— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Scoring Position Average
Dave looks at 2002’s best table-setters.
Ive developed an annual habit this time of year when complete statistics for the previous year become available. I create a spreadsheet that contains key data from the previous season, and I play with it to see what I can find. Most recently, while using Ray Kerbys Astros Statistical Software, I tried to look at offensive production in a different light.
Most of us understand that OPS is a tremendous tool to evaluate offense. But offensive production is a complicated process that often requires several different approaches to understand it fully. So I changed some of the parameters a little bit.
That is, instead of thinking primarily along the two dimensions of offense (getting on base and slugging); I thought it might be helpful to think of three fundamental run production elements:
I calculate that these three components account for 90% to 95% of all runs scored. Plus, thinking of these components yields additional insight into teams and individuals hitting strengths and weaknesses.
As an example, lets pick on two relatively equal teams from the NL East: the Mets and Phillies. The Phillies scored 710 runs in 2002, the Mets 690. When you correct for ballpark effects, they virtually come out even. But there were different factors accounting for their offensive production:
The following graph shows the number of at bats and batting average with runners in scoring position for every major league team.
This chart tells many stories. For instance, Anaheim only hit 152 home runs in 2002, but the offensive strength that carried it to World Series victory is clear on this chart. Tampa Bay, one of the weakest offensive teams in the American League, was one of the best at getting runners into scoring position, but their poor batting average in those situations undermined that advantage.
Obviously, there is a strong correlation between how well teams hit, how they hit in the clutch, and the number of runners they get into scoring position. But large variances from that correlation, such as the Mets and Phillies, have a strong impact on offensive performance.
These trends are also telling when applied to individual players. Why was Edgardo Alfonzos RBI total so low (56)? Well, he only had 103 at bats with runners in scoring position, though he batted well (.330) in those situations.
How about his apparent batting order replacement, Cliff Floyd? Floyd only had 79 RBIs last year, a low total for such an outstanding hitter. Floyd did have 150 at bats with runners in scoring position, but his batting average in those situations was .265, twenty points below his overall average. Most notably, he was 1 for 14 with the bases loaded.
Thanks to the Internet, individual player information regarding home runs and hitting with runners in scoring position is readily available. One other question intrigued me, however. How do we assess the ability of individual players to get into scoring position? Can this be a meaningful analysis?
To begin, here is a list of top ten baserunners ranked by how often they were in scoring position. The ranking is based on the number of total plate appearances in which that player was a runner on second or third:
This list includes some classic leadoff hitters, such as Castillo and Vina, as well as some other very good hitters such as Walker, Lee and Boone. Corey Patterson, at number ten, is a surprise. He had a very poor OBP last year, but his ability to hit doubles, steal bases and move around the bath paths contributed to his standing.
Heres the American League list:
Again, a mix of leadoff and very good hitters who dont hit a ton of home runs. Randy Winn also was the primary driver of Tampa Bays large number of at bats with runners in scoring position.
Obviously, this information is skewed by a number of factors, such as the total number of at bats each player had. To correct for this, I calculated the following list, in which each players total scoring position opportunities is divided by their total plate appearances (minimum of 400 plate appearances):
Dave Roberts had a great season, didnt he? Craig Counsell is certainly a surprise; this is probably due to his position in a strong lineup and a hitters park. Note that Corey Patterson stays on the list.
Adam Kennedy jumps to the top of the list and Winn stays at number two. Kenny Loftons entire season stats are listed here, even though he split time between leagues. Mark Ellis?
As noted in the Counsell listing, these rankings are a reflection of both the individual player and his team. Perversely, some players may be on this list because they reach scoring position once in a while and stay there, while their teammates are unable to bat them in for two or three plate appearances.
To refine the analysis a bit more, I analyzed individual players based on their ability to get into scoring position on their own. Ill call the number "Scoring Position Average," or SPA.
To compute SPA, I first calculated the number of times batters reached scoring position as the result of their at bats (in other words, doubles and triples). I then added each event in which they reached second or third base from first base without the assistance of a base hit or walk by a teammate. Examples of these events include stolen bases, balks, wild pitches and advances on outs.
I divided this sum by total plate appearances to calculate SPA. SPA, in other words, represents the percent of plate appearances in which a player advanced into scoring position under his own power.
The results (minimum of 400 plate appearances):
These two lists include a number of hitters we typically regard as very good hitters, such as Abreu and Guerrero. But they also include a number of hitters who are typically not highly thought of, such as Juan Pierre, Chris Singleton, Jerry Hairston and Corey Patterson. It is Pattersons persistence on each of these lists that makes me think we should perhaps reevaluate our perception of some of these low-OBP, speedy players.