Ichiro's Baserunning

Added 9-10 runs per year on the bases?

John Dewan, in the public area at BJOL, writes

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The Bill James Handbook 2013, which will release on November 1, will include a new section on career baserunning. A baserunning gain is the total of all types of extra baserunning advances minus the penalty for baserunning outs against expectations, including both stolen bases and all other baserunning situations. Among active players with a minimum of 1,000 games played, Ichiro Suzuki leads the way with +371 Net Gain, which is the cumulative total of all gains minus penalties in his career. As a frame of reference, think of it this way: a baserunner gets one "gain point" for each extra base taken, and loses about three "gain points" for each out on the basepaths. With a +371, Suzuki has a lot of extra bases taken despite the occasional out on the bases.

When the Yankees traded for Suzuki, his defensive upgrade over the Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones platoon received the majority of the headlines. However, the Yankees also upgraded on the basepaths. Neither Ibanez nor Jones has a positive career total, and neither has the speed they once had. Suzuki has done little to help his new club offensively, but he can still contribute off the bench as a pinch runner.

Here is the top-five in career baserunning:

Best Career Baserunners
Player Net Gain
Ichiro Suzuki +371
Carl Crawford +347
Jimmy Rollins +335
Juan Pierre +323
Carlos Beltran +309

 

Unsurprisingly, Suzuki, Carl Crawford, and Juan Pierre are second, third, and first in career stolen bases among active players, and Jimmy Rollins is not far behind in sixth.

On the other end of the spectrum, Paul Konerko and Juan Rivera managed to beat out a trio of catchers for the worst career baserunners:

Worst Career Baserunners
Player Net Gain
Paul Konerko -181
Juan Rivera -175
Ramon Hernandez -159
A.J. Pierzynski -155
Yadier Molina -151

 

It has been three years since Rivera had his last solid season, and the Dodgers have spent their way out of needing to give him playing time. Meanwhile, Konerko continues to hit well enough into his late 30s to make up for his poor fielding and baserunning.

Note: Totals are career totals for active players since we began collecting this data in 2002.

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Bases taken while running are usually worth, depending on the situation, +0.25 to maybe +0.30 runs.  Baserunner kills, such as John Jaso has come to specialize in offensively, are usually worth -0.70 to -0.80 runs, depending.  Here is a run expectancy chart and here's one that isolates the gain and loss for you in each situation.

I used to think that SB's were worth 0.30 runs and CS's worth -0.60, based on Pete Palmer's first chart about a thousand years ago.  But come to look at the RE matrix a little closer and you can see why it's better to weight a "baserunner kill" as worth three stolen bases.  For example, leading off the inning with a walk you're at +0.94 expected runs; swipe second, and you're at 1.17 runs, a gain of 0.23 runs.  But get killed at 2B and the run expectancy is down to 0.29 -- you've lost 0.65 runs.  That's an x3 multiplier, not an x2.

So in retrospect, Ichiro's odd conservatism on the bases turns out to be several yards ahead of the curve.  (However, his tendency to let an out go by, before stealing the base, did not help the Mariners.)

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Counting not only SB's and CS's, but also 1st-to-3rd bases, James' and Dewan measure Ichiro as being THE most deadly baserunner of his decade.  And by a long ways.  Carlos Beltran is in the top 5 in the entire game - and Ichiro is 20% ahead of him.  Imagine a player whose AVG was 20% higher than the #5 AVG in the league for a decade - say, .375 vs .313.

At +371 bases in ten years (2002-2011), those 37 net bases are fully one every fourth game - about 9.5 runs per season.  The Fangraphs system credits Ichiro with a piddling 2.1 runs per season for his legs.

What happens if you posit +9.5 yearly runs on the bases instead of +2.1 runs for Ichiro?  His WAR for the decade goes from 53 to 60, moving him ahead of Barry Bonds into #3 in baseball.  While Ichiro was at 60, only fifteen players were over 40 for the decade.  Mike Piazza, Vlad Guerrero and Todd Helton have fewer than 60 WAR for their careers.  Half of Hall of Famers do.

We watched a clinic out there.

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Ichiro had several multi-hit games this week for the Yankees and his NYY line is up to .291/.318/.411 in 47 games, closing in on 1/3 of a season for them.  He is swinging at drastically fewer pitches outside the zone than he was in Seattle, is contacting many fewer of them, and is hitting the ball much harder.  My guess is that he'll stay around .300/.325/.400 for several years now, if he plays for an elite team.

.300/.325/.400 is fine for a leadoff hitter.  However you slice up the UZR, an old Ichiro is still +10 runs defensively over the Nelson Cruzes and Nick Swishers of the RF world.  If he's still getting 5-10 runs on the bases, and is about league average OPS'ively, he's a leadoff hitter who is helping a good team win.  If a GM pencils in that 5-10 runs on the bases, then along with the 10 runs with the glove, Ichiro may project to be the only 40-ish player in the game who could slog along at 3 WAR per season.

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It was not realized, for a long time, what the problems were with UZR.  If Fangraphs' baserunning numbers have issues also, then it could be that Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Trayvon Robinson are being short-sold for their running production.

Saunders is at 2.2 WAR this year; Seager's at 3.3.  It's possible that Saunders is already a 3-WAR player, Seager a 4-WAR player. 

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Comments

No, Seager and Saunders probably are already a 4-WAR player and a 3-WAR player, even without baserunning upgrades. WAR uses three-year park effects, which means that they're undercompensating for whatever is happening at Safeco this year. This means that the entire Mariners offense is undervalued by offensive WAR, especially the guys (Seager, Saunders and Montero) getting hit hardest by Safeco.

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SABR MattIf the Giants win the WS again...I'm gonna get irritated.15 min 4 sec ago
MtGrizzlyI'm in favor of the pitch clock. If I have to watch Yoeris Medina throw a pitch every 35 seconds through one more nine pitch AB, I'm gonna lose it.32 min 23 sec ago
mojicianReverend, Panda and Co. appear to be on one of their patented out of nowhere tears.50 min 31 sec ago
DaddyO"Heck, if you outlawed batting gloves you could probably shorten the game by 20 minutes." Now THAT is a funny line, and probably true!1 hour 56 min ago
Bat571And the HP ump can allow time after a WP, PB, or foul that the catcher removes his mask, so everybody can get resituated.2 hours 34 min ago
Bat571And the umps can grant time for fouls that hit one of the three of them (batter, catcher, ump) or after 5 pitches, but otherwise, the at-bat proceeds. Mound conferences with the catcher should be limited, probably twice per inning, plus once for a replaced pitcher but only if a runner gets to second, and if more attend than the catcher it should count as a coaching visit. Then just let the umps enforce it.2 hours 38 min ago
Bat571I don't want to change the rules of the game (balls/strikes/fouls/pickoffs) - I just want the batter to get in the box and the pitcher to throw the ball. The step-outs and timeouts are out-of-hand. Starting with Hargrove and Garciaparra, it's degenerated. Once the batter steps in, he can't step out for the first 5 pitches, then every 3 pitches after, max time 5 seconds. If your gloves really are loose, you can tighten them in 5 seconds. But get in and hit. The pitch delivery rules are fine, if enforced. And again, make a rule that the crew chief can request a clock be displayed if a pitcher or hitter is dawdling, so the fans can get on him, but don't make it a regular feature. If Josh Beckett had the whole stadium counting down for him, he'd start doing it right, and it wouldn't be needed. 2 warnings from the HP ump and it goes up on the big screen for folks to sing along.2 hours 48 min ago
SABR Mattthe problem, of course, is that there's no way in hades that MLB can cut down the commercial breaks...all of their revenue deals assume those breaks2 hours 51 min ago
SABR Mattthe time out between half innings was, in the 80s, 90 seconds, and is now 125 seconds.3 hours 2 min ago
moethedogI'm with Bat: Simply don't allow a batter to step out of the box, unless knocked out, etc. And I agree with Daddy about the un-need for a "shot" clock. To shorten a game by 30 minutes you need to shorten every inning by just 3 minutes and change. Shorten every 1/2 inning by 90 seconds and you get there. I don't see pitchers as being the problem. I do see the batter's ridiculous routine, especially with batting gloves as a problem. Heck, if you outlawed batting gloves you could probably shorten the game by 20 minutes. And TV is partially to blame, as it is with the delays in any sport. TV timeouts have ruined the flowing nature of the NBA and college b-ball. How much longer is the between inning gap today, compared to 20 years ago? With nearly every game now being televised it must certainly have driven up the average between-inning time.3 hours 58 min ago
SABR MattDaddyO...I would be all for your suggestion if I didn't know that, at present, the average distance a pitcher misses the catcher's mitt is 11". :)4 hours 2 min ago
DaddyOMatt, my thought was that it would change the way pitchers pitch, forcing them to throw more strikes and fewer waste pitches. I admit it's a radical thought, and I'm not actually proposing it, just noodlin'.4 hours 59 min ago
mojicianIf the sublime aesthetic of the Samurai duel between pitcher and batter doesn't draw or interest a fan, maybe he should try football.5 hours 8 min ago
SABR MattAnd limiting 2 strike fouls might counter-balance the prior comment some, but would totally break the game, IMHO. Fouling off pitcher's pitches is a skill that separates great contact hitters from poor ones.5 hours 13 min ago
SABR Mattdropping the walk ball count to 3 would lengthen games by a lot. It would increase on base percentages by 50 points or more.5 hours 14 min ago
mojicianI dunno about speeding up at bats. Here's Exhbiit A: On April 24, 2014, the Mariners were 8 and 15, had lost 8 games in a row, and were about to be swept by the Houston Lastros. In the ninth inning, Kyle Seager of the sub-Mendoza average, came to bat with two men on base. He worked the count through ten pitches before hitting a three run home run that became the defining turning point in the season.5 hours 14 min ago
DaddyOIt seems to me also that the automated strike zone would be helpful in reducing the time of games. Greg Maddux made famous the art of inducing batters to swing at balls off the plate because umpires would give him strike calls if he demonstrated the ability to continue to hit his spot 3 to 4 inches outside. A cat and mouse game has developed over the years between hitters and pitchers. Taken to it's ultimate conclusion, it is Red Sox and Oakland A's baseball. Work walks, and endlessly spoil pitches just off the plate. Instead of at-bats being resolved, they are prolonged to ridiculous lengths.6 hours 26 min ago
Bat571Just limiting time-outs and step-outs (of the batter's box) would help.6 hours 56 min ago
Bat571The Wolcott game I'm referring to is the one where he threw 80 pitches and the game lasted just over 2 hours (against Oakland, I believe). But it was like the Walker game - both pitchers got the ball and pitched and everyone kept in the game - I'd love to hear Jay Buhner talk about maintaining the pace of games, since he won that one with a homer in the ninth as I recall.6 hours 57 min ago
DaddyOIf you REALLY wanted to speed up the game, you'd reduce the number of balls that would trigger a "base on balls" to three. It'll never happen, but it would eliminate a lot of lengthy pitcher nibbling. Another thing you could do would be to limit the number of foul balls. After two strikes count a third foul ball as a strikeout. Again, it'll never happen, and I'm not sure it should, but it's the kind of thing that would have a dramatic impact.7 hours 10 min ago