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Tortoises vs Hares Part III: Hunter Pence and Elvis Andrus

San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence
San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence

Jul 20, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) hits a single during the fourth inning in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been discussing the value of base running, stolen bases, and speed. So far, in Part I of this series, we looked at the Major League Baseball leaders in “Runner on First Scores on a Double (1stDH).” Part II of this series looks at league leaders who have led the league in “Reaching Third Base or Scoring from First Base on a Single (or 1stS3).” In both cases, we see a lot of slow guys among the leaderboards, but the common theme among those players is that they have high on-base percentages, therefore, giving them plenty of opportunities to score from first base. In both articles, the main hypothesis was that speed runners would dominate both categories, but of the 17 players reviewed, only six of them actually have had more than 10 stolen bases after the completion of one half of the season.

In this series, we take a look at another statistic with the expectation that it would be dominated with fast players that steal a lot of bases. “Bases Taken (BT)” is simply described by Baseball-Reference.com as:

Bases advanced on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, defensive indifference.

Again, the description for BT would have one thinking that faster base runners have the advantage in this category over slow base runners. The following table is a list of players that are in the top 11 in this category:

STATION TO STATION: Top Base Runners in Bases Taken

Player

Bases Taken

WAR

OBP

SLG

BB%

K%

SB

SB%

UBR

wSB

wRAA

Desmond Jennings

19

2.8

0.339

0.452

9.0%

18.1%

15

68.0%

3.5

0.0

9.8

Miguel Cabrera

18

5.9

0.454

0.664

14.0%

15.1%

3

100.0%

0.5

0.2

53.3

Shin-Soo Choo

18

3.1

0.423

0.468

14.4%

19.4%

11

61.0%

1.1

-1.0

27.7

Daniel Murphy

18

1.4

0.305

0.395

4.2%

13.3%

11

79.0%

1.7

0.7

-2.8

Denard Span

18

1.1

0.317

0.352

7.5%

12.0%

10

71.0%

0.2

0.1

-5.2

Elvis Andrus

18

0.7

0.301

0.284

7.4%

14.0%

19

86.0%

2.5

2.3

-16.7

Hunter Pence

17

2.7

0.309

0.454

5.9%

16.4%

14

100.0%

1.9

2.5

4.6

Todd Frazier

16

2.3

0.333

0.398

9.8%

23.0%

5

63.0%

2.0

-0.5

2.8

James Loney

16

2.2

0.366

0.466

7.9%

12.1%

3

75.0%

-1.7

-0.1

12.7

Daniel Nava

16

0.8

0.374

0.426

9.9%

17.2%

0

0.0%

2.9

-1.1

10.9

Prince Fielder

16

0.8

0.360

0.453

11.6%

17.2%

1

50.0%

-2.0

-0.6

13.4

Finally, we (barely) have a majority of players that have stolen more than 10 bases this year–a total of six. However, since the league average for stolen base percentage (SB%) is at 73%, only three out of the six base stealers are–in theory–actually helping their team in producing runs with their baseball thievery:

  • Daniel Murphy
  • Elvis Andrus
  • Hunter Pence

[Terms you should know: WAR, UBR, wSBand wRAA. The following players evaluated will have a final grade of Green Light, Yellow Light, or Red Light with Green indicating that player should continue to be aggressive on the base paths and Red meaning that player should be put on hold on the bases. Yellow means to only allow a runner to attempt a stolen base with high caution].

Murphy has a low on-base percentage with very little power this season, and has has shown bad plate discipline. He has a wRAA of -2.8 which means he contributes very little in terms of offensive runs, which explains his low wSB of 0.7. So if I’m to diagnose the data correctly, Murphy’s only value as an offensive player comes from his base running skills. I guess that would explain why he bats second for the New York Mets–and why they have been below .500 for most of the year. Yellow Light.

Shockingly, Andrus has the lowest WAR among players listed on this table. He has shown decent plate discipline and is a tough hitter to strike out, but it hasn’t resulted in better OBP this season. However, his speed has been his saving grace this year as his UBR and wSB numbers have been superb. Nevertheless, since he doesn’t contribute much of anything else, he has the worst wRAA on this list. Typical stuff from a one-dimensional player. Green Light.

Finally, Hunter Pence has been perfect in the stolen bases department. Just like Andrus and Murphy, he has a terrible OBP and even worse plate discipline. However, his .454 slugging percentage has made him a relevant player in terms of WAR and his wSB, because of the 100% stolen base rate, is tops among this group. If he could only raise his on-base percentage, he would be able to raise his wRAA closer to Howie Kendrick levels. Green Light.

So the only player that adds real value to his team because of stolen bases is Hunter Pence (see WAR and positive wRAA compared to Murphy and Andrus) and he had to be perfect in the stolen base rate department and show that he has some pop in his bat just so he can get the 2.7 WAR by his name.

OTHER SPEEDY RUNNERS

  • Desmond Jennings’ low SB% has not stopped him from posting a good WAR and UBR this season. However, his wSB does show that his stolen bases have contributed nothing in offensive runs in 2013. He does have the highest UBR in this group of 11, which explains how he leads the league in Bases Taken. So his speed has actual value, but not because he can steal bases. Red Light. 
  • Shin-Soo Choo has been a wonderful addition for the Cincinnati Reds, but it has nothing to do with the number of stolen bases. His -1.0 wSB means that he’s cost his team at least one run because of the poor SB%. Even his UBR is nothing to brag about, but because of his high on-base percentage and plate discipline, he is showing that he contributes a lot more at the plate than on the base paths. Red Light.
  • Denard Span has shown good plate approach, but it has not even resulted in an adequate OBP. Span being a one-dimensional player on offense–with his speed being the only worthy attribute he possesses–explains his low WAR and a negative figure in wRAA. What’s shocking is how little to no use his base running has been so far this season. Clearly, his bad SB% has had a negative affect on his wSB, but one would assume that his speed would at least be of some value in terms of his UBR. Red Light.

So only two of six players that have stolen more than 10 bases so far this season are actually contributing positive offensive runs for their team this year. So the lesson learned here is the same lesson we’ve learned so far in this series: hitting and on-base skills are more important than speed and base stealing prowess.

Here’s a quick rundown on the “slow” guys on this table:

  • Prince Fielder has a low WAR and contributes nothing on the base paths. Nevertheless, his high on-base percentage allows him to have more opportunities to be among the leaders in Bases Taken.
  • James Loney also contributes very little as a base runner, but because of a high OPS of .832 and has contributed in WAR and wRAA, his lack of speed is not very noticeable when he’s on base.
  • Miguel Cabrera, just like Fielder and Loney, has a high OBP and that alone has helped him keep up the pace in the BT category. Arguably, he is the best hitter in MLB right now and he has been perfect in stolen base rate, though his steals has contributed very little to his team in terms of offensive runs.
  • Todd Frazier, unlike the previous three players mentioned, does not have a high OBP, but has proven to be a good base runner as judged by his high BT number and his 2.0 UBR. Although his wRAA is disappointing, he still owns a WAR of 2.3.
  • Daniel Nava has an identical WAR as Prince Fielder (0.8), but has a high OBP and adequate OPS. A 2.9 UBR might explain his high BT number.

Part I and Part II of the series went to the tortoises and based on this report, I’m going to have to give this one to the tortoises once again.

Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com and are good through July 20, 2013.

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