Sunday, August 02, 2009

Gerald Laird Leads Tigers in Base Running

For most of baseball history, the only available measures of base running were stolen bases and caught stealing. Thanks to play by play data bases such as Retrosheet, it is now possible to track such events as advancing from first to third on a single and advancing on fly outs and ground outs. I talked a lot about base running measures in a series of articles last year. The most advanced base running statistics were developed by Dan Fox and can be found at Baseball Prospectus. They include the following (all of them are runs above average):
  • EqGAR (Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs) - Contribution of advancement on ground outs.
  • EqSBR (Equivalent Stolen Base Runs) - contribution of stolen bases including runs subtracted for caught stealings and pickoffs.
  • EqAAR (Equivalent Air Advancement Runs) - Contribution of base runners advancing on fly outs
  • EqHAR (Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs) - contribution of runners taking the extra base on a hit: first to third on a single, second to home on a single, first to home on a double.
  • EqOAR (Equivalent Other Advancement Runs) - contribution of other base running advancements - passed balls, wild pitches and balks (evidence shows that those events are not entirely random and are influenced by base runners to an extent).
  • EqBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs)- the sum of the five above statistics above or total base running contribution.
Note that players are penalized for making outs and also for not advancing when the average base runner would have been expected to do so.

The Tigers have scored runs on the bases as follows so far in 2009:

EqGAR = -0.3 runs above (below in their case) average on ground outs
EqSBR = -5.2 on base stealing
EqAAR = -0.2 on fly ball outs
EqHAR = 1.2 taking the extra base on hits
EqOAR = 1.2 on other events
EqBRR = -3.2 total base running runs above average

Overall, the Tigers are 3.2 runs below the average team on the bases which ranks them 15th in baseball. Other than base stealing though, they have been an above average base running team They are 2.1 above average on all other base running advancement combined.

Individually, the Tigers leading base runner is not Josh Anderson or Curtis Granderson or Ramon Santiago but catcher Gerald Laird. He is 2.4 runs better than league average with places him in the American League top twenty and first among catchers. It may surprise some that Laird is the team's best base runner but I think Tigers fans that watch the team every day have seen that he is reasonably fast for a catcher and a smart base runner. Equivalent Base Running Runs for others are shown below:

Laird 2.4
Everett 1.4
thomas 0.9
Ordonez 0.0
Granderson -0.1
Anderson -0.2
Raburn -0.2
Inge -0.8
Polanco -0.9
Cabrera -1.6


  1. Nice job, Lee.

    What is your opinion of tRA? Do you think it could be an improvement over FIP?

    Also, what is your opinion of VORP for hitters and pitchers?

  2. Scottwood,

    tRA is more predictive than FIP. It's also more complex and I'm not sure the small increase in predictive power is necessarily worth the extra complexity.

    Baseball Prospectus does not reveal their formulas but VORP is generally regarded as a good stat. I prefer the FanGraphs stats (wOBA, wRAA, wRC) for hitters because I know how they are calculated and the theory is solid.

    Pitching stats are still a work in progress. There isn't really one summary stat that I can point to with confidence and say that's the one to use. I still look at k rate, walk rate, ground ball rate.


  3. Yeah, a number of the baseball prospectus stats I am somewhat skeptical on. I don't trust their fielding metrics as much as UZR or the one's on Bill James's website and Baseball Musings. I do like the base running stats they have and VORP for hitters. Other than that, though, I tend to side with the majority of the statistics at Fangraphs when evaluating a player.

    What do you think of xFIP? That is also a predictive stat of sorts. According to that stat, one would expect a guy like Rick Porcello to see his ERA start to level off and his FIP to drop, as well.

  4. FIP is more predictive than xFIP. The problem with FIP is that it uses home runs which is not very consistent from year to year. xFIP uses fly ball rate instead and assumes that all pitchers will allow about one homer for every 10 fly balls.

    Just like the fielding stats, I wouldn't rely too much on one measure. I'd look at FIP. xFIP, tRA together. Another one is qERA (which uses ground ball rate instead of homers) but I don't think it's tracked anywhere online.

  5. I think your analysis is correct with respect to Laird, but Ordonez fourth best on the team?!?!

    The guy can barely make it to first on a gapper off the wall, yet these metrics label him a better baserunner than Granderson.

    Also, how can the Tigers be 3.2 runs below average and be 15th in MLB? I understand the difference between mean and median, but the numbers are surprising.

  6. Steinert, Thanks for reading my blog post. In past years, these metrics showed that Granderson was a much better base runner than Ordonez, which he is in general. Granderson does more positive things on the bases than Ordonez, even this year. However, base running mistakes count against you and getting thrown out on the bases usually has a bigger effect than advancing a base. I believe Granderson has been hurt by a couple of pickoffs and and a couple of outs trying to move up on fly balls. If he can avoid further mistakes, Granderson should be way ahead of Ordonez by the end of the year.

    As for the 3.2 runs below average thing, 3.2 is not a lot at the team level. So, the 15th place ranking looks about right.


  7. Library MonkeyAugust 04, 2009

    I am not surpised with Laird, he seems to push the envelope and get away with it...or, at the end of most games his uniform is dirty on the front from head-first slides.

    Also, it appears he has a much better ability to bunt for a single than granderson, which is surprising since you would expect Curtis to drag one down, every once in a while.

    I do have a question...not being a saber --- how is it determined what 'a normal player would do'?

    It seems like this would turn into one of those mistakes assumed with fielding. They guy with more range often makes more errors. Players who don't hit as many gappers as Granderson, might seem to be a better runner since they aren't thrown out

  8. Library Monkey, it is all based on averages in specific situations. For example, runner on first with one out and batters singles to left. Let's say the average runner advances to third 35% of the time in that situation. If Granderson is successful 50% of the time in those situations, then he gets credit for being better than average. However, he loses credit every time he is thrown out trying to move up.

    Your fielding analogy is a good one. Someone might be a very athletic fielder but not take good routes to balls so doesn't make as many plays as a smart fielder. The same can be true with a fast base runner.

    It's the same thing with base running. Josh Anderson has great speed

  9. LibraryMonkeyAugust 06, 2009

    Laird proved this tonight when he hit a single and tried to stretch it --- I don't Think Cabrera would have thought double...Laird did

    so Average Runner or Normal Runner isn't really isn't Average Runner, but average of runners...makes sense

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