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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Leadoff OBP... 

Studes over at Hardball Times recently published an article (with always informative his graphs) on an interesting topic: how teams score runs. Obviously, it is something people talk and argue about a lot and I thought that Studes' article was interesting because it really reached inside of the numbers to arrive at an interesting conclusion.

Studes begins by noting what is probably obvious to us all: if you have a man on first with no outs it is much easier to score than having a guy on first with two outs. (Specifically, the former situation typically yields .953 runs an inning, as compared with .251 runs per inning.*) So OBP is important, but lead-off OBP is vital.

*(If you are curious, I looked up Tangotiger's Run Expectancy Matrix and found that the middle scenario of a runner on first with one out yielded .573 runs per inning.)

The Phillies, as we all know, are a great OBP team (.345, 2nd in the NL). However, the Phils had little success getting guys on base at the start of the inning: .318. The Phillies -.027 variance OBP / Leadoff OBP was worse than any other MLB team except the Rangers and Expos (er, Nationals). In other words: the Phillies terrific OBP is being wasted. Why?

Studes notes that the Phillies have an OBP machine batting third (Abreu) and batters hitting third are the least likely to leadoff an inning. A big reason I found for the decline in leadoff OBP for the Phillies was the performance of Marlon Byrd, the Phillies former centerfielder:

Byrd was the Phillies leadoff hitter for a good portion of the season. He had not fare well in the role, hitting .215 BA / .293 OBP batting in the #1 slot. I looked more closely and found that Byrd had 117 AB's in 2004 leading off an inning for the Phillies: he hit .248 BA / .285 OBP. (Check out Byrd's stats here.)

So Byrd was a big factor in the Phillies miserable lead-off OBP, but check out how most of the Phillies starters did:

Season OBP / Leadoff OBP / Variance
Byrd: .287 / .285 / -.002
Rollins: .348 / .319 / -.029
Polanco: .345 / .363 / +.018
Abreu: .428 / .372 / -.056
Thome: .396 / .420 / +.024
Burrell: .365 / .319 / -.046
Bell: .363 / .272 / -.091
Lieberthal: .335 / .405 / +.070
Michaels: .364 / .313 / -.051
Utley: .308 / .267 / -.041

A few thoughts on the data:

1. Please trade Bell.

2. Unfortunately I didn’t write down how many plate appearances each player had in the role. Byrd, I counted, had 117 AB’s and 3 BB’s leading off innings for the Phillies (no data on sacrifice hits). So he had 120 plate appearances leading off an inning. By my count that’s over 13 games of leading off an inning. No wonder the Phils overall leadoff OBP numbers are so low: Byrd’s .285 is a massive drain.

3. The number that jumped out at me was Bell’s .272 in the six hole. That is a .091 difference from his regular OBP. That certainly made life difficult for Lieberthal, who typically hit behind him in the seven slot and probably didn't have that many RBI chances. Lieberthal, by the way, turned out to be a decent threat to leadoff an inning with. I wonder if the Phillies should maybe flip him and Bell in the batting order.

4. Studes mentioned that three hole hitters get the fewest lead-off AB’s, so I wonder if Abreu’s fifty-six point variance is simply a small sample size. Either way, it certainly looks like Burrell and Abreu should be flipped in the batting order: Burrell was awful leading off an inning (.319 OBP), and Abreu’s skills might be better served in the five slot where he can hit leadoff in the second inning (assuming one of the first four Phillies gets on) and set the table for Bell and Lieberthal.

This was an interesting study and one of the reasons why I read Hardball Times every morning: terrific, insightful writing about the game.

----

This morning I was watching a little bit of ESPNews (I love digital cable) and I saw their story on Jason Giambi’s testimony that he used BALCO steroids. As a lawyer I know that the first tenant of the criminal justice system is that one is innocent until proven guilty, but I find it difficult to believe that Barry Bonds didn’t use steroids. If so than it certainly calls into question Bonds place in baseball history: specifically his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record, which he seems fated to shatter … It is easy to convict Bonds in the court of public opinion: the guy is an arrogant jerk. He’s a poor ambassador for baseball. But this makes me question the achievements of the recent past, the achievements of men that I admire like Mark McGwire.

I have tremendous admiration for McGwire. During the 1998 season he carried himself like a gentleman: hitting 62 home runs wasn’t just about breaking the record, McGwire made it into an homage to Maris himself. It was touching to see McGwire reach out to the Maris family during the pursuit: his pursuit gave new honor to Maris’ achievement in 1961. McGwire is an easy guy to like: how can you dislike a guy who turned down more money to stay in St. Louis because he liked the city? How can you dislike a guy so active in children’s charities? How can you dislike a guy who flat-out said he’d retire without breaking Aaron’s record before cheapening the record by becoming a full-time DH?

But the use of performance-enhancing drugs is clearly documented in baseball, and it makes me wonder how tremendous McGwire’s achievement in 1998 really was. From Giambi to Ken Caminetti, the best players appear to have been doped up. Does this cheapen the records? Does this call into question the authenticity of the game we watch? Can we really compared the game of 2004 to that of 1964? Or even to 1984?

It is troubling to think about, a hard matter to mull over … I’m reminded of the scene in Eight Men Out where the kid cries out to Shoeless Joe Jackson: “Say it ain’t so, Joe! Say it ain’t so...”

Say it ain't so ...

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