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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lindbergh: Does a speedster on base help the guy at the plate?

In a very large sample, they haven’t hit better at all. In fact, they’ve hit worse, particularly in the power department (with a difference in slugging percentage of close to 25 points). What gives?

Think about the last time you watched a game in which Hamilton was on base in a stolen-base situation. If you’re like many spectators, you only had eyes for him. And if you thought his speed was distracting from afar, imagine how it must have felt on the field. We know it has an effect on the pitcher, the catcher, and the other infielders, who have to keep a close eye on his lead. But the batter, too, can have his concentration shaken by a habitual thief, and that explains why hitting stats suffer with an aggressive runner on base.

These findings jibe with those of Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andy Dolphin, the co-authors of The Book, who calculated that having a runner on first with less than two outs confers a major advantage upon the batter (on the order of 14 points of wOBA), most likely because the defense is playing in or at double-play depth. But they also discovered that the advantage dissipates with what the authors dubbed a “disruptive runner”—one with a high rate of steals per opportunity—on first.

Focusing on the slow, normal, and fast-non-disruptive runners, we find the advantage to the batter is 12 to 16 points. Since these classes of runners are all non-disruptive, it seems that the speed of the runner is not an influence here. The defense plays the same way, and the batter reacts the same way.

But, what about with a fast and disruptive runner? The advantage to the batter is two points. That’s right, just two.

So why is a batter better off with a slow runner or a fast runner who rarely steals on first than he is with someone who’s a constant threat to steal? Stolen bases are distracting. When a runner goes, the movement can catch a batter’s eye at the moment when he’s trying to focus on the pitcher’s release point. And worse, the hitter might feel that he has to take a pitch because the batter got a good jump, or swing at one to rescue the runner from being out by a mile.

“Hitting behind Dave Roberts in Double-A, I remember feeling frozen at times when he’d take off,” says FOX Sports analyst and former major leaguer Gabe Kapler. “A bigger distraction came with false breaks. Average batters inevitably are more likely to take when out of the corner of their eye they witness their teammate appear to be attempting a stolen base.”

A steal attempt imposes an extra cognitive load at a time when the batter’s brain needs no extra strain, and as a group, hitters pay a price in performance. As The Book concluded, “The stolen base reduces the wOBA of the batter by 22 points, compared to the situation if the runner elected not to steal.” If Hamilton is having any effect on his teammates’ offensive performance, it’s probably a harmful one, despite the extra fastballs and hittable pitches. His ability to distract people with his speed is a weapon, but that weapon is pointed at his teammates, too.

Thanks to VH.

Repoz Posted: May 13, 2014 at 09:04 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2014 at 10:39 AM (#4705757)
I'm pretty sure that this apparent finding -- that disruptive baserunners actually *hurt* the hitter at the plate -- is greatly exaggerated, if it exists at all. I'm guessing the author failed to look separately at PAs in which a SBA occurs and PAs in which there is no SBA. The problem with that approach is that many of the PAs that begin with a disruptive runner on 1B don't stay that way -- because the runner steals 2B (or is thrown out)! That removes the runner on 1B, which in turn hurts the batter because the 1Bman no longer has to hold a runner. But it has nothing to do with "distracting" the batter. So for an apples-apples comparison, you HAVE to compare PAs which end with a runner still on 1B, and then separately compare PAs which end after a SBA.

It also matters how you are valuing IBBs, since a lot of good hitters will be walked after a successful steal of 2B by a disruptive baserunner. I'm guessing IBBs are ignored (at least in The Book study), so no benefit is recorded for the hitter in those situations.

   2. zenbitz Posted: May 13, 2014 at 10:51 AM (#4705764)
I dunno about this study - but this is repeating work that was done back in the 90s or every earlier.
   3. Ron J2 Posted: May 13, 2014 at 11:36 AM (#4705805)
#2 The first study was done in the 80s (in one of the Great American Baseball Stat Books). Doug Drinen did a major study of the matter in 2000.

check out More on hitting and the running game (long) in rec.sport.baseball

There's also an incomplete study in one of the Stats Scoreboards that shows that power drops in PAs where there are multiple throws to first regardless of whether there was a stolen base attempt.

I say incomplete because of two fundamental flaws. It's easy to see that there might be an OBP increase that offsets the SLG drop. And there's no baseline. IE are the hitters in any given group of different quality? (Probably not -- Doug covered that in his study and found no apreciable difference)

Anyhow, from the Stats study:

Throws to 1B    BA   SLG
    0         .287  .429 
    1         .279  .423
    2
+        .274  .395 


Worth noting though, there is a type of hitter that appears to do better in PAs with a SB attempt. Basically hitters willing to take a walk with (at best) doubles power.

The guys who got killed were generally guys who didn't have good plate discipline. Funnily enough, the traditional #2 hitter (decent BA, not many walks) were generally poor in PAs where a SB was attempted.

And as somebody in the comments on Doug's study pointed out, one reason Whitey's Cardinals were able to make the running game work so well is that most of the guys who batted when a SB was attempted basically adopted a Max Bishop approach.

Terry Pendleton was the major exception and he was awful in PAs where a SB was attempted.
   4. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2014 at 11:48 AM (#4705813)
Ron: Just a friendly reminder that the Drinen study was fundamentally wrong in its construction, and its findings have no validity, as we have discussed before. For example here.
   5. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 13, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4705820)
Sigh. This kind of "analysis" frustrates me. It takes a correlation and not only imputes causality, but also assumes the psychological mechanism by which that imputed causality happens.
   6. Ron J2 Posted: May 13, 2014 at 11:59 AM (#4705822)
#4 You're overstating. As I said in that very same thread, at minimum it establishes the weaker claim -- that there's no evidence at all of a positive influence of a fast runner on first.
   7. Ron J2 Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:10 PM (#4705835)
#5 Even the "story" is an old one. Going back to Maury Wills' in 1962. Interestingly the person making the claim that his base stealing hurt the Dodgers was an umpire who noted all of the hittable pitches Junior Gilliam took to allow Wills to steal those bases.

Gilliam appears to have walked a ton in PAs where Wills attempted a SB and had next to no power in those PAs. But then that was pretty much Gilliam in general. IOW I'm not sold on the criticism.

   8. madvillain Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM (#4705840)
Sigh. This kind of "analysis" frustrates me. It takes a correlation and not only imputes causality, but also assumes the psychological mechanism by which that imputed causality happens.


This is just baseball there are only so many variables. I see nothing wrong with the analysis except perhaps to critique the methodology as in #1.
   9. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM (#4705841)
#6: you can't (or at least shouldn't) draw any conclusions from a study as flawed as that Drinen study. This is definitely a tough issue to study. It may well be that this type of runner has no impact either way on batter performance -- that is probably the most likely relationship. But we don't know that. And it's very unlikely that the cost to the hitter outweighs the gain on the basepaths.

   10. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:26 PM (#4705856)
When a runner goes, the movement can catch a batter’s eye at the moment when he’s trying to focus on the pitcher’s release point. And worse, the hitter might feel that he has to take a pitch because the batter got a good jump, or swing at one to rescue the runner from being out by a mile.

A steal attempt imposes an extra cognitive load at a time when the batter’s brain needs no extra strain,


#8 - how about the fact that the study is based on no data, except apparently for one anecdote from Gabe Kapler, that any of this actually happens, let alone uniformly for all batters? Sure, it sounds reasonable enough, but hasn't the entire point of sabermetrics been to show that conventional wisdom that sounds reasonable enough often doesn't hold up to scrutiny of the actual data? Moreover, it's impossible for an observer to know the cognitive processes of strangers well enough to make affirmative statements like this.
   11. madvillain Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM (#4705858)
Guym -- all I see in that thread is you banging the same drum you are here. Show a study, flawed or not that shows a neutral or positive effect for batters.

The cw has long been tha you don't run in front of mark McGwire or Joe abreu or any other slugger because the extra base isn't worth the distraction. These studies confirm that cw.
   12. madvillain Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:30 PM (#4705860)
No the point of sabermetricsnis to uncover truth in baseball. If it confirms cw great if not also great.
   13. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:41 PM (#4705872)
No the point of sabermetricsnis to uncover truth in baseball. If it confirms cw great if not also great.


Fair point. I should have written "one of the major conclusions of sabermetrics has been that the conventional wisdom etc."
   14. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:43 PM (#4705874)
Guym -- all I see in that thread is you banging the same drum you are here. Show a study, flawed or not that shows a neutral or positive effect for batters.

Why is the burden on me to show a neutral or positive effect? This article claims a negative impact, and that's what I'm responding to. The study has a large flaw, which I've identified. It is well established that hitters do better with a runner on 1B and 2nd base open (because it opens a large hole on right side of the infield). So when fast runners steal 2B or are thrown out stealing, of course that advantage will disappear. So if you don't first correct for this effect, you simply can't draw any conclusions about hitters being "distracted" by this kind of baserunner. I can't see how this could be controversial.

If someone does that study, and still finds hitters performing less well, then fine. Let measure that effect, and compare it to the benefits fast runners provide on base, and see how that all nets out. But I'm not aware of anyone doing that study yet.
   15. McCoy Posted: May 13, 2014 at 12:58 PM (#4705885)
Show a study, flawed or not that shows a neutral or positive effect for batters.

Go to Retrosheet.
   16. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2014 at 01:08 PM (#4705893)
The cw has long been tha you don't run in front of mark McGwire or Joe abreu or any other slugger because the extra base isn't worth the distraction.

No, the CW is that you don't run with a slugger at the plate because 1) the value of getting to 2B declines (you will score on an XBH either way), and 2) the cost of making an out on the bases rises. Let's at least get our CW right.

And BTW, this CW is true, and explains why SBA decline in periods where HR hitting rises (like the 1990s). Obviously, this had nothing to do with "distracting" batters.
   17. madvillain Posted: May 13, 2014 at 01:24 PM (#4705909)
No, the CW is that you don't run with a slugger at the plate because 1) the value of getting to 2B declines (you will score on an XBH either way), and 2) the cost of making an out on the bases rises. Let's at least get our CW right.


And 3) the distraction isn't worth it.

Go to Retrosheet.


How about you go there and give me an executive summary? Tango has studied this and come to a similar conclusion, that's good enough for me.
   18. Ron J2 Posted: May 13, 2014 at 01:26 PM (#4705911)
I assume you're talking Mark Pankin's study. Hadn't actually noticed this one before. Interesting, though I can't say I like the presentation. I'd have to poke at it more fully (I was involved in the back and forths on Doug's study and understand it pretty well).

I'm not sure I'd sign off on his conclusions which are:

. Best base stealers (40+ a year) help hitter more than lesser threats when on first (I'm not sure that this isn't a Vince Coleman/Cardinals effect. As noted, the Cardinals were unusually successful in SBA plate appearances. Mostly by being willing to take a walk. -- RNJ)
. Effects inconsistent among lesser threats
. Effects are much less with 2 outs
. BA, SA hurt when runner leaves first (effect of taking pitches?), but OBP higher

All that to say is that it looks like fast guys help in PAs where they don't attempt to steal and are a mixed bag when they do. (and any effects are weaker with 2 outs which is interesting.) Which I think makes intuitive sense. At minimum the defense doesn't have free reign.

EDIT: As Nimzowitsch said, "the threat is often stronger than the execution."
   19. Ron J2 Posted: May 13, 2014 at 01:34 PM (#4705914)
#17 When I mention Doug's study to Tango he looked at it for more recent years and found the effects that Doug observed were far weaker. Mind you, we see fewer "classic" #2 hitters these days and there are a lot more players willing to take a walk. And teams simply run less than they used to.

You see a lot less of what Dwayne Murphy used to complain about (getting a straight take signal so Rickey! could run). Less hit and run as well.
   20. Walt Davis Posted: May 13, 2014 at 04:24 PM (#4706055)
I'd go with the following hypotheses in my guess as to order of importance:

1. Batter taking more pitches than usual -- good when it's a ball, bad when it's a strike.

2. Runner held at first -- effect should really only be on BABIP on GB though. Higher effect for LHB presumably, maybe enough to take the #1 spot. So we should see no effect with runners on 1st and 2nd

3. Batter swinging to protect the runner -- man this was stupid, didn't seem to see much of it in recent years. More swinging strikes and foul balls, more bad counts. But as GuyM notes, after this you've usually either got a guy on 2B or not at all and the expected outcomes shift.

4. Fewer hit and runs. Hard to control for as they often result in crappy swings or busted plays resulting in a "steal attempt." Beautiful when they work but even as a kid this seemed a huge risk.

Basically I would guess that it's pretty much always a bad idea to "force" the batter to take a particular action, whether it's to take a pitch or to swing. That could be "cognitive load" -- perfectly reasonable -- or visual distraction but I'm guessing it's more a case of taking hittable strikes or swinging at crap pitches resulting in bad counts or weak contact.
   21. bjhanke Posted: May 13, 2014 at 04:56 PM (#4706076)
I would guess that a significant part of the drop in advantage with a superstealer is due to superstealers not having any hit and runs. Hit and runs are a major part of a slow runner's "stolen base attempts." If you don't believe me, check out the "stolen base" numbers in the early 1950s. However, they will not be a big factor in Billy Hamilton's career. If you think about it, calling the hit and run is a way of formalizing the "protect the runner by swinging at whatever pitch comes up there" mentality that is just as bad as Walt says it is. Walt is also right in his #2. If there turns out to be a drop in power with runners on 1B but not second, that's probably because the hole that opens up for the hitter is a ground ball / soft liner slot, not a power slot. They don't bring in the outfield fences to protect against stolen bases. - Brock Hanke
   22. valuearbitrageur Posted: May 13, 2014 at 05:05 PM (#4706084)
The problem with the studies that they assume that the distraction level is somewhere for every base stealer and that simply is not true.

Billy Hamilton? He's hypnotic, especially when he twitches that fine little butt of his back-and-forth. I could watch it all day. Jose Altuve? The batter has to stretch to even see him. I'm not convinced he is even Hispanic, as Jose got no back.

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