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
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.