Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Red Light on the Base Paths

It's hard to adequately take notice of all the ways that the Nationals were awful last season. One overlooked deficiency is that the Nationals were exactly the 29th best team in baseball in stolen base percentage, trailed by just Dusty Baker's Cincinnati Reds (why in that park they're running at all I can't say, but I digress). The Nationals attempted 124 stolen bases and were successful just 65.3% of the time (81 SB, 43 CS).

To be helping the team, the stolen base success rate needs to be around at least 73%. That's because the run value (the average runs added as a result of a particular event) of a stolen base is 0.175, while the run value of a caught stealing in -0.467. (These run value rates come from
The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin and calculated by tallying up the results of a massive amount of play-by-play data from the history of MLB.)

One caveat here is that like sac bunts, the value of a stolen base is highly context dependent, so you can't just assume that you're hurting the team if your cumulative run value is below zero. For instance, if you have 3 SB and 2 CS, you'll be in the negative, but if those stolen bases were all in tie games in the ninth inning and the caught stealings were in blowout losses, then you're ahead in terms of win value. But setting that aside, if you're anywhere below 70% you're clearly taking runs off the board.

In the Nationals' case, they took a net 5.9 runs off the board, almost enough to cost them a full additional loss.

Who were the biggest culprits? Cristian Guzman, with 6 SB and 5 CS, cost the team 1.29 runs. Roger Bernadina's 4 SB and 3 CS cost us 0.70. Emilio Bonifacio was 7 and 4 for a net loss of .64. Austin Kearns was 2 and 2, for a net loss of 0.58. Jesus Flores, Aaron Boone, Alberto Gonzalez, Wily Mo Pena, and Wil Nieves all had one CS and no SB.

Who was the best? Our new favorite National Willie Harris snagged 13 in 16 attempts for a net gain of .87 runs. Elijah Dukes stole 13 in 17 attempts. Lastings Milledge ran the most and basically broke even in terms of run value with 24 SB and 9 CS. Ryan Langerhas was successful in two attempts. Basically no one else was any good.

Make no mistake, however--the primary blame here should fall on Manny. He's the guy who gives red lights and green lights, and if the team as a whole is below par, you have to hang that on the manager.

It's too bad, because Manny talks a really good game about the running game and the need to be successful three-quarters of the time or more. Last year we were right in the middle of the pack with a success rate of exactly 75% for a net gain of 1.34 runs (if that doesn't sound like much gain for all that work, you're right it's not, and you should change your 5x5 roto league to a points league next year). And this year we not only ran less effectively, we ran more. Last year we attempted just 92 stolen bases, and this year that number jumped to 124.

Of course, things could always be worse. Under Frank Robinson (aka the worst manager in baseball... too bad for Jim I didn't blog in those days or this site could have a different favorite target), the Nationals were dead last in baseball in 2005 with a putrid 50% success rate in 90 attempts, costing us a whopping 13.14 runs (about one and a half losses), while in 2006 we stole 123 bases with 62 CS, costing us 7.2 runs and just a bit less than one win.


JayB said...

Thank you Steven! Both for taking note that not all outs or stolen bases are the same and that you have to take into account when they happened, but also for taking a look at just how poor a job Acta did last year in at least one aspect of managing.

Acta did make a major point of the 75% rate in Spring Training and like several other points of emphasis.....he dropped the ball by May and was totally asleep by August.

Others you ask.....base running in general...Acta said he did not want to give up outs on the bases (aside from Stole Bases) and this team ran into needless outs day after day. Acta said that defense was to be a key to success for the 2008 team, and I strongly agreed, but then he would put (jimbo really but that is a whole other post you should do) Lo Duca in LF and 1B, Milledge in CF instead of LF, Lopez at 2B instead of the Bench.....all this leading to total failure of Defense my any measure.

Enough, no not really, look at the use of the Starting Pitching and the effect it has had on the pull pen over two years of Acta. Or look at his use of Louis Ayala in the Micro View.

OK I understand Manny says all the right things to your new stat loving ears Steven, but the cost seems very high in results just to hear the words you love.

Steven said...

The reason I'm a Manny fan (even despite this little stolen bases issue) is because I think he excels at motivating players, which I think is more than half the importance of his job, and then I also like the way he uses his whole bench for defensive replacements, pinch hitters, and the like. Not because he can drop a "vorp" and a "pitch fx." Although I think the fact that he's paying attention to the things he can learn from statistical analysis is a sign of intelligence, which is itself a good quality.

JayB said...

Well I agree that Managers have a big role as do Coaches.....something you seem to disagree with so I am confused with your view of Acta.......but anyway.....Acta's strength is this whole positive outlook stuff......if they won some games and he managed games better I think there would be less need for his strength.....Biggest issue I have with Acta is his two faced comments about how he never has been influenced in line ups and the poor line ups he puts out there......either he is lying or he has no clue about Pena, Lo Duca et al....either way it is a bad sign.

baerry said...

I remember at least one Austin Kearns CS was the result of a embarrassingly botched hit-and-run play. Are those lumped in with all the steal attempts in terms of success rates?

John O'Connor said...

A lot of those caught stealings are missed hit and runs. Hitters with better bat control can help with the SB pecentage because it's missed hit and runs where we have slow guys running on the pitch. The Nats have way too many guys who can't handle the bat, can't make consistent contact and can't score guys from third with a ground ball or a medium fly.

On the guys getting thrown out at home last year, that was just an epidemic. Quick story:

My seven year-old daughter (huge Nats fan) got selected to get on top of the dugout and yell "It's time for Nats baseball -- Play Ball" before a game last year. They had us sit right next to the dugout (two rows behind Mark Lerner) until it was time for her to get on the dugout and do her thing. While we're sitting there, Jerry Morales steps out next to the dugout and starts talking to some guy in Spanish. I lean over to my daughter and say "that's Jerry Morales, he's the first base coach." My daughter, loud as could be, says: "Dad, why's the third base coach an idiot?"

JayB said...

Hit and Run is another great example of why I am down on Acta. His coaching staff hurt the team. Lenny Harris (jimbo hire I know, but Acta should have gone public and forced a change long before start of 2008) hitters can not bunt, hit and run, take a pitch, I suspect we are going to see a huge difference, because coaching matters and bad coaching hurts!

Steven said...

In MLB's stats, a failed hit and run is recorded as a CS. I assume that's what the Flores, Nieves, etc. CS-es are.

While I don't align myself with JayB's overall assessment of Acta, he's right that the hit and run is quite possibly the worst play in baseball. Read "Weaver on Strategy" if you're not clear on why. It takes the bat out of the hitter's hands, forces the runner to run regardless of the jump, and all around puts the offense at a disadvantage. There isn't any circumstance that the hit and run is a good play. Run and hit, perhaps, but to just run into outs by sending the runner and forcing the hitter to swing at whatever junk is coming is dumb dumb dumb. Always.

To the extent that the use of that play is inflating these numbers, and there's no way that I know of to track which of these are straight steals vs. failed hit and runs, that's even more damning of Acta.