Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Value of Base Running

As all good Giants fans should know, Brian Sabean for the past few years has been preaching that the game is changing, as it has in the past back and forth, from an emphasis on power to an emphasis on speed. That has led to his fascination with speedsters like Joey Gathright, who the Giants were rumored to be chasing after for a while a few years back, the pickup of Eugenio Velez from Toronto's scrap heap, the drafting of speedsters like Fred Lewis, Marcus Sander, Emmanuel Burriss, Antoan Richardson, Mike McBryde, and Wendell Fairley, and the signing of Dave Roberts, who is a base-stealing machine who learned at the feet of one of the greats, Maury Wills.

Baseball Prospectus recently had an article on whether baserunning is a skill, so I thought I would discuss what was said in the article, since this is something the Giants appear to be moving towards as a team philosophy. First, baserunning is a persistent ability. I know, Duh!, but this is shown statistically by correlating a players (BP metric) EqBR year to year. Second, when they correlated a player's Speed score with his (BP metric) EqBR, they found that speed is the most significant factor in his EQBR, again, Duh!, but it's nice to know stats confirm these no-brainers.

I found the last finding to be most interesting to Giants fans and hence I will quote it here:

The last question, of course, is how much baserunning really matters. And the general rule of thumb is that it can make about a win’s worth of difference at the extremes: a really fast/skilled baserunner will produce about 8-10 extra runs for his team on a going-forward basis as compared with a really slow/terrible baserunner. Or, if you prefer, a great baserunner will produce about an extra half-win for his team (4-5 runs) per season versus an average
baserunner.

This is nothing to sneeze at. Baserunning is another in that category of things that might be overrated by the mainstream media, but has nevertheless been underrated by sabermetricians.


I have to note it again: A great baserunner will produce an extra half-win for his team every season over an average baserunner. That's from taking the extra base as well as stealing bases, they all add up during a season.

That's why I've been pushing for Dan Ortmeier to get a chance at 1B. Even if he might fall short of 1B standards in terms of OPS - and he actually hit well in limited play in 2007 in the majors, his OPS+ was 107, or slightly better than average - he could make up for some of that shortfall with his baserunning skills. He has a big body that belies his keen baserunning skills that have allowed him to reach high teens in stolen bases every year since he started playing full season ball. Based just on his small sample in 2007, he would have stolen 8-9 bases in the majors at the rate he stole at.

And most firstbasemen are not even average baserunners, they are usually pretty terrible baserunners, and great baseruners add about a win over a poor baserunner, though admittedly Ortmeier is not great, merely good, so maybe he's only three-quarters of a win better. Still, in any case, his baserunning savvy would give him additional value over an average firstbaseman baserunner.

In addition, if a GM can build a team of speedburners, they can add 3-4 wins per season over what they can do as hitters. That's about what we need right now to get back to .500, based on last season's team, and as allfrank has been reminding me, the starting rotation should be improved over last year's overall version, with Cain improving, Lowry steady, Zito over his jitters, Lincecum learning and developing, and whoever is the 5th starter should be better than what Morris and Ortiz put together last season, moving forward.

Obviously 2008 will not feature a lot of speedburners, but we do have Roberts, Davis, and Vizquel, plus Lewis and Ortmeier, and perhaps Velez, on the bench at minimum, perhaps sometimes starting, so there could be lineups where there are a lot of speed in there.

6 comments:

  1. If you like stolen bases, then you can't miss with the SJ Giants the last couple of years. Lenn Sakata has always been aggressive with base runners.

    SJ Giants with 10+ steals (5):

    Ben Copeland, Emmanuel Burriss, Bradley Boyer, Michael Mooney, and Antoan Richardson

    Other Teams

    Inland Empire (dodgers): 6

    Rancho Cucamunga (Angels): 6

    Modesto (Rockies): 4

    Visalia (Dbacks): 4

    High Desert (Mariners): 3

    Lake Elsinor (Padres): 3

    Bakersfield (Rangers): 3

    Source:

    http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=l_bat&lid=110&sid=l110

    Not sure it means anything, but Dave Roberts has lots of potential students.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ort would have to steal 75 bases to be valuable at first base. Sorry OGC, but I'm not seeing anyway that Ort is going to be a productive first baseman even with his speed.

    I'm not sure I'd call him fast either, above average maybe, but he's far from the fastest guy on the team. He's been successful 75% of the time in his minor league steal attempts, so in my opinion, he's a little borderline.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Tom for the run down of San Jose and the Cal League on stealers.

    Chris, then please define for me what valuable is for you.

    I'm not saying that he's going to be a star, but I'm hoping that he turns out to be about average. Average would be better than what we have had for like 3-4 years now, from Snow final season, to the Niekro experiment of 2005-2006, the Hillenbad interlude, then 2007's Auril-lesko dud. That would be valuable.

    Average would save money from not having to spend $5-10M on an old free agent. That would be valuable too.

    It is not like Ortmeier came out of nowhere, as earlier in his career, he was considered good enough to be a corner OF starter who would regularly hit double-double in HR and SB.

    It was his joining Norwich (and playing in that dud of a stadium, Dodd Stadium) that stalled his career greatly.

    Now maybe he doesn't continue his success in 2007. That's the point of rebuilding, you throw your young players out there and see if they can do the job.

    But here's the evidence that gives me hope that he can be average. It's one thing to have a hot period and look good. Rajai Davis did that and revved up the fans, but how many know that after he cooled off, he was hitting way worse than Omar Vizquel (Davis had .546 OPS in Sept, .305 OBP), and you know how well he hit.

    Ortmeier came up twice, different use patterns, and still hit good enough.

    In May/June, he came up and mainly worked off the bench with a few starts, and had a .777 OPS with a homer every 26 AB, 43% XBH, and 212 ISO. So he was working cold often, coming into games as PH or replacement.

    Then in August/Sept/Oct, he came up and mainly started the games he got into, and had a .832 OPS with a homer every 26 AB, 35% XBH, and 210 ISO. So later, he's mainly a starter and hit basically what he hit previously in the season.

    The league average OPS for 1B (from baseball-reference.com's stats for Klesko, who was mainly a 1B) was .778. So Ort's overall OPS+ is 107. So I figure that if he can deliver around .750 OPS for us at 1B, that along with about a dozen stolen bases would be not bad for the team. He provides power at a power position, his HR rate last season translates to about 25 HR per season, so even if you pencil him in for 15-20, that's still better than what we were getting from 1B for a while. And the stolen bases, while not a huge amount, is about a dozen more than most 1B.

    If he can continue hitting like he did when he was starting at end of the season - .295/.327/.505/.832 - then that would be great for us, about 20-25 HR, low on the OBP but high on the SLG and that's where we want him, in a high SLG batting position like 5th or 6th.

    If he hit like he did earlier in the season - .269/.296/.481/.777 - the OBP is Feliz-stinky but at least he has the SLG which would make him OK for 6th or 7th in the lineup.

    Another nice thing is that he has hit much better away from home.

    Home .286/.322/.429/.751, 56 AB/HR
    Away .287/.315/.535/.849, 24 AB/HR

    This shows that his overall OPS is inflated by him getting more games on the road than at home, almost double the ABs, but still, even if we get him to hit what he did at home, plus the power on the road, .286/.322/.429/.751 is not that bad with him batting 6th or 7th. And his overall AB/HR of 26 is comparable to the major league overall AB/HR rate for 1B of 25.

    I did not intend to call him fast, just athletic enough to move well enough to steal bases despite his size. The speedburner reference was mainly to a team in general, players like Ortmeier who are effective despite a lack of blazing speed is very rare. And in my defense, I did spend a paragraph discussing his lack of speed offset by his baserunning savvy.

    And while his career success rate for stealing bases is around 75%, he had a 89% success rate in 2007 in AAA, so perhaps he's learning how to steal more effectively.

    The key thing is that he will be on the lookout for the free base because he's capable of taking advantage of it, and that will add value over time, particularly relative to other 1B.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As usual, I enjoy discussing baseball with you Martin, lets run through some points.

    Chris, then please define for me what valuable is for you.

    Valuable to me is a first baseman who can sniff league average production. I'd like to see our 1B OPS .800 or better, something that hasn't happened since JT's crazy 2004.

    I'm not saying that he's going to be a star, but I'm hoping that he turns out to be about average. Average would be better than what we have had for like 3-4 years now, from Snow final season, to the Niekro experiment of 2005-2006, the Hillenbad interlude, then 2007's Auril-lesko dud. That would be valuable.

    Average would be excellent, because as you and I both know, the Giants have had a long standing problem getting at least average production from first base. The average 1B in the NL last year hit .284/.365/.481 and Ort matched that but in a small-ish sample size of just 157 AB's. I'll restate this over and over until I'm blue in the face, but I'll trust his 2,000+ minor league AB's as a predictor over a small handful in the majors.

    Average would save money from not having to spend $5-10M on an old free agent. That would be valuable too.

    I don't think the Gants should try the FA markert for a first baseman. There's nothing there and nowhere did I say they should in my post. I'd much rather pick up a Rule V guy or scower the minor leagues for a 1B that can come close to average production than I would sign someone or even trade for someone. Think of a guy like Tagg Bozied or Jamie D'Antona, that's what I'm talking about.

    It is not like Ortmeier came out of nowhere, as earlier in his career, he was considered good enough to be a corner OF starter who would regularly hit double-double in HR and SB.

    I've never considered Ort to be anything more than a 4th OF. Yes, he could probably hit 10 HR's or a little more in the majors if given 500+ AB's but then again, a lot of guys could. He's very atheltic, I'll give you that but in my opinion, that doesn't automatically translate to being a good baseball player.

    It was his joining Norwich (and playing in that dud of a stadium, Dodd Stadium) that stalled his career greatly.

    He had a bad 2004, but he actually had his best offensive season ever in Norwich in 2005. I think he did alright. He bounced back at least.

    Now maybe he doesn't continue his success in 2007. That's the point of rebuilding, you throw your young players out there and see if they can do the job.

    Yes, but on the other hand, I don't think you should play guys at a position just because you can and just because you're rebuilding. You should always look for the best cost / benifit options to play for you, thats my opinion.

    Ortmeier came up twice, different use patterns, and still hit good enough.

    Still, in a very small sample size. His 2007 OPS of 814 goes against his entire body of work in the minors. I just can't buy it. He OPS'd 50 points higher in the major leagues than he had in the minors.

    The league average OPS for 1B (from baseball-reference.com's stats for Klesko, who was mainly a 1B) was .778. So Ort's overall OPS+ is 107. So I figure that if he can deliver around .750 OPS for us at 1B, that along with about a dozen stolen bases would be not bad for the team. He provides power at a power position, his HR rate last season translates to about 25 HR per season, so even if you pencil him in for 15-20, that's still better than what we were getting from 1B for a while. And the stolen bases, while not a huge amount, is about a dozen more than most 1B.

    A .750 OPS is still not-very-good production from your first baseman. The league average NL first baseman has OPS'd over .800 since 2001 and over .850 in 2004, and 2006. It's been closer to .850 in past years than it has been .800. I don't think 10-15 SB's is going to make up for a .750 OPS, when considering that he's been a good baserunner in the minors but not great.

    If he can continue hitting like he did when he was starting at end of the season - .295/.327/.505/.832 - then that would be great for us, about 20-25 HR, low on the OBP but high on the SLG and that's where we want him, in a high SLG batting position like 5th or 6th.

    So, Ortmeir is going to hit more HR's in a season in the majors, against tougher competition, than he ever has in the minors? What makes you think Ort can slug .500 + in the majors? Besides a very small sample size of 2007? I think you've read too much into 157 AB's, anyone can look good in 157 AB's. His career minor league slugging is .433. You're taking the slice out of a already very small sample size and making it smaller by talking about his time at the end of the season, which was a total of what, 105 AB's?

    If he hit like he did earlier in the season - .269/.296/.481/.777 - the OBP is Feliz-stinky but at least he has the SLG which would make him OK for 6th or 7th in the lineup.

    You-are-talking-about-52-at-bats! You just can't, you can't, draw long term observations from that.

    The key thing is that he will be on the lookout for the free base because he's capable of taking advantage of it, and that will add value over time, particularly relative to other 1B.

    Honestly, I'd rather have my first baseman hitting the ball for power than I would him trying to stretch a single in the gap into a double.

    You've got some interesting points here OGC, but I really, really think you're reading way, way, too much into a very small slice of what Ort has done in the majors. Once again, I'll believe 2,000+ minor league AB's more than I will less then 200 major league AB's. I'm not saying Ort can't improve on his game from the minors, I'm just saying I'm not expecting him too.

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  5. Yes, Chris, I love discussing the Giants with you too.

    I understand the small sampling issue. Here's why I'm willing to look past that, and rather see it as an indication of his underlying abilities.

    One is that as a switch-hitter, there's always the struggle of learning to hit both ways. So his past hitting performance, while it is indicative of what he's capable of, you have to also acknowledge that it is a conservative indication of what he can do, if he figures things out, he should be able to do better.

    Second, by definition OPS includes SLG and only the elite of prospects can hit for HR power from the get-go, most start out low and build up as their body matures. That's why (or at least I believe) Steve S. (who posts on MCC on prospects) calculates the XBH% (or extra base hit percentage), because as the hitter matures, his doubles becomes homers, or at least that's the theory. Ortmeier in his full seasons had XBH% of 37%, 41%, 36%, 33%, and 38% in the minors, and 38% in the majors in 2007. If I recall right, that's a good percentage for a hitter, except for maybe 2006's 33%.

    Third, Ortmeier has been pretty steady coming up the system in hitting, his only black mark was his 2006 season (also his season with the low XBH%), which is when he lost his prospect status. Perhaps he continued to develop in 2007. While unlikely, it is not impossible either, Holliday did it and there has been some comparision of Ortmeier with Holliday in the press.

    Four, if you look at, say, his 2005 season, Minor League Splits calculated that on a park adjusted basis, his OPS was .878, not the .823 that he posted. That's 55 points of OPS that he lost (and comparable players gained if they played for the other PCL teams that favor offense). If you look at his poor 2006, you will find that even in the hit-happy PCL, his OPS adjusted upward to account for the park, though not as much, but that might have been because of his reduce performance.

    Fifth, plus there's the fact that Dodd Stadium kills power hitter's numbers, reducing it to about half what it was on the road. That takes away from his stats while with Connecticut, and make his career numbers appear worse than it really should be.

    Put them all together, and our hitters are probably suffering 50-100 point hits on their OPS due to all the reasons above. Add 50-100 to his career OPS of .775 (which is already lowered because of his 2006 season, which appears to be an anomaly, as his BABIP was low too), you get a range of .825-.875, which is pretty good for the minors.

    Of course, that's no guarantee he WILL do well in the majors (Todd Linden rule) but given these factors, I think I can also say that it is not seriously out of the realm that his .814 OPS in the majors is in the ballpark as well.

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