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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TaroMontero's 2011 line in AAA for example was projected for a .261/.312/.435 line by ZIPS. He basically hasn't improved at all since then. Given his career line is .258/.302/.396 thats pretty close regressing for Safeco.2 hours 47 min ago
TaroBasically Montero was all projection, whereas Souza is good NOW with projection beyond that.2 hours 56 min ago
TaroI was huge on Montero's potential, and I was wrong. But to be fair Montero never put up the MLEs that Souza did. Souza projects as a 2-3 WAR player NOW based on what he did in AAA. Montero never did, he was incredible based on age related performance at his level and had massive power upside. But he never performed as well as Souza. His MLEs were in the 0-1 WAR range and he just never got better from there. Souza RIGHT NOW is above-average player. Montero never was.2 hours 58 min ago
moethedogI'm with Matt: Rios and Rasmus would be delightful! I'm with Taro: Souza will indeed be a player. But you could probably get both Rios and Rasmus for what Melky will cost per/year. 2X$8-$10M (with an option year) for Rasmus and something similar for Rios. Or just do Rasmus AND Souza, making all or us happy. You can get Souza fairly easily and sign Rasmus and have money to spend. Souza, btw, plays 1B, too. LoMo will need some breathers.3 hours 26 min ago
SABR MattHow much did you love Jesus Montero before we traded for him?3 hours 39 min ago
TaroJust think Souza is a player. I like his combination of athleticism, swing, and performance.4 hours 59 sec ago
SABR MattRomero, Montero, Smoak, Peguero, Balentien, Clement...so...so many more. So many you won't possibly remember them all. And all but a scant tiny fraction of them have panned out. And that is not unique to the Mariners. There is a massive zero gravity moon step difference between an awesome AAA hitter and a proven major leaguer. All players have risks...but some are less risky than others. And for the record, Cruz's home run power transcends Safeco rather easily...and his hitter's park in Baltimore...has a mediocre at best HR factor to left. So...yeah...not worried about Cruz.4 hours 43 min ago
SABR MattTaro...love your insights and all...but how many guys have we promoted in the last 12 years who had great minor league numbers?4 hours 46 min ago
TaroEvery player you roster has some risk involved, included proven MLBers. Cruz will be a RH backspin 35 year old slugger with a career sub .330 OBP in hitters parks, and we've signed him for 4 years. I'd be more nervous about him than Souza in 2015, and especially beyond that. Souza has the performance in the high minors combined with insane athleticism. I think hes underrated due to being a football convert and a late bloomer.4 hours 56 min ago
SABR Mattyou don't take that sort of risk when this is the best chance you have of winning the WS. Souza can be a fourth outfielder option...not a starter.5 hours 19 min ago
GLSSouza is a risk, but a pretty good one.5 hours 22 min ago
SABR MattSouza is not reliable. That's not sufficient to this moment.5 hours 36 min ago
TaroI'm thinking Melky would want 'at least' 4 years gauranteed if hes looking for 5. If Ms stay hard at 3 they won't land him, vesting option for 4th or not. Just give him 5 with a lower AAV. 5/$55 or something in that range. Or deal for Souza (my favorite option).6 hours 7 min ago
SABR MattRasmus and Rios would be a fine platoon with CF helper potential and would be cheaper than Cabrera. I like Cabrera better even with more money involved, but Rios/Rasmus would also be fine with me.6 hours 14 min ago
Gordon GrossRios and Rasmus would be... extensive. By himself I'm not huge on Rios. A Rios/Rasmus platoon would be damaging. Playing with brass knuckles. I hope the Ms take the velvet gloves fully off this offseason. Zduriencik has waited half a decade to wade into the fight with fists flying - let's make it worth the wait. I'm fine with making Beane cry into his collapsing-budget cup o' coffee.6 hours 17 min ago
SABR MattRasmus. If you get Rios and Rasmus, the outfield aligns OK6 hours 54 min ago
moethedogThe Rios card might not bluff the Melky team guys: In '12 Rios was a heck of a player. In '11 he was a dud. In '13 and '14 he was basically a split heavy .280-.320-.420 guy with a pretty scraggly glove. There doesn't seem to be much Rios market out there right now, which might be a neat quality. You could probably get him for 2 years and not break the bank. Over the last two years Viciedo has hit RHP at a .738 and .689 clip. Rios has hit at .714 and .646 rate. Just saying. But he does continue to beat lefties up, so as a 4th OF-paired with Ackley, as Matt suggests, Rios would be great. He's been at .889 and .898 vL the last two years. That's rip-roaring. But it means that you need a RF who can play CF, as Rios no longer does.7 hours 51 min ago
moethedogRios and Miller would be a neat combo, perhaps. If the hint that we had interest in Seth Smith is true that might also be a place to go. Smith and Rios would be an interesting tandem. But you're still a CF short. Smith is what you hope Ackley becomes. And he's cheap for 3 years. But unless it's Jones, Miller or Endy...we need a CF glove to go with the one we've got. Bloomie? No thanks...7 hours 52 min ago
SABR MattWouldn't mind also getting Rios to pair with Ackley9 hours 49 min ago
jemanjiYep that 5.7 RC/27, delivered game-in game-out, is looking pretty sweet. Good Kendrys plus wheels9 hours 50 min ago