Friday, May 16, 2008

Power, Speed and Defense

When a team doesn't hit, they look flat. Plain and simple. The natural gut reaction? We need to get more athletic, we need more speed, we need to create runs.

There are a lot of fans who have already expressed these feelings, and I empathize with every one of you. I've had these feelings many times during my career (though not so much in Cleveland in the mid-90's). In this particular case, though, our gut reaction doesn't serve us well.

Speed Versus Power
I really shouldn't say "versus". I should probably use the "balance" of speed and power, because the world is more gray than black and white. However, for this exercise I'll do my best to keep them separate for the sake of clarity. In an ideal world all of our players would have BOTH speed and power. Trust me, we're not averse to having speed on our club. However, when you have to choose...

Earl Weaver had some interesting things to say about team speed, but I'm not going to link to the particular audio clip (which can be found on youtube) because this is a family show. Instead, we'll have to stick to some, um, less colorful analysis.

Since 2004 (opening of Petco), there have been 14 NL teams who have won at least 89 games, and there have been 14 NL teams who have won 71 or fewer games. What is a common characteristic of the 14 winning teams? Every single team that won at least 89 games out-homered their opponents over the course of the season. Every single one. Of the 14 teams at the bottom, just 3 out-homered their opponents. So, out-homering your opponent does not guarantee success. However, getting out-homered generally leads to tee-times in October.

Now we'll examine the same teams as it relates to SB's. If you take the net stolen bases* (SB minus CS), the top 14 teams stole more bases than they allowed on seven occasions, just 50% of the time. The bottom 14 teams stole more bases than they allowed six times, 43% of the time. So, stealing more bases than your opponent indicates... very little. Indeed, the Padres have been negative on the stolen base scale in each of our four seasons in Petco - all winning campaigns - and our best stolen base season was our worst record (82-80) while our worst stolen base season was our best record (89-74).

Ok, ok, but maybe I'm cherry-picking the teams here, so let's take a look at every team in the NL since 2004 and run a correlation to winning percentage. The correlation between net home runs (home runs hit minus home runs allowed) and winning percentage is about .56 - surprisingly strong considering it's just one statistic that occurs roughly twice per game. The correlation between net stolen bases and winning percentage over that time frame? .19, a level which is referred to as "insignificant". Basically, no relationship exists.

Conclusion - power is more necessary than speed.

Speed and Defense
Even if power impacts winning and losing more than stolen bases, speed can manifest itself in other ways, including defense. We can look at this observation from two angles:

1) Do all good defenders have speed?
2) Are all speedy players good defenders?

The answer to question #1 is pretty obvious. No. Some do, some don't, which is much like our analysis of team speed and the lack of correlation with winning percentage. Anecdotally, two of the better defenders on the Padres, Adrian Gonzalez and Khalil Greene, will never be mistaken for Herb Washington.

The answer to question #2 is again a mixed bag. I'm not going to name names, but I'm sure all of you reading this can name players who are fast but aren't good defenders. The reason for this is that good defense relies as much on skill and instinct as it does on raw athletic ability. Sure, speed helps in the outfield, but average speed with perfect routes to the ball will often trump great speed combined with poor routes. Speed with good routes? There aren't many of those guys out there, and they're winning gold gloves. Ones who can also hit? They're getting MVP votes.

Conclusion - speed can enhance defensive ability, but speed does not equal good defense.

My guess is that some of you are saying, "But speed can also impact other parts of the game, like batting average and doubles." You're absolutely right. However, in an earlier posting we established that Petco Park isn't batting average friendly. Furthermore, the Park is as tough on doubles as it has been on home runs. The fact of the matter is that despite the dimensions of the ballpark, fly balls go to die in Petco, which is also why defense in CF may not be quite as important as it would initially appear. I guess we can blame the perfect weather in San Diego.

We, as an organization, do not turn a blind eye to speed and athleticism. We like it. When I was in Oakland Billy Beane always used to say, "I have nothing against stealing bases. I love stealing bases as long as we're safe." In a perfect world all of the Padres players would have power, speed, and defensive ability. Unfortunately, there is no perfect player out there, so we need to make choices and attempt to balance the team such that it is competitive in every important area (we were in the top five in the NL in defensive efficiency in both 2006 and 2007 despite a lack of team speed).

The bottom line is that the best way to create runs is to get on base and hit for power. We have done neither so far this year, and that, Padres fans, is our problem. Nevertheless, we have been better of late, outside of yesterday, and are optimistic that we'll continue to do a better job in both departments as the season continues.

There are two more discussions that should occur, though both deserve their own post. The first is the distinction between correlation and causation - a distinction that is particulary important when dealing with the complexity of baseball. The second regards our need as educated/experienced fans to see the game played the "right" way, with the correct fundamentals. I'll get to each of these eventually - plenty to discuss!

*This isn't the best formula for team speed or even stolen bases, as one caught stealing is more destructive than one stolen base is additive, but it serves the purpose of the exercise here.

49 comments:

Wonko said...

I'm definitely not for choosing speedy players over better hitters (and I'm not really for stealing bases unless there are two outs and a near replacement level player or worse at bat), but I think the current problem is that the Padres don't have a lot of the better hitting players in the league. It seems like instead of having a slower bad hitting player, you could have a faster bad hitting player that could do more on the bases or possibly on defense. I think there is also a concern that in the draft we don't go after many faster/athletic players that have raw ability and upside and instead only go for corner player types that have proven ability and little upside. It seems like there should be more of a mix.

Redsauce said...

Wowsa, I love this.
One question: Did you actually run the correlation yourself, or is there someone in your office who you told to this?
It's not a knock either way, I'm sure you're correct, but I'm just curious.

Spacely said...

I would much prefer to see more defenders with better routes than excessive speed. I had to spend two years holding my breath every time Aaron Rowand had to overcome his limited instincts by running at top speed, sometimes into walls or MVP candidate teammates. Philadelphia fans always got on Bobby Abreu for not hustling in the field compared to Rowand, but he didn't need to kill himself to be just as effective. Ironically, "Mr. Hustle" was never much of a base stealer while Abreu's best season for swipes (40 SB, 5 CS 2004) tops Rowand's combined best two seasons (17 SB, 5 CS 2004; 16 SB, 5 CS 2005). Hopefully the Padres can work on a better model in years to come. I'm pretty satisfied with the combination of speed, power and OBP that my Phillies have put together with their core players.

Are you planning on writing about pitching at some point? I'm curious to read your thoughts on how you evaluate pitchers, statistically or otherwise. I train with a man you've had two or three conversations with when you were with the Dodgers, and his strategic approach to pitching is a bit of a departure from tradition much like OPS-mania was for hitting a little while back.

Christopher said...

Hey I heard ramblings on the radio that say otherwise. There must be something wrong here ;).

Joshua said...

Yeah I must say it's a little neat to think someone this high up in an organization would take the time out of their day on ANY regular basis to post thoughts/ideas for fans in this matter. I can't say I've been a huge fan of yours over the years but this is neat and I hope it continues. Thanks for the thoughts.

briankoke@hotmail.com said...

while i agree with you in speed is over rated i would like to see one guy at the top with some speed.

guys on first with speed also take the pitchers mind of the batter and may get more fastballs to the batter. go first to third etc.

im no one of the crazies who thinks everyone on the team should have speed, but i would like one guy with speed who can also hit for power.

wonko."I think there is also a concern that in the draft we don't go after many faster/athletic players that have raw ability and upside and instead only go for corner player types that have proven ability and little upside. It seems like there should be more of a mix."

i guess you didnt follow the draft to well because the padres drafted up the middle. lots of CF, SS, 2B etc.

ross said...

First off, let me say that I'm really enjoying the blog.

I've always been interested in how baseball organizations groom their young talent and decide when to promote players. I know that you can't say exactly when a Headley or Inman will be up to help the major league team but what types of things do the Padres look for when promoting young players?

Ross said...

While the numbers are certainly convincing, Baseball (as you said) is more than black and white. I know winning games is the top priority, but to be honest, the last 4 years in Petco have been boring. If we did not have the best closer in baseball with the best entrance in baseball, these 2-0 games would be extremely hard to watch. I wonder how many comebacks or walk-offs the Padres have had in Petco compared to the other teams around the league. Attendance is gradually declining and although the fans care, we are growing apathetic. Of course I want to win first, but speedy players are exciting to watch. Our power has been good, but mostly on the road. The player thats the most exciting to watch (Khalil) has no personality on the field. I know excitement isn't a statistic, but shouldn't it still be considered?

field39 said...

If I understand correctly, you are describing Three True Outcome types as a desirable compromise. Guy who aren't afraid to go deep in the count, and are always looking to hit the ball in the air. Yet, the roster is filled with early count swigners, who have made it very clear, that hitting the ball in the air at Petco is a bad idea. I do not understand the seperation between the type of player you have declared desirable and the type of players on the current roster.

Paul DePodesta said...

Attendance was actually up last year at Petco.

ross said...

I have to agree with field39, I was under the impression that the Padres preach patience at the plate. However, it seems like there are a lot of players swinging early in the count and ending up with unproductive at bats.

It seems to happen a lot with runners in scoring position which might be why we never seem to have a big inning.

John Peterson said...

Terry Crowley's lucky he's in baseball, in my opinion.

Do you generally use Defensive Efficiency Ratio as an overview metric for team defense?

What are the defensive metrics out there for individual fielders you like the most? Which ones don't you like? What are the biggest flaws in current defensive metrics?

Paul DePodesta said...

Ross and field39,
I completely agree. Though some individuals are better than others, as a team we need to do a better job of grinding out at-bats.

Paul DePodesta said...

john,

Classic stuff from Earl. Measuring defense and the pitfalls therein looks like a future post.

axion said...

I have wondered this before the recent stretch, so I'm not trying to harp on a popular note, but:

What bearing, if any, do strikeouts (batters striking out) have on teams? Do high/low strikeout numbers for teams correlate to any kind of winning/losing numbers?

Bosnia said...

So if home runs lead to success, why don't you move the fences in for Giles bloop singles over the 2b head?

intentionalblogonballs.com said...

briankoke@hotmail.com, people always say that base stealing threats negatively impact pitchers, but the actual results suggest otherwise. Hitters tend to perform worse when a stolen base attempt occurs during their plate appearance.

FriarFan said...

I am loving this blog...how informative the last few posts have been, and really should have the armchair GM's who are quick to complain doing some additional contemplating.

Of course, Mr. Depodesta, you nailed it about the guys not getting on base and not hitting homers. That's our biggest problem.

I think you see some possibilities down in Portland. For example despite a paltry .183 average, Antonelli sits at an OBP of .325. That's amazing. Headley, on the other hand, has a .289 avg, but only a .358 OBP. He's struck out 41 times in 149 at bats. While I love the guy's upside, I fear he'll become another sacrifice at Petco, whereas a guy like Antonelli could fly in under the radar. IDK...I'm no expert here!

Great discussion!

Mike said...

Paul,

A question on speed vs power, although my example falls outside your sample set. The mid-1980s Cardinals teams played in a cavernous ballpark which depressed HR. The more sarcastic folks would wonder if the team would hit more HR than Maris did in 1961.

They were in the top 3 in the NL in steals, and their speed guys could defend (mostly; I'm purposely ignoring Vince Coleman and Lonnie Smith here).

That group won 3 NL titles and 1 WS, and appears (to this layman) to be a good counter-example to your posted argument. Based on the analysis you've done, do you think such an approach could work today with the right personnel, or does the current emphasis on power in the game make looking for players that can play that style of ball so difficult it's not worth pursuing?

Anthony said...

"The fact of the matter is that despite the dimensions of the ballpark, fly balls go to die in Petco, which is also why defense in CF may not be quite as important as it would initially appear."

Could you elaborate on this? Are you saying flyballs are easier to catch in Petco, or that there are fewer of them? I have a hard time accepting that a good CFer is less important there, though I've admittedly never done the research.

To that end, if CF defense is less important in Petco, in what parks is it most important?

intentionalblogonballs.com said...

mike, The '82 team's starting 8 had six guys who got on base at a better than league average level and five who slugged better than league average. That seems like a pretty good hitting team that also happened to steal bases.

MrIncognito said...

Looking at the 1982 Cardinals:

You are correct they had a lot of speed. However, they also had one of the better defensive clubs in recent memory. Additionally, although they did not hit home runs, their team SLG was actually about league average, and overall their OPS+ was 103. They were 5th in the NL in OPS... and 5th in runs scored.

You can find a team that had speed and won, but that doesn't mean that the speed won them all the games. You could quite easily find a team that had no speed and was very successful, but that doesn't prove that slow players win games. This is the problem with anecdotal evidence - there is at least one example of everything.

Baseball said...

Paul said: "The bottom line is that the best way to create runs is to get on base and hit for power. We have done neither so far this year, and that, Padres fans, is our problem."

Sounds like a lot of FO excuses for "we can't find a trade partner who will take our deals" to me Paul.

The Pirates are begging to deal Nady who is an immediate upgrade over Hairston, they have McLouth who is an upgrade over Gerut (even with his streakiness), and they have Marte who slings the ball better than Thatcher.

Problem is, you're going to have to pay more than market value to upgrade the roster with the Pirates pleasing their fans senses with their annual run for .500 May. But is it worth it - do you honestly believe you can catch the D'backs? Probably not.

Excuses aside, the '88 Pads under Bowa had a HR% less than 2 (where the '08 roster is currently producing) and finished with a .516 win%. Even more interesting, the '84 club was under 2 as well and won the division.

The problem hasn't been the failure to create runs, the problem has been the FO's ability to put together a roster that CAN produce runs.

But that's my own opinion. Nice blog Paul.

Bosnia said...

Baseball - right on. It's management making excuses for not bringing in quality players during the offseason. Do they view the team in the vaccuum, rather than seeing the Dodgers, D-Backs, and Rockies all going younger. Getting Edmonds is a headshaker, along with Prior, Rusch, Wolf. I know you want to have a mix between vets and rookies, but this Padres team has been the most unexciting team in all of baseball the past 5 years, except on nights when Peavy pitches.

David Murphy would have been a nice trade last year, if we could have pawned Linebrink to the Sox. Where are those minor leaguers in the Linebrink deal? I haven't heard their names since the deal....are they ML ready?

WhiteMale said...

What must Tony Gwynn think of the 322:140 (=2.3:1) K:BB ratio by Padre batters this year?

My beloved Pads dead last in the MLB in OBP, SLG% AND AVG! Is there any indication that there's more to meet the eye in these numbers? E.g. how does the Padres BABIP rank? Have they faced especially tough pitching? Obviously Petco is not helpful for offense, so how do the Padres rank in park and opponent adjusted offensive output?

It would be nice to find a kernel of hope somewhere, but I fear we're in for a long and irrelevant season. Although it is still early, with a double-digit deficit to the upstart Snakes already, it looks increasingly unlikely that management will spend a few bucks to improve the outfield. I understand that making the playoffs is the only way for a team to get a decent ROI, but what about ROFP? That's return on franchise player - in this case Jake Peavy. Peavy is a special player, and it pains the fans even more to see him pitching as well as he is on a team as awful as the '08 Padres look. This was also the case in the valley with LT for years.

Let's improve this team now to help make he rest of Peavy's starts worthwhile, playoffs or not.

JPSchmack said...

I'm guessing another one of the reasons that the bottom teams tend to steal more bases, is because when a franchise is rebuilding, they bring up young kids.

The young kids are encouraged to play all out, steal bases, "do the little things" and make the fans think "These guys aren't very good, but they play the game the right way."

Webmeister said...

Or you could've also mentioned that stolen bases has a slightly negative correlation to runs scored, while stats like SLG+OBP (or OPS) and variations that weight OBP at or around 1.7 have a very positive correlation to runs scored.
vr, Xeifrank

Ross said...

First, thanks for doing this blog its a great read. I'm really looking forward to the causation vs. correlation distinction. I just wanted to recommend two really nice (but slightly academic) books. The first is "Causality" by Judea Pearl and the second is "Causation, Prediction, and Search" by Peter Spirtes and others. Both assume that conditional independence between variables denotes the cause-effect structure of the system/process that generated the data. They have both developed some algorithms to try retrieve causal structures of variables from datasets without any temporal information using this assumption. I'll be looking forward to seeing if this plays in at all (or if it potentially could) in your correlation vs. causality post.

intentionalblogonballs.com said...

bosnia, Joe Thatcher, Will Inman and Steve Garrison were the haul for Scott Linebrink. It's always fun to hear fans complain about deals where they don't even know tiny little details like who was involved in it.

FriarFan said...

The Linebrink deal has weighed heavily in our favor...gotta keep track of that info:

Inman (AA): 4-1 2.45 K:BB=50:19
Garrison (AA): 3-2 3.47 22:13

Garrison pitched seven innings of no hit ball on APR 12 before being pulled (pitch count).

Thatcher hasn't been able to stick at the ML level, but he's had some success.

So far, the deal's gone in our favor.

Robert said...

bosnia's comment does not seem to have an ounce of 'complaint' It appears to be a personal opinion (the absence of a word like 'should' makes this more opinion than complaint), he would have rather gotten an ML ready outfielder, which one would assume he believes the Padres could use right now, instead of 3 relief prospects (loosely using prospect for Thatcher).

Paul is doing everyone a favor by writing this blog, so why not return favors and answer people's questions (explicit or otherwise, and in a nicer manner).
Possibly providing information about Thatcher (Was on ML roster, 6.7 ERA in 17.1 IP, now at AAA), Inman (4-1, 1.85 ERA at AA) and Garrison (2-2, 4.3 ERA at AA) would help educate other fans to where they hopefully won't draw your ire.

playsmallball said...

Paul,
The problem with your analysis is that power is expensive and taking pitches is not easily taught.

Most power hitters demand top dollars which the Padres can't compete with. The other is that power hitters know that Petco is where fly balls die so even if the money was there, NO AGENT POWER HITTER WOULD COME HERE AND RISK LOSING HIS POWER NUMBERS.

Finally, if the formula is power and OBP then why do the Padres have strike out artists with low OBP and punch and judy hitters? It seems to me that you and the FO have failed in tailoring a team not only for this ballpark but you have failed in putting together a team that matches your goals.

This you understand is unacceptable to us and I'm sure Mr Moores. Your style of baseball where you wait for a walk and a homerun is boring to watch and will not only hurt your team but kill your fan base, especially new fans waiting to see something interesting on the filed.

You should be ashamed of yourselves to give us Paul McNaulty and Scott Hairston and call those guys major leaguers.

I know there are many people who feel like I do. I have season tickets and I don't go to the games anymore.

ross said...

Playsmallball, I think you're being a little harsh.

What was the front office supposed to do in the off season? You say yourself that power hitting free agents won't play here.

They replaced Cameron with Edmonds which obviously didn't work, however it was reasonable at the time to assume that Edmonds would have one more productive season. More importantly, they solved their CF problem without overspending for a free agent like Andruw Jones or giving away too much young talent.

They were prepared to give LF to Hairston based on his play late last year, which was well above average (especially in the power department).

Iguchi was brought in to keep 2B warm for Antonelli.

Then, they signed Randy Wolf and Mark Prior to bolster the rotation.

Obviously things didn't work out, but it was reasonable to assume that the pads could compete while not losing much of their young talent and still keep the payroll flexible.

The real solution to the problem is player development. The Padres are going to have to do better in finding and developing young hitters. I think that they realize that and they've taken steps to fix it, like opening up a facility in the Dominican.

The down side is that this is not a quick fix but at least the organization is doing something about it and things should be better in the future.

Bosnia said...

intentionalblogonballs.com - last time i checked, the pads needed hitting help, not pitching. David Murphy would be a good addition to the squad - he is young, gaps hitter, and doesnt make much $ (probably the biggest plus for this org).

It's great that guys can post great numbers in the minors, but can they do it on the big stage? And why couldn't the Pads traded a better prospect (if they had it) to the Diamondback for Quentin, even if they are divisional rivals? Is it because the farm system is weaker than we are made to believe?

Paul DePodesta said...

playsmallball,

I hear you. However, there are a few important things to note. Tone can often be misinterpreted in emails/blogs, so please don't misunderstand mine.

First of all, power isn't always expensive. Our team last year finished FIRST in the National League in extra base hits on the road, which is the most neutral way to look at things. Even if you assume our away schedule helps our hitters to some degree, we still had a highly effective team in terms of power. This year we have largely the same personnel, but we haven't performed at the same level. Currently, only Adrian Gonzalez has an OPS that is above his career average (.844 versus .830)... and he is the only one. Is the front office to blame for this, as you suggest? Of course we are. We are responsible for putting the team together. We also expect the players will perform better and closer to their career norms as the year continues. Kouz is already way ahead of where he was last year at this point. :-)

Fortunatley for us, your take on free agents isn't correct. There are many players who want to play in San Diego very badly even if it means a reduction in HR numbers. There are many elements that go into a free agent decision: dollars, team expectations, environment, family considerations, among others, and the Padres rank highly. For many players, their free agent contract is THE contract for them, so the numbers they expect to put up during those years isn't always the determining factor. Otherwise, why would any free agent pitcher ever go to the AL?

As far as specific players, picking on guys like Paul McAnulty and Scott Hairston is a bit unfair. Neither of those guys are playing every day, and both are still getting their feet wet at the Major League level. Even the most talented and most-hyped young hitters go through an adjustment period. It takes time to adjust and not playing everyday can make that adjustment more difficult both physically and mentally.

So far as a member of the Padres, Scott Hairston has 214 ab's with 8 doubles, 3 triples, and 13 home runs while hitting .248. Furthermore, he's an above average defender in LF and has shown a capability to play CF as well. Is he everything he can be yet? Of course not, but he's certainly a Major Leaguer who is a legitimate power threat. Paul McAnulty has just 151 (irregular) career ML ab's, so it's not appropriate to judge him at this point. In more than 2700 plate appearances Paul has a .301 average, .392 obp, and .481 slg in the minor leagues. Very simply, he has earned this opportunity at the Major League level.

Every one of our players (and every member of the front office, for that matter) is imperfect. However, we also believe that every one of our players does something, or multiple things, above average which contributes to winning games. You refer to our "strikeout artists", but take someone like Khalil Greene who does strike out a lot and has an obp that is below league average. Khalil is also an above average defender at a premium defensive position who hits for significant power. We signed Khalil to a multi-year contract because of that total package. Brian Giles is a solid defender and does a tremendous job of getting on base, but he's not the power hitter he once was. Brian was also signed to a multi-year contract when he was eligible for free agency because of the total package.

In short, if the team can collectively do the things we need to do (enough guys get on base, enough hit for power, enough play good defense, etc), we'll be successful. However, we will never be in a situation where each individual does everything above average, though San Diego is probably as nice a place to live as Lake Wobegon. :-)

Finally, we have a handful of position players in the upper minors (AA and AAA) who we think can be very good ML hitters if we're patient with them, so we're all excited about having that homegrown Padres lineup in the coming years. I'll be profiling those guys over the coming weeks/months.

We appreciate both your frutstration and your passion. Hopefully finally getting to play a nice stretch of home games will help get us going.

Pat Andriola said...

Mr.DePodesta,

I know Khalil Greene is solid defensively and provides some pop, but how long can he be an everyday shortstop with an OBP in the mid-.200's? You may say that he may pick up the pace and hit a bunch of homers like he did last year, but an OPS+ of 54 is pretty disturbing to regularly see in the lineup.

Thanks.

~Pat

Mickey said...

What a fantastic blog, as a baseball fan, this is one of a kind!

I have a general question..maybe it's a philosophy question.

Do you think the 'long relief' guy is no longer relevant in baseball? It seems there aren't too many guys who throw 2-3 innings at a time anymore. It's an inning, maybe an inning and a batter. The 3 inning guy, mop up guy, whatever you want to call him, just doesn't really show up anymore. I suspect maybe it's because 3 inning guys can't stay healthy?

Bosnia said...

Paul - dont know if you heard KTowers on the radio, but he mentioned how their weren't too many championship caliber players on the roster. What intangibles does an organization research to discover whether a guy is a championship caliber player?

Bogart in P Towne said...

From 1980 - 2001 only 2 World Series winning teams had someone poke more than 40hrs (1980 Phils and the 2001 Diamondbacks). During that stretch, only 1 other team even had a 35+ HR guy (1985 KC). Just say'n.

David Harris said...

Great post. I wish everyone was able back up their statements with quantifiable data. It really helps.

That said, in listening to various members of the front office on the radio, it strikes me that there may exist a disconnect in regards to how the Padres assess the importance of speed.

It has been documented over recent years that Padres are one of the worst teams at giving up stolen bases. The justification I have heard for this is that we would rather have the pitchers focus on the guy at the plate and not be distracted by the runners on base. I know this oversimplifying it a bit, but I completely agree with this philosophy. The numbers seem to back it up as well.

Now, the disconnect I see is that we (at some level) allow this philosophy to skew our view of Padres baserunners and they can affect other team's pitchers. Unfortunately, I don't think most other teams view baserunners the same way as the Padres. There are intangibles with baserunners and their ability to get in a pitcher's head or to distract a pitcher. It seems that we have overlooked the impact that this can have on a game.

I know it's hard to quantify, but it would be very interesting to analyze the impact of the batting averages of the hitters when a "speedy" runner is on first base. You can extend this in a few ways to really get some useful data to either backup or debunct my theory.

Anyway, it is great to have a forum to bring up these ideas and to get an insider's point of view. Keep up the great work.

Stephen said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this blog.

There is one element of speed that has not been discussed and one that is at least subconsciously on fan's minds. Speed is entertaining. So what fans might be saying without realizing it, is that while you may not be able to really make the team better, you could at least make it more fun to watch. There's usually replacement level players with wheels to be had.

Jason said...

David,

I can't break it down by "speedy" runners, but I did run some numbers on OPS in likely steal situations (runner on first w/second open) versus unlikely steal situations (any other runners on base situation), using the 2007 NL stats:

1-- .762 (18160 PA)
1-3 .772 (3144 PA)

(Granted, there isn't always a speedster on first, but unless it's someone the likes of Ryan Howard over there, the pitcher's probably paying him some attention.)

Weighing those OPSs by PA (not quite the correct method, but close enough without involving more math than I want to do at 12:15 A.M.), I'd figure the combined OPS is about .7635.

For other situations (removing IBBs):

-2- .772 (9072 PA)
--3 .773 (2974)
12- .733 (7298)
-23 .832 (2158)
123 .739 (2716)

That gives us a weighted OPS of about .7620.

I'd cautiously say there's no difference in hitting when a steal situation is likely versus when a steal is unlikely.

As for me, I've always felt that big-league pitchers are generally smart guys and that, with all the things they have to consider with every pitch, adding "fast guy on first" doesn't overload their brains to the point that they become ineffective.

Paul DePodesta said...

There have studies done that indicate that a "speedy" runner on first actually hurts the production of the hitter. This does make some sense, as the hitter often times will take pitches to allow the baserunner to attempt a steal.

jrbh said...

I was kind of startled by the notion that a speedy runner might actually disrupt hitting, but we've all seen guys take pitches, or get out of rhythm because of the pitcher-baserunner interaction.

My question, though, boils down to this: Rickey Henderson/Dwayne Murphy, Rickey Henderson/Dave Henderson?

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

First off, thank you for opening up this line of communications with the fans. I wish every team would do this. And aptly named blog, I would have bookmarked it just for that!

Great discussion, lots of good points. It made me wonder if you have read Baseball Prospectus's book, Baseball Between the Numbers. Chapter 9.3 is titled, "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's S**t work in the Playoffs?" and BP did some analysis trying to tie seasonal stats to how well the team did in the playoffs.

Using correlation, most didn't have much correlation, akin to the 0.19 you noted on SB, but still, they did find that there is some statistically significant correlation, just not a lot of it.

Long story short, they came to the conclusion that how well you did offensively during the season had almost no correlation with how well you did in the playoffs. The only offensive stat that they found with slight but statistically insignificant positive relationship was stolen-base attempts.

However, on the defense/pitching side, they found three stats with a significant correlation. Basically (because they use their proprietary stats for some of them), teams with a great closer, pitching staffs that strike out a lot, and teams that field well.

Obviously, you still need to do well enough offensively to make your pitching and defense pay off in wins during the regular season and then the playoffs. But apparently how you do it has had little correlation with winning in the playoffs in the recent past.

I probably shouldn't have told you this factoid :^) but since the Giants appear to be on their way to being strong in these areas, I thought what the heck, I'm intellectually curious what you make of this, given your results thus far.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Ross, how was it not reasonable to think that Edmonds wasn't done? Here are his OPS for the prior 4 seasons:

2004 1.061
2005 0.918
2006 0.821
2007 0.728

He has basically lost 100 or more points of OPS each season for the past 3 seasons. Why would it not be reasonable to think that his OPS would fall again? Particularly moving to a pitching-biased park like Petco? Particularly when he is now in his late 30's when most players fade away (heck, most fade away in their early 30's, let alone mid-30's when Edmonds started declining).

Similar thing happened to Willie Mays, he was done as a superstar after hitting his mid-30's, but adjusted and kept his OBP high via walks even when his homerun power disappeared so that he was still a good player. That's how Hank Aaron caught up with and passed him in home runs (well that and Atlanta making their park into the Launching Pad his last few years there), as Hank kept on hammering them into his late 30's while Willie stopped.

As a Giants fan, I was very happy when the Dodgers signed Jones and the Padres picked up Edmonds.

ross said...

Obsessivegiantscompulsive, I completely agree with you about Edmonds. What I should have said (and kind of implied) was that it was reasonable to assume that Edmonds could be productive for the price the Padres paid for him.

If we go back in time to before the season started there were a number of free agent CF's available. There were high priced options in Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand and Fukudome (which the padres tried very hard to sign). Each of these players had some questions coming into the season which made it tough to justify spending over 7mil for multiple years on one of them.

If the Padres signed one of those free agents and they didn't produce then that contract could have crippled the team for years. On the other hand if Edmonds tanked (which he did, in glorious fashion) the Padres don't lose much more than the minor leaguer they traded for him.

I'm also guessing that the Padres front office knew that they were further from a championship than they publicly said and weren't ready to mortgage the future on a big free agent contract.

In the end, Edmonds is gone and the Padres move on. On the other hand the Dodgers have to deal with Jones for years to come.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Ross, understand your point now, I agree that getting Edmonds was probably the least risky relative to the free agents, but wouldn't using one of the Padres young players been a better option than taking on Edmonds salary and praying it works?

Plus, don't know his salary exactly this season, but Milton Bradley might have been a better option, depending on how much Bradley is still holding a grudge against Depodesta.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers only signed Jones for two seasons, so he'll probably be gone after the 2009 season. However, they still have Pierre for another 3+ seasons plus Schmidt for the next 1+ seasons.

Julie and Glenn said...

I love this blog.

Particularly, I like this comment: "The bottom line is that the best way to create runs is to get on base and hit for power."

A lot of people who read Moneyball get pretty pissy with the claim that Moneyball is NOT about any particular philosophy (like OBP), but about going after undervalued resources. While undervalued resources is part of it, I still had the sense that on base and power were conclusions irrespective of cost.