in the late innings since he can also come in to play third base, but otherwise the Rockies do not pinch-run a lot. Unlike Boston, who has a real stolen base threat in Jacoby Ellsbury, Carroll is not a good basestealer, and is instead more adept at taking extra bases on hits or being able to tag up. Overall, the Rockies were 13th in baseball, using pinch-runners 32 times, but 20 of those were Carroll, and another four were Clint Barmes.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians ranked 24th overall in 2007 at +0.05 runs, and were among the worst teams in utilizing the stolen base (-10.35 runs) and advancing on hits (-2.60 runs). There's an even bigger split between the guys who can run and those who can't than on the Rockies, as Sizemore (+7.59), Josh Barfield (+4.13), and Asdrubal Cabrera (+2.22) counterbalance Garko, Jhonny Peralta (-2.81), Trot Nixon (-1.52), and Victor Martinez (who at -1.27 had a very good year, primarily by advancing on wild pitches and passed balls). Since Barfield and Cabrera play the same position, Barfield can be utilized as a pinch-runner, and was indeed the most frequently-used by Eric Wedge (13 times) in 2007. Like Carroll for the Rockies, Barfield is not a great basestealer, but does go from first to third well and can take advantage of both ground outs and fly balls. Wedge will also run with Jason Michaels (eight times) and overall the Tribe was eighth in using runners 41 times.

Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox ranked 19th in baseball at +3.92 runs. That was on the strength of picking up 3.31 runs on stolen bases because of their high stolen base percentage. As already mentioned, Crisp was the team leader, but Kevin Youkilis (+4.60), Julio Lugo (+2.53), and Jacoby Ellsbury (+1.89) also all contributed. On the other end, Manny Ramirez (-1.92), David Ortiz (-2.36), Jason Varitek (-3.00), and Mike Lowell (-5.51) are all candidates for Terry Francona using Ellsbury as a runner. Boston was 10th in using pinch-runners (34) with Lugo (six) being the players most often used. But that changes now, as Ellsbury will be the primary weapon off the bench; he was in Games One and Two of the ALCS, a la Dave Roberts in 2004.


* The remaining fraction of a run that makes up the difference between -1.46 and -1.41 comes from the additional calculation where the number of attempted advancements is compared to the average number for runners in the same situations. In Hill's case, he had 15 other opportunities to advance, and in not doing so was debited the additional -.05 runs.

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