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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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Runnin’ the Bases: How good were the Phillies? 

Slight change in plans for today, my planned article on defensive stats will run tomorrow. Anyway, as I mentioned in my posts on the Phillies defense earlier in the week, Santa (a.k.a., my lovely wife) was very good to me this year, giving me both The 2007 Bill James Handbook and The Hardball Times Annual 2007. Santa knows that giving me both items is basically license for me to spend hours pouring over numbers and even more time sitting at a computer screen typing out “Aaron Rowand sucks” articles again and again. Okay, I don’t really think Aaron Rowand sucks, and I don’t spend that much time at blogging, but it does occupy a big stretch of my day and my wife is pretty low-key about it.

So I tear into the Handbook 2007 and discover that Bill James expanded his section on base-running, the big addition to the 2006 edition. With a year to improve on what he did in 2006, James has given us a much more complex and interesting picture of base-running. I began scribbling down the Phillies stats and looking at how they did in 2006.

As an aside: getting an overall grasp of team base-running is a little difficult because James presents the information as individuals, not in a team format. Are the Phillies as a team better or worse than average? I haven’t a clue, because I don’t have the time to wade through and count up everything. I’m insanely curious to see how the Phillies would stack up vis-à-vis the Dodgers or the Rockies, two teams that utilize small ball tactics like bunting and hit-and-runs to score runs. Are the Dodgers and Rockies good base-running teams? Knowing the answer to that question would help us analyze the success, or lack thereof, of the Dodgers and Rockies small ball strategies.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

We can break the Phillies base-runners into three groups. The first are The Good

Utley: +27
Victorino: +14
Rowand: +13
Abreu: +11
Rollins: +9
Nunez: +3

A little caveat here for Bobby Abreu: his 2006 base-running is based on both the Phillies and the Yankees, so the +11 isn’t attributable to his work with the Phillies entirely.

Maximum respect for Chase Utley. His +27 was second in the majors to the Anaheim Angels Chone Figgens (+28). Chase was on base 262 times in 2006 and scored 37% of the time, one of the better percentages in baseball. He made no base-running outs, was never doubled off, and he advanced from first base to home on nine of his eleven chances. All of that represented an improvement over 2005, when Chase failed to advance from first to home on his three chances, and scored just 28% of the time. Check out how much better of a base-runner Chase turned into:
2005 / 2006
First-to-Third: 6/21 (29%) / 12/28 (43%)
Second-to-Home: 14/21 (67%) / 20/29 (68%)
First-to-Home: 0/3 (0%) / 9/11 (82%)

You’d expect a speedster like J.Roll to do well, and Nunez’s speed is basically the only plus Nunez has going for him. The surprises here for me were Shane Victorino and Aaron Rowand. I would never have pegged either one as a great base-runner, but there they both are.

Shane got on base 178 times in 2006 and scored 35% of the time. He was +14, which was in the Top 25 of the league, and he moved well, going from First-to-Home four of six chances, from Second-to-Home seven out of ten tries, and from First-to-Third seven of nineteen tries. Shane was doubled off once.

Aaron Rowand was very aggressive and did a nice job in 2006. Aaron got on base 153 times in 2006 and scored 30% of the time, which was good. Aaron got from First-to-Home two of four chances, from Second-to-Home four out of five tries, and from First-to-Third an impressive ten of sixteen tries. Aaron was doubled off once. Aaron’s skill at going from first to third is very impressive: his 63% was much better than the Mariners Ichiro Suzuki (10-for-36, 28%), better than Chase (43%), and better than Derek Jeter (9-for-36, 25%). The Mets Carlos Beltran, a very good base-runner, was just nine-of-twenty going from first-to-third, or 45%. That was also better than he did in 2005, when he was ten-for-twenty-seven. Aaron does good things on the base-paths. If only he’d get there with more frequency.

And then there were The Bad

Fasano: -10
Lieberthal: -10
Conine: -6
Bell: -3
Coste: -2

James writes in the base-running section of The Handbook: “you would expect the worst baserunners to be mostly catchers and first basemen and DHs.” Coste, Fasnao and Lieberthal are all catchers, Bell was a slow third baseman who grounded into a lot of double plays (18 in ’06, 24 in ’05), and Conine was a slow-footed outfielder who actually played mostly first base for the Orioles. So surprises here. Naturally, the numbers up here are a little suspect given that Fasano and Bell were both dealt during the season to other teams and Conine came from the Orioles, so three of the five guys here did not play all 162 games with the Phillies.

Coste I will single out as a bit of a disappointment: he pretty much failed to advance at every chance he got. I figured that he’d be a better base-runner. C’est la vie.

And finally, the Ugly

Howard: -21
Burrell: -20

Let’s start with Pat Burrell. The good news was that he was not the worst base-runner in baseball. That dishonor goes to the Marlins Josh Willingham at -30. But Pat does rank as the seventh worst. There is little silver lining here. Pat made four base-running outs and was doubled off twice. The season was largely a continuation of Pat’s struggles running the bases:

2005 / 2006
First-to-Third: 6/15 (40%) / 5/20 (25%)
Second-to-Home: 6/16 (38%) / 10/22 (45%)
First-to-Home: 0/8 (0%) / 0/4 (0%)

He was 0-for-12 going from first to home in two years. Chase did that nine times last season alone. Ouch.

Thankfully for Pat, Ryan Howard was worse. Not surprisingly, Ryan scored just 18% of the time he got on base, more a testament to the weakness of the Phillies hitting behind him (Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Abraham Nunez) than to Ryan’s meager base-running skills. And meager they are. Ryan was doubled off twice, made four base-running outs and generally did a terrible job – with one exception – of advancing on the base-paths:

2005 / 2006
First-to-Third: 2/14 (14%) / 4/24 (17%)
Second-to-Home: 6/11 (55%) / 9/16 (56%)
First-to-Home: 2/4 (50%) / 8/14 (57%)

I’d actually categorize Pat Burrell as being a much worse base-runner than Ryan Howard. Pat is weak in pretty much every facet of the game, while Ryan has some strengths: displaying surprising speed going from first to home. Ryan also didn’t make a base-running out in 2005, while Pat made five.

Chris Roberson, Michael Bourn and Carlos Ruiz were not listed, as they did not get on base the requisite fifty or more times.

So what does all of this mean? With the Phillies Big Bang style of offense, base-running isn’t as vital to the Phillies offense as it would be to the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Colorado Rockies, two teams that hit-and-run and bunt and steal bases to score runs. E.g., in 2006 the Phillies had runners moving 69 times when the pitch was thrown, far less than the Dodgers (137) and the Rocks (109). The Phillies moved the runners with their 216 home runs and their .180 ISO, so having Pat Burrell slipping and sliding hurt the Phillies far less than had the Dodgers Furcal posted a -20 base-running number.

One surprise to me actually was how many good base-runners the Phillies have: Utley, Victorino, Rowand and J.Roll. They are good at running the bases and help the Phillies manufacture runs. In fact, I’d note that in his new section on Manufacturing Runs (starting on page 315), James ranked the Phillies third in the N.L. in type-two manufactured runs, the type derived from infield hits and base-running. The Phillies had 115 MR-2 runs, just six behind the N.L.-leading Cardinals. This does seem to suggest a hidden strength for the Phillies is their base-running. Sure they have two of the worst in the biz on their team in Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, but they have terrific speed on the base in many of their other players.

So is base-running a hidden strength for the Phillies? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts

Personally, this is an area which Charlie Manuel is always lacking. Too many times over the past two years, I stand and scream at the tube to make different strategic decisions. While we may have some speed on the basepaths, I see no reason why we can't be a little more creative next season. With all his speed, Victorino should be stealing more. Since we have some guys with good eyes, why can't we use the hit and run more? Most importantly, why can't our pitchers bunt?

These small ball questions end up making a big deal. And Charlie Manuel lacks courage in his play calling--have some confidence! At least try it out??
I think this was a great post, and I would be really curious to hear more about baserunning in general including the Phillies and maybe how they match up against the other teams in the NL East.

One exciting thing about this post is that it seems to imply that the Phillies had more than a one-dimensional offense.
Very nice article, I got a nice giggle when you said receiving such items for Christmas also granted you license to use them for hours of study and computer time! Ha Ha.. We need to come up with these licenses to stay out of trouble with the Mrs. !!!

I'll have to remember this one the next time I receive a publication from my Mrs.!

Rich Baxter
Philly Sports Talk Now! Podcast
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