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Wednesday, June 09, 2021

‘Sorry you had to see that’—How baserunning has become an embarrassing problem in Major League Baseball

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant is one of the game’s best baserunners. When asked about baserunning in the majors, he tried to suppress a laugh.

“It is not talked about enough,” he said. “It’s gotten a little lazy. Baserunning is only about effort. But we do have some highlight baserunning that picks up the slack for others who don’t take it seriously.”

Buck Showalter managed in the big leagues for 20 years. No one loves the game more than he does, and no one wants to see it played properly more than he does.

“Baserunning, oh my gosh, I wouldn’t know where to start,” he said. “I do a couple of Yankee games a month (as a broadcaster for YES Network). I see two or three baserunning mistakes [per game]. Baserunning is the ultimate team play. If you don’t run the bases well, you are selfish. We have lost the shame of the strikeout in the game. We are losing the shame of bad baserunning.”

It is not necessarily the fault of the players. The industry, infatuated with home runs being the primary way to score runs in today’s game, has de-emphasized baserunning. It hasn’t taught it very well. It doesn’t pay for great baserunning. It doesn’t penalize bad baserunning. The industry has decided that the risk of getting thrown out trying to advance 90 feet is far greater than the reward for hitting a three-run home run. That was one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver’s philosophies 50 years ago.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 09, 2021 at 11:49 PM | 75 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baserunning

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   1. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: June 10, 2021 at 06:53 AM (#6023533)
Baserunning's not that important when everybody walks, homers or strikes out.
   2. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: June 10, 2021 at 07:31 AM (#6023535)
That is a really poorly written article. It's just a bunch of scattershot thoughts and one-offs.

And Buck Showalter is a ####### #######. That guy can just go the #### away.
   3. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: June 10, 2021 at 08:14 AM (#6023537)
Yeah, this is a lot of words that amount to "old man yells at cloud." I don't think base running is meaningfully worse than it has been in the past. There are no 100 stolen base guys anymore but why take the risk?

The one valid complaint in the article is guys watching balls out of the batters box. Xander Bogaerts is my favorite Red Sox player but he drives me nuts with that. Hit the ball, start running. But Xander is actually a really good base runner once he gets on. Every team has multiple guys like that.

The industry has decided that the risk of getting thrown out trying to advance 90 feet is far greater than the reward for hitting a three-run home run. That was one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver’s philosophies 50 years ago.


Um...yeah? Is this controversial? Hell I lost a little league game I was coaching last night because of a three run homer.
   4. The Duke Posted: June 10, 2021 at 09:04 AM (#6023542)
My eye test says that base-running, not base-stealing is worse than ever but because the game is basically home runs and strike outs, it doesn’t matter as much.

I think base-stealing is about to make a big comeback. I see more and more catchers setting up in a way that makes it hard to throw and I don’t think that pitchers are paying as much attention anymore

The one I still don’t understand is the failure to tag at 2B and go to 3B on a long fly ball (especially to RF and CF). Why do major leaguers go halfway ? How often does an OF drop the ball? I’d be tagging up on every fly ball and at least try to draw an errant throw

   5. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 10, 2021 at 09:09 AM (#6023543)
Sure the Phillies finished 7th or 8th in an 8-team league in 24 of the 29 seasons from 1919 through 1947 and Washington was famously First in War, First in Peace, and Last in the American League, but by golly, they sure played the game the right way by moving runners over with productive outs, always hitting the cutoff man, and knowing how to run the bases.
   6. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: June 10, 2021 at 09:48 AM (#6023550)
Duke - I don't think baserunning is worse but just less emphasized. I do think your basestealing point is a really good one. I hadn't thought of it but I think you're right.

The one I still don’t understand is the failure to tag at 2B and go to 3B on a long fly ball (especially to RF and CF). Why do major leaguers go halfway ? How often does an OF drop the ball? I’d be tagging up on every fly ball and at least try to draw an errant throw


It's funny, MLB players do that but strangely it seems like tagging at first base is a lot more prevalent than it was when I was a kid. I don't remember people tagging up at first base ever but now they at least are tagging and drawing a throw from first to second but not from second to third.
   7. Rough Carrigan Posted: June 10, 2021 at 10:08 AM (#6023553)
I'll second Jose's observation. Why runners have become more aggressive in the one case but less so in the other escapes me.
   8. Matt Welch Posted: June 10, 2021 at 10:28 AM (#6023557)
Semi-related: A-Rod (of all people?) mentioned the other day that catchers are increasingly going to one knee to frame pitches, and as a result are increasingly poorer at preventing wild pitches/passed balls, and now I can't unsee it--Sal Perez had 3 WPs in the first inning of Monday's game. The innings per WP/PB the last three years have gone like this:

2019: 20.32
2020: 18.96
2021: 18.23

Could be noise, I suppose, and could also be more attibutable to spin/velocity. But it contributes ever so slightly to the uglification of the game, and should be exploitable by clever baserunners.
   9. Rally Posted: June 10, 2021 at 10:48 AM (#6023562)
#8, Buck Martinez talks about this seemingly every game. He sounds like a man personally offended, as an ex-catcher, to see catchers do that.
   10. jmurph Posted: June 10, 2021 at 10:55 AM (#6023565)
That's interesting on the catching point. I've just been assuming catchers were broadly worse at catching/defense because they're not exclusively being selected for catching/defense anymore?
   11. Rally Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:21 AM (#6023569)
Compared to when? Catchers have never been selected exclusively for defense, otherwise they'd hit like pitchers. Do you think in recent years teams have focused more on finding good hitting catchers at the expense of fielding?

Catcher OPS+
2021 92
2020 91
2015 89
2010 93
2005 89
2000 94

Doesn't seem like much has changed in the last 20 years, at least on the offense/defense question. There is more of a focus on specific aspects of defense, for example pitch framing being more important possibly at the expense of blocking and throwing. The catching on one knee thing supposedly gives umpires a better view and helps the catcher get some more strike calls.
   12. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:29 AM (#6023571)
Is the increase in WP/PB related to the increase in velocity and movement on pitches? I assume that it's harder to catch a 99 MPH pitch in the dirt than a 90 MPH one.
   13. JRVJ Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:34 AM (#6023573)
Not a very good article, though the underlying point is still a valid one.

For some reason, running ability has deteriorated. That, by definition, is a market inefficency, so one would think that a smart organization should (a) Try to measure base running prowess; (b) Put a premium on players who are actually good runners; and/or, (c) Try to teach good base running at the Major and Minor League Level.

Baseball has been on a three-outcomes path since the late 1990s, but it doesn't have to be that way, and if the game starts making changes to its rules (like the rules about pitching to first or increasing the size of bags), there's opportunities there for whomever goes after them.

Finally, I do wonder if there's not an organization out there that would be willing to countenance a cavernous outfield, and very fast, hit & run OFers, like the Astros, Cards or Royals of the 1980s (or up to a point, the Royals of 2014-2015). If everybody is zigging, somebody may be able to take advantage and zag like crazy.
   14. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:59 AM (#6023577)
The trouble is that even great baserunning is just not that valuable. I greatly doubt there will be a renaissance of base stealing before there is a significant decrease in the Three True Outcomes, because when every hitter is trying to hit a home run, the potential reward of an extra base (when a runner on second and a runner on first are exactly as valuable when a home run is hit) is absolutely dwarfed by the potential risk of losing the baserunner.

One important element of the risk/reward equation is the double play, with fewer than two outs. But in TTOball that matters far less:

1. There are fewer potential double play balls (the only way you can strike out into a double play is, you got it, if the runner tries to steal);

2. The batter is always trying to crush the ball or strike out trying. If he crushes it it's either right at someone for an out (irrelevant where the runner is, or slightly to the bad for a moving runner, who might be doubled off first if the batter crushes a line drive right at an outfielder), a home run, or a double (where if the runner on first is fast enough to steal, he will probably score from first anyway).

In the current environment you need to be successful damn near 90% of the time to gain runs from attempting to steal bases. Even at 80% you're not far enough from break even to make the whole exercise worthwhile. So why bother? Stealing bases is a skill that requires time and effort to develop. In the current environment, you can't possibly gain enough runs from it to justify developing the skill. You're better off having your guys continue to focus all of their time on hitting more home runs.

I don't think the people who run baseball teams have lost sight of baserunning at all. Every team has a spreadsheet with numbers for every pitcher/catcher combination in the league--this is the exact amount of time, down to the tenths of a second, it takes this catcher to get the ball to second base. Managers and players come into the game well prepared. If the numbers say the base can safely be stolen off this pitcher and this catcher, in this situation--they will steal the base.

So it's not that they aren't paying attention to base stealing. They just aren't emphasizing base stealing as a crucial part of stealing runs, the way baseball teams did from the early 60s through the early 90s, for the very good reason that in modern baseball, it isn't.

Running ability isn't a Market Inefficiency for the very simple reason that in the modern game--all Three True Outcomes, all the time--it has negligible value. It is in fact properly valued by the market, at a value of Not Zero, But Not Much.
   15. JRVJ Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:05 PM (#6023578)
It is in fact properly valued by the market, at a value of Not Much.


Is it, though?

I certainly would not go as far as saying that there's not a market inefficiency out there (or that there won't be one, if some of the changes that MLB is countenancing comes to pass).

Not all 30 teams will be able to take advantage from it, but surely there's room for one team to do so, like the As did in the late 1990s/very early 2000s.

I doubt that a team will be able to play jack-rabbit baseball like the Astros/Cards/Royals of the 1980s, but the 2014/2015 Royals are an example of a playing style that could be successful in 2021.
   16. Dingbat_Charlie Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:06 PM (#6023579)
The one valid complaint in the article is guys watching balls out of the batters box.

Arozarena last night: video

He corrected it in the 10th: link
   17. bobm Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:07 PM (#6023580)
[8] I would normalize SBO instead (SBO -- Stolen Base Opportunities: Plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open.)

Season  PB   WP   SBO SBO/(PB+WP)
  2021 135  745 24571       27.9 
  2020 141  675 24285       29.8 
  2019 348 1788 66562       31.2 
  2018 370 1847 66244       29.9 

   18. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:12 PM (#6023581)
I doubt that a team will be able to play jack-rabbit baseball like the Astros/Cards/Royals of the 1980s, but the 2014/2015 Royals are an example of a playing style that could be successful in 2021.


The baseball of 2014-2015 was very, very different from the baseball of 2021.
   19. Ron J Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:45 PM (#6023582)
#11 We went through a phase when catchers were primarily evaluated for there ability to manage the running game. Then over time that's received less and less emphasis. To the point that it;s plausible that (as happened near the end of the 50s) some catchers just can't throw well enough to contain an aggressive running game.

Catching is weird. So many demands.
   20. Ron J Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:48 PM (#6023583)
#13 Plausible. I've speculated that if you're trying to compete on limited resources, doing "standard" better than everybody else is tough.

I have little doubt that a type of team like the early 70s Orioles could work. Outstanding defense. Pitching staff that keeps the ball in the park and throws quality strikes.

It's just going to be tricky to build that team.
   21. Howie Menckel Posted: June 10, 2021 at 12:51 PM (#6023584)
my favorite baserunning blunder isn't new.

it's the one we all learned in Little League - if you get a base hit and the runner has a chance to score, try for second base. the outfielder probably won't make an accurate throw, and even if he does, at least you ensure that the run scored.

of course, it doesn't work in the majors, so batters continue to be thrown out by 10 feet or more at second - often to end the inning. but the blunderer always reacts as if he made a brilliant play, when in fact he's just a dumbass.
   22. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: June 10, 2021 at 01:14 PM (#6023588)
There is no such thing as a pitching staff that keeps the ball in the park in 2021. So much has changed.

Modern baseball is not Earl Weaver baseball, not by a mile. Weaver was forty years ahead of his time on the one point that optimal offense is built around the three run homer (and the related point that you should never give away outs). But he believed in world-class defense up the middle, so as to enable finesse pitchers with middling stuff to thrive and pitch tons of innings, enabling him to keep a short pitching staff and carry a couple extra hitters for platooning or pinch hitting.

There is no platooning in modern baseball, and very little pinch hitting. There is no such thing as a finesse pitcher, in the 20th century meaning of the term, in 2021--if you don't strike lots of batters out, you get buried in home runs, unavoidably. Put the very best fielders in the world at catcher, at shortstop, and in center field, and if your pitchers don't get a strikeout an inning you're going to lose, because those fielders can't field home runs.

The game has changed a lot just in the past five years. All of the Three True Outcomes will have to be dramatically reduced before it can change back into a game where the difference between the best and worst baserunning teams in the league is greater than ten home runs a year's worth of runs.
   23. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 10, 2021 at 02:15 PM (#6023603)

The baseball of 2014-2015 was very, very different from the baseball of 2021.


In what ways has the game changed that would disadvantage the 2014-15 Royals? (I'm not being snarky; I'm genuinely interested in your answer.)

The Royals led the AL in fewest batters' strikeouts in both those years. As Ks have continued to increase, that seems to me like it might be even more of a competitive advantage today.
   24. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:00 PM (#6023606)
Sorry, Tom, I'm about to head to work so can't grab the specific numbers for you right now, but--the league K and HR rates have both dramatically risen since 2015. Most of that is batters swinging for all or nothing, but some of it is the increase in short-stint relievers who throw 97 MPH heat with disgusting movement. Even that Royals team would strike out quite a lot more in 2021--without necessarily a parallel increase in home runs.

I do believe a team in 2021 could benefit from drafting, or acquiring when they're still young, blazing fast athletes who can't hit, and putting them through a program with the specific purpose of teaching them to play zero home run baseball: use a heavy bat, foul off pitches, slap the ball on the ground, bunt, and run like hell. That style might still work to produce players who could put up stat lines like .330/.370/.380 who add 15 or 20 runs through baserunning and play all the outfield positions. Or it might not; in 2021 they might still strike out too much, because the pitchers are so good.
   25. Matt Welch Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:04 PM (#6023607)
Thanks, bobm!
   26. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:10 PM (#6023609)
The trouble is that even great baserunning is just not that valuable

I think we have to distinguish baserunning from base stealing--the former s still important (well, in the sense that it's important not to be BAD at it)
   27. Rally Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:16 PM (#6023610)
I don’t think it’s possible to turn a no-power, not good hitter into a .330 hitter, no matter how fast, what kind of approach, or what kind of bat they use. Not against constant 95-100 mph pitching. You’d end up with an offense of Billy Hamiltons, and that’s not going to put runs on the scoreboard.

It takes rare and elite hitting skills to hit .300 these days.
   28. RJ in TO Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:19 PM (#6023611)
I do believe a team in 2021 could benefit from drafting, or acquiring when they're still young, blazing fast athletes who can't hit, and putting them through a program with the specific purpose of teaching them to play zero home run baseball: use a heavy bat, foul off pitches, slap the ball on the ground, bunt, and run like hell. That style might still work to produce players who could put up stat lines like .330/.370/.380 who add 15 or 20 runs through baserunning and play all the outfield positions. Or it might not; in 2021 they might still strike out too much, because the pitchers are so good.

There's perhaps one player a generation who can put up lines like .330/.370/.380 even semi-regularly - we're taking guys like Ashburn, Raines (who had more power than this), and Ichiro. What you're a lot more like to get from this is Vince Coleman if you're really lucky, Otis Nixon or Juan Pierre if you're somewhat lucky, Billy Hamilton if you're less lucky, and a ton of guys who never get out of the minors if things go as expected. I know defense isn't as important around the infield as it once was with all the strikeouts, but major leaguers can still regularly throw out guys on ground balls, even if those guys are really fast.
   29. Matt Welch Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:33 PM (#6023612)
6 out of the past 20 WS champs -- and 4 of the past 6! -- have been in their league's Top 4 in Batting Average, Stolen Bases, and Fewest Strikeouts. Only 5 of the 20 (and 2 of the past 12) have been in the top half of their league in Strikeouts. I'm sure there are better measures of "contact teams," but here's a snapshot:

YEAR TEA BA SB FK
2020 LAD 8 6 3
2019 WAS 1 1 2
2018 BOS 1 3 4
2017 HOU 1 4 1
2016 CHC 6 11 11
2015 KCR 2 2 1
2014 SFG 4 15 5
2013 BOS 2 3 12
2012 SFG 3 4 2
2011 STL 1 16 1
2010 SFG 7 15 5
2009 NYY 2 7 2
2008 PHI 10 3 9
2007 BOS 5 7 6
2006 STL 4 14 2
2005 CHW 11 3 9
2004 BOS 1 11 14
2003 FLA 5 1 3
2002 ANA 1 3 1
2001 ARI 4 11 3

(As a side note, I still can't believe the Giants won those 3 World Series.)
   30. Matt Welch Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:34 PM (#6023613)
(sorry, my formatting skillz are rusty)
   31. JRVJ Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:39 PM (#6023616)
24, 6 to 7 years have elapsed since 2014-2015, so they're older, slower men, but I went and looked at the K rates of Salvador Pérez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain.

Salvador Pérez had K rates of 14.0% in 2014 and 14.8% in 2015, and has a 25.3% K rate in 2021. His BA for both 2014 & 2015 was .260 and it's now .278. He is walking at pretty much the same rate (OBPs of .289/.280/.306).

Eric Hosmer had K rates of 17.0% in 2014 and 16.2% in 2015, and has a 15.7% K rate in 2021. His BA for 2014 was .270, for 2015 it was .297 and it's now .262. He walked more in 2015 than 2014 or 2021 (OBPs of .318/.363/.319)

Mike Moustakas had KR rates of 14.8% in 2014 and 12.4% in 2015, and has a 17.3% K rate in 2021. His BA for 2014 was .212, for 2015 it was .284 and it's now .241. He is walking a little bit more now than in 2014 or 2015 (OBPs of .271/.348/.337).

Lorenzo Cain had KR rates of 21.5% in 2014 and 16.2% in 2015, and has a 20.3% K rate in 2021. His BA for 2014 was .301, for 2015 it was .307 and it's now .223. He is walking a lot more now than in 2014 or 2015 (OBPs of .339/.361/.322).

So looking at 4 2014/2015 Royals that are still active, and allowing for age, I don't know that I buy your argument that a 2014/2015 Royals team couldn't hack it in today's world.
   32. RJ in TO Posted: June 10, 2021 at 03:42 PM (#6023617)
I guess Rod Carew would qualify as one of those 0.330/0.370/0.380, except he (and Tony Gwynn, who is also a potential qualifier) didn't have blazing speed. But, more importantly, all the guys who could hit like this were up by no later than 22, because guys who can hit like that don't spend much time in the minors. All of them, other than Gwynn were up by their age 21 season, and the only reason Gwynn was delayed to 22 was because his age 21 season was his first in the minors. Basically, if you can hit like this regularly, you're going to be a Hall of Famer.

If a guy, when drafted, doesn't already have the skills to hit at that level, you're not going to be able to teach him to hit at that level. The Royals tried a sort of similar thing of recruiting local raw athletes and attempting to teach them to play baseball, and the best hitter they got out of it was Frank White. Now, Frank White was a damn nice player to get out of that sort of thing, but most of his value was in his great defense - even for second basemen, he wasn't exactly much with the bat.
   33. Zach Posted: June 10, 2021 at 04:03 PM (#6023619)
There was a brief dip in HRs around 2015 that coincided with the Royals' competitive window, IIRC. Also, the Royals were extremely good at contact, defense, and relief pitching in addition to baserunning.
   34. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 10, 2021 at 04:14 PM (#6023621)
The 2014-2015 Royals were a low-K team, but their offense was only average-to-below when adjusted for park factors. Their real strength was in defense and pitching. Their offense was good enough not to get in the way.
   35. JRVJ Posted: June 10, 2021 at 04:16 PM (#6023622)
33, right.

And they did get to / win the WS in those two years, so they were, by definition, the cream of the crop.

34, worked well enough for them.
   36. John DiFool2 Posted: June 10, 2021 at 04:19 PM (#6023626)
There is no such thing as a pitching staff that keeps the ball in the park in 2021. So much has changed.


Depends on precisely what you mean by that statement, and exactly where your line to denote those teams that CAN limit HRs is.

The Mets are at 0.7 HR/9, but have a massive H/R split of 7/31. But the Cards are at 0.8, and have allowed more at home (27/22). [Yes, I am aware that HR/PA would be better, but it would take me 20 minutes to collate every team from a single season, so HR/9 is good enuf for said discussion]

Taking an old season at random (2001), the spread from low to hi [Giants, 0.9; Col, 1.5; 1.4 if you discount Denver there] is less than it is this season, tho of course I expect some normalization by the time the season ends. Seems like most every season the best team allows homers at close to half the rate that the worst team does, and this season is no exception. Adjust for the parks, and I doubt that ratio would shrink significantly.
   37. Ned Garvin: Male Prostitute Posted: June 10, 2021 at 04:46 PM (#6023629)
I guess Rod Carew would qualify as one of those 0.330/0.370/0.380, except he (and Tony Gwynn, who is also a potential qualifier) didn't have blazing speed.


Rod Carew, that stole 49 bases at age 30, stole 353 bases in his career, and famously stole home a bunch of times?

Tony Gwynn, that once stole 56 bases, had 319 for his career, won 5 Gold Gloves in the outfield, and even stole 17 bases at age 35?

OK, Gwynn's speed aged poorly when he got old and large, but everyone gets slow when they get old. These aren't the guys to use as examples of high average hitters without speed. They were definitely burners when they were young.

But the bigger point is definitely correct, if you can hit like Carew or Gwynn, you are a HOFer. But now they would teach you to swing harder and turn you into Anthony Rendon or Mookie Betts. Still awesome, but differently shaped.
   38. John DiFool2 Posted: June 10, 2021 at 05:17 PM (#6023631)
The issue is that everybody is converging on the same shape.
   39. RJ in TO Posted: June 10, 2021 at 06:31 PM (#6023641)
Rod Carew, that stole 49 bases at age 30, stole 353 bases in his career, and famously stole home a bunch of times?

Tony Gwynn, that once stole 56 bases, had 319 for his career, won 5 Gold Gloves in the outfield, and even stole 17 bases at age 35?
Carew was actually at 353/187 SB/CS for his career, and even in that 49 steal year he got caught 22 times. He might have been fast, but he really wasn't a good base stealer. I admit I'm not right about young Tony Gwynn, who could really move.

OK, Gwynn's speed aged poorly when he got old and large, but everyone gets slow when they get old. These aren't the guys to use as examples of high average hitters without speed. They were definitely burners when they were young.
The only high average singles hitter I can think of in recent generations who didn't have at least some speed was Wade Boggs, and he's not really someone who fits with a 0.330/0.370/0.380 line. That profile really doesn't exist anymore, with the closest guys in the last 40 years being perhaps late-career Joe Mauer, or perhaps someone like Mark Grace or Rusty Greer, but even those guys were spraying a ton of doubles. Maybe Hal Morris as well.

But the bigger point is definitely correct, if you can hit like Carew or Gwynn, you are a HOFer. But now they would teach you to swing harder and turn you into Anthony Rendon or Mookie Betts. Still awesome, but differently shaped.
This is also true.
   40. Walt Davis Posted: June 10, 2021 at 06:58 PM (#6023644)
Alas, #14 is right. And it's pretty much always been that way. You have great baserunners of course -- Ichiro, Rickey, even Mookie Betts -- who will add 8-10 runs a year through baserunning. But otherwise, even a half-win is pretty rare. They cite Bryant as a good baserunner (agreed) and he's +9 R baser ... for his career. Add +4 in DP avoidance. 13 runs in 5+ full seasons. Baez is +10/16 in 4.5 seasons of play. Given two equal players, obviously you take the better runner. But they have to be really equal and there's no way we can project players to within +/- 4 runs/year of each other.

To put it another way, if there was a team out there that would take advantage of a cheap way to add 1-2 runs per player, it's the Rays. So far this year they are -1 on br and +2 on DP. Last year they were +6 overall (really good for 60 games) but the year before +5; the year before that -3.

All that said -- you're not gonna turn out worse by teaching your guys to make smart choices. And if you're Billy Hamilton -- try to make contact and hit the ball on the f'ing ground!

As to 333/370/380 ... as noted, nobody hits that. Even the guys who could hit 330 in the good old days could manage a SLG over 400. Anyway, a guy who hits like Ichiro can hang on in today's game but not necessarily by much. Ichiro got a lot of hits but pretty much his entire WAA (the bit above-average) was baserunning and defense. His career OPS+ was just an OBP-heavy 107, nothing special for a RF. His career high was just 130. Even in his first 10 MLB years, it was just 117 on a line of 330/375/430. But that's maybe 3 guys every 10 years and you still need them to add running and defense to get extra value.

Finally, walk rates don't really vary much from year to year. TTO-ball is all about 2TO. Obviously nobody wants walks to skyrocket but changing from TTO ball "only" requires reducing Ks and HRs simultaneously. Easy-peasy.
   41. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 10, 2021 at 07:09 PM (#6023645)
Buckner almost sort of fits the bill.
   42. Walt Davis Posted: June 10, 2021 at 07:25 PM (#6023648)
Using Rbaser at b-r:

No player had 8+ in 2018-19 (and obviously not 2020 or yet 2021)
2013-17: 10 seasons
2008-12: 10 seasons (5 in 2008)
2003-07: 6
1998-02: 10
1993-97: 14 (including Rickey's last)
1988-92: 8
1982-87: 22 (an extra year to compensate for 84 although Rickey and Willie Wilson made it in 84 anyway)

So obviously a huge change from 82-87 but since then pretty constant. Let's see if the 2018-19 trend continues before we panic too much. Regardless, on average we expect 2 guys a year to hit that mark and even in the mid-80s, it was 4. As a broad team strategy, it doesn't seem viable. Again it can't hurt and, like shifting or stealing strikes, even if it adds only 1 win a year, maybe all the little stuff puts you in the playoffs this year.

The 1984-87 Cards averaged a bit over 20, ranging 18-25 in Rbaser. In 84, that was mostly Lonnie Smith and Willie McGee. In 85 it was almost entirely McGee and Coleman. In 86-87, it was largely just Coleman. Coleman stole 326 bases in his first 3 years to do it, compiling a whopping 40 Rbaser in 3 years. Thanks to all that, he totaled 6.5 WAR, slightly below average. (He was an atrocious hitter in 1986.) Even if he'd managed to be a league-average hitter, he'd have been about a 3.5 WAR player, very good but hardly team-changing.

EDIT: Of course Ozzie and some other guys were solid, above-average runners and 1-2 guys were kinda clunky, it wasn't literally all Coleman but you get the point.
   43. KronicFatigue Posted: June 10, 2021 at 07:26 PM (#6023649)
I just wish they showed base running on TV. A pulled back view showing the rounding of a base in relation to the outfielder fielding and throwing the ball is the purest image in baseball. Instead, we zoom in on the runner’s nostrils.
   44. Walt Davis Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:11 PM (#6023720)
Luis Castillo (290/370/350) is the (mostly) 21st century guy we're looking for. That was a 92 OPS+ but OBP heavy it basically came to average hitting over 12 full seasons. He added about 60 runs with speed, was an average defensive 2B, adding up to 29 WAR, 7 WAA or about 2.5 WAR/650. At the height of sillyball, that's impressive.

Nick Madrigal is giving it a try at about 315/360/405 which is a 114 OPS+ in today's snoozefest but his running and defense look pretty average so far. Still apparently we are back to a 300/350/400 line being actually good.
   45. Moeball Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:43 PM (#6023724)
Walt - it's funny you mentioned Baez in a thread that's supposed to be about embarrassing baserunning, when he is the star of the video that's been shown a million times exposing a defense that needs to go back to spring training and learn how to deal with baserunners. That the Pirates(?) turned a potential double play into a play where all runners were safe is an embarrassment.
   46. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:43 PM (#6023725)
[Castillo] added about 60 runs with speed...

Where are you seeing 60 runs, Walt? (asking out of ignorance)
   47. RJ in TO Posted: June 10, 2021 at 11:56 PM (#6023726)
Where are you seeing 60 runs, Walt? (asking out of ignorance)
Using the B-R WAR, he's at +33 runs on the basepaths and +24 runs in DP avoidance, or +57 runs overall. That assumed though that DP avoidance is a function only of speed.
   48. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: June 11, 2021 at 12:20 AM (#6023730)
That assumed though that DP avoidance is a function only of speed.

B-R's DP avoidance measurement specifically will be, at least, very largely based on speed; it is calculated out of (ground balls hit in DP-possible situations) rather than (total PA in DP-possible situations). The description given in the WAR explainer makes me genuinely curious to see how the back-end math works, it's the kind of thing that would be fairly finnicky to get right. (It also says they assume an average number of GDP in non-K outs, and then use this DP adjustment to compensate for actual GDP - but if, for instance, your batting average just goes up in GDP situations, that's not credited as DP avoidance even though it is avoiding DPs.)
   49. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: June 11, 2021 at 12:21 AM (#6023731)
That the Pirates(?) turned a potential double play into a play where all runners were safe is an embarrassment.

To be fair(?), it wasn't a potential double play because there were 2 outs when the play began. (That doesn't really make the Pirates look any better, but hey.)
   50. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: June 11, 2021 at 12:34 AM (#6023732)
Thanks, RJ. By the same measure, Jeter was +63. I only reference him because he was a guy I remember regularly being referred to as a smart baserunner. Obviously he was quick, but not one of the real burners—he averaged 20 SB per year—so that total of his over 18 full seasons would also indicate to me good base running doesn't yield that much.
   51. Walt Davis Posted: June 11, 2021 at 12:57 AM (#6023737)
Yes, sorry I wasn't clear, I was using br + dp there. For high-contact, GB hitters, DP avoidance does seem to mostly be about speed (and whether they hit RH or LH ... Fly balls and Ks of course the other main ways of avoiding DPs but that wasn't Castillo's game.)

I don't know how to "prove" that but it was reasonably clear whenever I looked at it in the deep, dark past -- I'm sure you can find it somewhere in the billion bytes of my posts on this site. :-) I'm not gonna bother to calculate actual DP opportunities but so far this year RHB GDP about once every 46 PA; LHB about once every 68.6 PA. I take that as the effect that RHB have further to run although possibly that most C hit RHB plays some part in that. So similarly, faster players just get to first faster.

I don't know how reliable RDP is but these are the expansion era career leaders at b-r:

Ichiro, Damon, Bowa, Carl Crawford, Steve Finley, Brett Butler, Willie Davis, Guzman, Rivers, Pierre, Winn, Heyward, Willie Wilson, Griffey Sr, Morgan, Gardner, Brock, Castillo, Utley, Ozzie, Lofton, Reyes, Erstad, Jose Cruz Sr (virtually king of the "little things"), Biggio gets you throught the top 25. Bowa might be the slowest guy in that bunch. Biggio is the only RHB I think (plenty os switch-hitters). Gamble and Billy Williams are probably the slowest guys in the top 50. LHB and speed = positive Rdp. There are guys you'd think might be better (Gwynn just +6) or worse (Willie Upshaw +11) but the guys who beat out DPs are who you'd think.

I assume the same goes for infield singles. The "to infield" split only goes back to the late 80s I think and some of those years are probably pretty odd but the top BAs (at least 1500 overall PA) ... Butler, Nixon, Willy Taveras, Alex Cole, Mitch Webster(?), Polonia, DeShields Jr, Coleman, Shane Mack (really?), Hudler (??), McGee, Listach, Cuyler, Alex Sanchez, Oddibe. If you do it by career hits: Ichiro, Biggio, Lofton, Pierre, Castillo, Jeter, Omar, Butler, Nixon, Alomar, Damon, Grissom, Finley, Molitor(!), Lance Johnson -- maybe not quite the blazing speed of the DP avoiding group but pretty fast and mostly LHB.

On Javy ... I did bring him up as a good baserunner, not a poor one. But he is high variance -- some brilliance, some bonehead but he is fast enough to get away with some of the bonehead. Also Bryant when he first came up seemed to forget he wasn't playing in the minors/college and would make some terrible decisions -- yet never pay the price which showed how much the baseball gods love Kris Bryant (as we all do). He figured it out pretty quick.
   52. Walt Davis Posted: June 11, 2021 at 01:04 AM (#6023739)
#48 -- I didn't realize that, I assumed it "rewarded" Ks and FBs as well. For his career, Adam Dunn is +2 and while, in his youth, he "moved well for a big guy" ... I guess he just hit so few GB with men on base, his Rdp can't be much one way or the other. Gallo & Rizzo are both +3. FWIW, Frank Thomas a predictable -27, Yadi -25, Albert -42, Miggy -41, Rice -275 ... err -42. Sean Casey at just -7 is a bit surprising.
   53. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 11, 2021 at 01:14 AM (#6023740)

Carlos Beltran was +57 Rbaser over the first 11 seasons of his career (and +14 in Rdp). He never led the league in SB but had an 88% success rate in 312 attempts.

For the remainder of his career he was -2 in Rbaser and -4 in Rdp.
   54. Cooper Nielson Posted: June 11, 2021 at 01:37 AM (#6023742)
Luis Castillo (290/370/350) is the (mostly) 21st century guy we're looking for.

Peak Juan Pierre (as mentioned above by RJ) was pretty close to this mythical .330/.370/.380 line -- he had a career line of .295/.343/.361 (only 84 OPS+ as he played in a high-offense era) but in his two best years (2001 and 2004) he hit about .326/.376/.410. He was +57 for baserunning and +28 for DP avoidance in his career, but WAR doesn't like his defense much.

Willie Wilson at his best could hit around .330 but he never walked enough to reach a .370 OBP, and even though he had very little over-the-fence power, he had so much speed (doubles, triples, ITP home runs) that his slugging percentages would be north of .420 in his high-average years. +121 in baserunning, with five seasons of +10 or better.

Brett Butler had a career .377 OBP and almost identical .376 SLG (110 OPS+, quite good) but never hit higher than .314. He stole a lot of bases but is only +37 in Rbaser; best single season was +5.
   55. Hank Gillette Posted: June 11, 2021 at 01:42 AM (#6023743)
In the current environment you need to be successful damn near 90% of the time to gain runs from attempting to steal bases. Even at 80% you're not far enough from break even to make the whole exercise worthwhile. So why bother?


Agreed, but to my eye there are a lot of times where if the batter was running full out they could take second on a nominal single or third on a nominal double with very little risk. All it takes is for the fielder to bobble the ball if the batter is a fast runner, but if the batter has already decided to settle for the single or stand-up double, they can’t take advantage of it.
   56. Hank Gillette Posted: June 11, 2021 at 02:05 AM (#6023744)
Anyway, a guy who hits like Ichiro can hang on in today's game but not necessarily by much. Ichiro got a lot of hits but pretty much his entire WAA (the bit above-average) was baserunning and defense. His career OPS+ was just an OBP-heavy 107, nothing special for a RF. His career high was just 130. Even in his first 10 MLB years, it was just 117 on a line of 330/375/430.


Ignoring Ichiro’s years after his first ten, where he was essentially a replacement player, you are looking at the latter 60% of his productive career. If you extrapolate for the 5-6 years he missed by playing in Japan, you have maybe 3100 hits with 75+ WAR. That Ichiro could have retired after his age 36 season as a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

My estimate is pretty rough, but it’s like ignoring that Jackie Robinson was 28 when he played his first ML game.
   57. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: June 11, 2021 at 02:27 AM (#6023745)
There's perhaps one player a generation who can put up lines like .330/.370/.380 even semi-regularly - we're taking guys like Ashburn, Raines (who had more power than this), and Ichiro.


Gwynn was close on the first two slash numbers with his career .338/.388/.459. To get the slugging down to .380 would be like cutting his career 36 doubles per 162 games down to 12 per 162.

   58. Rally Posted: June 11, 2021 at 09:08 AM (#6023752)
Willie Wilson is the type of player you’re looking for. I think he could succeed with his early career slap hitting style. In that he would be valuable enough on defense and speed to stay in the lineup despite his weak bat.

Willie wasn’t a .330 hitter, that’s just what he hit in his best year. Call him a .312 hitter, that’s what he was through 1982. In today’s game that would come down a bit. Willie struck out 80-90 times a year when the average pitcher struck out 4 or 5 per 9 innings, so I have to think he’d be whiffing 120-150 times against the modern fireballers. That would cut the average down some. Maybe an empty .280 average.

   59. JRVJ Posted: June 11, 2021 at 10:22 AM (#6023756)
58, think of a Willie Wilson-type playing in a league where pitchers have to step off the mound to throw to 1B.

The guy would create crazy havoc on the basepaths (and that's just one of a couple of possible changes which MLB is toying with which would make a player like that more atractive).

FTR, a player like that has value over a .280 average, due to his ability to steal bases, his ability to take extra bases and the general pressure he puts on the opposing team's defense (e.g., a player like Wilson, who is a threat to steal at any time, creates complications for an infield's defensive alignment).

   60. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: June 11, 2021 at 11:02 AM (#6023761)
one knee setups - jj cooper of baseball america has spent a decent amount of time on this and has concluded that the delta in pb and wb is relatively small accompanied by potential improvement in catcher's ability to frame using it (this varies on a player by player basis). outcomes also reflect some level of self-selection (players adopting 1 knee setups have different tools than 2 knee guys, on average). anyway, it seems like a good idea to me. (fwiw - extremely little - i toyed with a one knee setup when i caught in little league back in the mid 80s ... so it's not like it's a totally brand new thing)
--
my guess is that changes to rules and enforcement, tied to what mlb is experimenting with in the minors, will ultimately dictate change here. roboumps would (will) undoubtedly impact catcher setups. change to rules on pickoff throws or base sizes or whatever in that arena will make a big difference. other ways we change the ball or zone or whatever will alter what strategies maximize offense/defense and teams will follow suit...
   61. Baldrick Posted: June 11, 2021 at 01:20 PM (#6023782)
Whatever the strategic pluses and minuses, it's absolutely infuriating that players are intentionally and systematically making themselves worse at the actual game in order to seek an advantage in fooling the officials.
   62. Dr. Pooks Posted: June 11, 2021 at 02:13 PM (#6023792)

I do believe a team in 2021 could benefit from drafting, or acquiring when they're still young, blazing fast athletes who can't hit, and putting them through a program with the specific purpose of teaching them to play zero home run baseball: use a heavy bat, foul off pitches, slap the ball on the ground, bunt, and run like hell. That style might still work to produce players who could put up stat lines like .330/.370/.380 who add 15 or 20 runs through baserunning and play all the outfield positions. Or it might not; in 2021 they might still strike out too much, because the pitchers are so good.


The Blue Jays have drafted a lot of speedy, toolsy athletes in the last 15 years or so trying to see if they can teach the hit tool and have had virtually no success.

Eric Eiland - HS - age 18 - 2nd round 2007
Minors career - 290G, 1121 PAs, .221/319/290, 72 SB

Kenny Wilson - HS - age 18 - 2nd round 2008
Minors career - 999G, 4177 PAs, .242/331/333, 31 HR, 319 SB

Anthony Alford - HS - age 17 - 3rd round 2012
Minors career - 518G, 2189 PAs, .264/360/395, 38 HR, 118 SB

Reggie Pruitt - HS - age 18 - 24th round 2015
Minors career - 374G, 1529 PAs, .234/313/315, 8 HR, 145 SB

Other candidates for the list would be both Dalton Pompey and Jake Marisnick both drafted as HS. But I believe both were drafted with better hitting pedigree to start with who were athletic, vs athletes who you hoped would one day learn to hit.

I think it's fair to answer the "can you teach athletes who can't hit to hit"? with a "NO", at least from the Jays perspective.
   63. RJ in TO Posted: June 11, 2021 at 02:21 PM (#6023794)
They also traded for the highly toolsy Anthony Gose when he was 19 and still in High A, and also failed to teach him to hit, except his teammate in the eye with a baseball during warmups.
   64. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 11, 2021 at 02:24 PM (#6023795)
Whatever the strategic pluses and minuses, it's absolutely infuriating that players are intentionally and systematically making themselves worse at the actual game in order to seek an advantage in fooling the officials.

Big Data giveth; Big Data taketh away.
   65. Rally Posted: June 11, 2021 at 02:45 PM (#6023798)
#62,

You can add current backup outfielder Jonathan Davis to the list. Speedy, good glove, not much bat. And they had D.J. Davis a few years ago. Drafted first round out of high school, a few picks ahead of Marcus Stroman. Davis made it to A ball, hasn’t played since 2018. Hit 242/315/348 in the minors, stole 134 bases in 7 years.
   66. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: June 11, 2021 at 04:12 PM (#6023815)
It may not even taketh away, in this case.
Also - even if it did make catchers slightly worse at those things (apparently debatable) - it's not like pitch framing hasn't always been part of baseball (like learning how to draw fouls is part of basketball and so on).

Now, if the issue is aesthetics - you don't like how a 1 knee setup looks? - that would be both reasonable and something I don't care about.
   67. Baldrick Posted: June 11, 2021 at 04:17 PM (#6023817)
Also - even if it did make catchers slightly worse at those things (apparently debatable) - it's not like pitch framing isn't part of baseball (like learning how to draw fouls is part of basketball and so on.

My point is that it shouldn't be part of baseball if we have the ability to eliminate it. Especially since the tools that give us the ability to eliminate it are identical to the ones that are encouraging players to change their games to improve their ability to fool the officials.
   68. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: June 11, 2021 at 04:20 PM (#6023818)
oh, i'm pro roboump. mind you, that will cause other changes we might not like. (i bet we get brawnier power guys to catch then - flexibility and reflexes should matter less --- which would likely increase wp/pb rates.
likely see changes in what kinds of breaking pitch predominate as well, depending on where the zone is set.)
   69. Rally Posted: June 11, 2021 at 04:25 PM (#6023819)
I can understand not wanting pitch framing to be a thing and using technology to eliminate it.

But I don't see catching on one knee as equivalent to James Harden style free throw drawing. The whole point of it is to get lower and give the umpire a better view. The catchers aren't trying to steal strikes that should be balls by fooling or obscuring the umpire. In this case they are trying to give the umpire the best chance to see that a pitch is in the strike zone. They are trying to get the call that they should be getting anyway.
   70. sunday silence (again) Posted: June 11, 2021 at 05:23 PM (#6023824)
ok but there's already too many Ks. So you want them to get more Ks?
   71. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: June 11, 2021 at 06:01 PM (#6023828)
fair, rally. i see it as on a continuum, but that is fundamentally different. i'm okay with both.
--
i want players maximizing their chances to win in safe ways. if we want less k's, make rule or equipment changes to produce that result.
   72. Rally Posted: June 11, 2021 at 06:23 PM (#6023830)
We can cut strikeouts down if we commit to it. Don’t lower the mound, eliminate it. Throw from flat ground. Bigger bats, bigger baseballs, until we get it right. If they end up swinging a boat oar against a volleyball, the strikeouts will have to go down. We don’t have to go that far.
   73. Walt Davis Posted: June 11, 2021 at 06:35 PM (#6023831)
Ignoring Ichiro’s years after his first ten, where he was essentially a replacement player, you are looking at the latter 60% of his productive career. If you extrapolate for the 5-6 years he missed by playing in Japan, you have maybe 3100 hits with 75+ WAR. That Ichiro could have retired after his age 36 season as a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

1. The post had nothing to do with Ichiro's HoF qualifications. It was about the quality of his HITTING and only his HITTING.

2. There's absolutely no reason to think that Ichiro would have hit better from 21-26 than he did from 27-36. Again, his average OPS+ OVER THAT PERIOD was 117; his high was 130. Those are nothing special for a RF; they're not particularly amazing for a CF even. For a recent example, from ages 25-35 Jim Edmonds put up a 141 OPS+ with a high of 171. Given how speed usually ages, it's possible Ichiro would have provided more speed value from 21-26.

3. As to Ichiro's WAR -- his impressive WAR comes from his incredible baserunning/dp/defensive value. From 27-36 he had 55 WAR -- again, that's not particularly unusual among serious HoF candidates but it's obviously damn good -- and 31 WAA. About 19 of those 31 WAA are due to br/dp/def. As a HITTER, Ichiro was about a 3-WAR player in his MLB prime.

4. But yes, I completely ignore Ichiro's NPB stats in assessing his MLB HoF worthiness. If the HoF wants to put together a special committee to elect NPB players, that's fine with me.

5. On a historical note and not necessarily directed at the original poster but folks seem to think that the BBWAA gave NeL credit to black players in the 50s and 60s. That's a hard position to support though. Robinson was a stud in the years he played, Campanella won 3 MVPs -- it's possible they got "extra" credit for NeL play but it's difficult to demonstrate that. Doby was of course not elected by the BBWAA so the most that could be claimed is that he got more votes than expected. Minoso is still not in. Luke Easter isn't in (never voted on by BBWAA because not 10 years). Monte Irvin is in but was never BBWAA eligible. Newcombe, who also missed two years for military service, is not in and did not receive above 5% of the vote until near the end of his time on the ballot.

Of course that was likely always going to be the case. To be BBWAA eligible, you needed 10 years of MLB. If a player was young enough to fit in 10 years of MLB, they probably didn't play many years of NeL (Doby reached the majors at 23 for example) plus a good chance that any player old enough was in the military (and those that weren't were playing in a depleted NeL) so there would have been little credit to give. The old guys like Easter (age 33) and Irvin (30) were too old to fit in 10 years in MLB.

That could have happened to Ichiro too of course. It did happen to Hideki Matsui who barely squeezed in 10 years of MLB. From 29-36, Matsui hit for a 123 OPS+, even had a nearly equal OBP to Ichiro's. He also hit for a slightly better OPS than Ichiro in his younger NPB days, again with nearly equal OBPs. I'll let real NPB experts and nerdy stat translators debate but the superficial evidence we have is that Hideki Matsui was a better HITTER than Ichiro. Matsui got 1% of the vote.

And of course that's fine because Ichiro's value was heavily reliant on baserunning and defense, not HITTING. That the BBWAA is going to easily elect him mainly because of fame and singles doesn't matter a whole lot. (The likely 90-95 percentage point difference in vote between Ichiro and, for example, Lofton will be difficult to explain rationally but that doesn't take away from Ichiro.)
   74. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: June 12, 2021 at 09:13 AM (#6023881)
I completely ignore Ichiro's NPB stats in assessing his MLB HoF worthiness.

Is that you, Ray?
   75. BDC Posted: June 12, 2021 at 03:53 PM (#6023923)
Maybe a distant echo of the singles-speed-defense players past, but the Rangers' shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa currently leads the AL in singles, and is third in SB (11 for 12) with apparently plus defense at SS (he won a Gold Glove at 3B last year). Kiner-Falefa was also second in the AL in singles in 2020. Doesn't walk much or hit many HR. Anyway, he's one of the rare current players who seems to be trying to make a living with one-base hits.

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