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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benihanaI'm with you Matt. I kind of want the M's to trade Taylor, Lomo, and Ramirez for Fielder and some $$. What a murderer's row would Cano, Cruz, Fielder, and Seager make?15 hours 18 min ago
DaddyORight re: underground drip irrigation. That's what I was referring to. If you are spending $125 million on ballplayers every year you would think it would be worth it to protect that investment even if it costs a million dollars a year. I dunno, maybe I'm wrong here.15 hours 33 min ago
SABR MattFWIW, I bet 37 roto dollars on Prince Fielder this year. I think he will have a good year16 hours 22 min ago
mojicianHamilton would have been the biggest bust in the history of Seattle. They would have run the entire Z regime out on a rail for 2014 Hamilton performance alone. It says here if you are going to have a star, he should have great makeup. I think Fielder will bounce back. His game wasn't dependent on being a yoga instructor. What he has are large muscles and a disciplined plate approach, see Papi, Big. Fat guys rake.17 hours 16 min ago
SpectatorAnd how about Z whiffing on Hamilton and Prince Fielder before connecting on Cano, the only one who looks to hold his superstar value? Balance of power in the West could turn on those three contracts.18 hours 4 min ago
SABR MattYep...Taylor would probably go to AAA so that Lloyd could have his cheerleader on the bench not begging for PT and Taylor could work on his plate discipline.18 hours 10 min ago
SpectatorLloyd says if Bloomie healthy, then Miller and Taylor won't both make roster. At least that's their plan at the moment.18 hours 36 min ago
SABR MattEven with that, i wonder if the system creates irregularities on the surface in ground texture19 hours 18 sec ago
benihanaFor turf lawns we are talking 6 to 12 inches below grade. Not something that's gonna pop-up even in warn spots.19 hours 17 min ago
benihanaSubsurface Drip Irrigation for lawns should be buried well beneath the sod. Hoses under the ground, not hoses on the ground. Problem is you need to dig up all the grass, lay the irrigation and then re-sod, it's an expensive investment. But should be recouped with the decreased water usage alone, never mind the injury aspect.19 hours 20 min ago
SABR MattDrip-irrigation may actually be MORE risky for players...replace the rare, small sprinkler head with a labyrinth of hoses lying on the ground.20 hours 2 min ago
DaddyONo doubt, OBF. I have NEVER understood, given the salaries paid out to players these days, why teams don't do more (than they no doubt already do) to eliminate potential causes of unnecessary injury. You can't eliminate injuries that come as a direct result of player collisions, etc, but there is more that can/should be done with facilities. Why have sprinkler heads? I'm no landscaper or hortoculturalist, but isn't drip irrigation more efficient than sprinklers? Doesn't one player-year of injury for a star player due to sprinklers pay for the entire cost of installing drip irrigation on a ball field? Maybe I'm being unrealistic, it's just something that I've always questioned when I hear about such injuries. Another example would be walls and fences, which have shown some improvement over the years with padding but still seem to have unpadded areas that could be rather easily addressed.20 hours 13 min ago
OBFDaddyO... those fields and every field that every player plays on has those same sprinklers and same soft spots... Blame it on extremely bad luck, blame it on injury proneness and ungracefulness like Matt said, but you really can't put this one on the club... thousands of players spend thousands of hours on those fields every spring... Saunders is just the lucky first to trip on a sprinkler head I guess? Yup, Matt, sure glad we flipped Saunders for something useful.20 hours 49 min ago
DaddyORe: Ackley's new baby, as a person I'm happy for him. As a fan, it occurs to me that sometimes the birth of a first child gives a player a new, even stronger reason to succeed.21 hours 20 min ago
DaddyOOh man, that's tough luck for Saunders. That's not fragility, it's just...what...incompetence by the club allowing highly paid athletes to train on fields where it's that easy to seriously hurt yourself? Frankly, I don't understand it. Isn't drip irrigation feasible?21 hours 22 min ago
SABR MattYeah...it's a freak injury, but there are players who get freak injuries more often because they are not graceful, or because their connective tissue doesn't handle stress well. Saunders seems to be both not graceful AND prone to injuries that are worse than the triggering event suggests they should be. I, for one, am glad we got value for him in trade.22 hours 59 sec ago
OBFSoft Spot in the ground has got to be worse than rounding the bases (Snelling) in terms of, "Good grief what did you do to get such bad karma" ranking... Not quite as bad as, what was it, carrying a suitcase up some stairs for Sasaki, though ;)22 hours 13 min ago
OBFI feel for Saunders, totally sucks for him, similarly I feel for Derick rose as well (same injury actually, torn meniscus), but JackyZ has to be thinking, :"Heh, heh, heh... see, internet, I TOLD YOU SO!" Lots of sites raked Jack and Mac over the coals for not trusting Saunders and for trading him away (in what they saw as) an unfavorable trade... are they going to issue retractions or admit The M's were right on this one now?22 hours 18 min ago
MtGrizzly@ShiDavidi: Michael Saunders stepped on soft spot around underground sprinkler on outfield grass while shagging flies yesterday. Left knee buckled.22 hours 39 min ago
SABR MattWow...brutal23 hours 39 min ago