Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Let's Score Some Runs!

Let's face it, the bottom line is for a team to score more runs than their opponent, and the more efficient they are usually translates into success in the win column.

How is this best accomplished?

Many believe that a team needs speedy players to accomplish this. While there most certainly isn't anything wrong with a speedy player, his ability to get on base and run bases well don't necessarily go hand in hand.

Others believe a team needs a power packed lineup, but hitting home runs and scoring runs don't have the correlation you might think it does.

Even if a team combines both speed and power, they still can be poor in manufacturing runs.

When we consider a team's efficiency at scoring runs, we need to look at something I call baseball smarts. The successful teams have it, and the poor ones don't.

How do you quantify baseball smarts?

Well if you consider the fact that you can't score unless you get on base, we need to look at the ways to do that. You can hit a home run, get a hit, or take a walk. I won't discuss being hit by a pitch or getting on base through a fielding error, as they are something the offensive player has little control over.

It's no surprise that the highest run producing teams are near or at the top of the league in walks. You don't have to lead the league in home runs or stolen bases, you just need to have more men on base, period.

The more men on base, the more runs you score when a home run is hit. That makes up for not having a lineup full of home run hitters.

The more men on base, the more opportunities a team will have to sacrifice a runner along. A player doesn't have to have the most talent to lay down a bunt, take the ball the other way, or hit a fly ball.

The more men on base, the more opportunities a team will have to steal a base. Quite often the ability to steal a base has less to do with a player's speed than him taking advantage of another team's pitcher or catcher.

The mere fact that a player has speed or raw power, has less to do with his potential run production than his ability adapting to the game situations.

This baseball smarts is tool any player can learn. He doesn't need tremendous God given talent to be productive, he just needs to be a student of the game.

Being disciplined at the plate is the overriding factor for a team to be the most productive with the talent it has, and this discipline is the most important element in manufacturing runs.


Maddog said...

I'd agree that being disciplined at the plate is the most important factor to run production.

I'd disagree that any player can learn how to play this game to maximize run scoring, though. Like any profession, baseball players have a unique set of skills that remains, for the most part, constant over time. Players generally develop a bit more power as they age and a bit more patience, but that's probably more from experience than anything else.

There are a lot of dumb people who play baseball--probably more than in the average profession. Not only are these players skills going to remain relatively constant over the course of their career, but more than likely so will their ability to learn and adapt to game situations.

A few years ago I was ready for a team that had more speed than the average team. I felt that it had to be a better way to produce runs and on a daily basis having that speed probably enables a team to scored 3 runs more frequently than, say, a team full of home run hitters. Throughout the 2006 season I came to despise the whole team speed idea. Give me some guys with some pop and I'll take my chances. There will be games where the team gets shutout and games where they get 2-1, but they'll also win some games 13-12 and 15-10 that a team with speed otherwise wouldn't.

Ideally, you'd like to have speed, power, and patience. I'd probably weight power and patience equally at about 45% and speed down around 10%. Speed, in my opinion, is going to be most valuable off the bench (pinch runner, pinch hitter, defensive replacement, etc). There will undoubtedly be times you wish you had more in the starting lineup, but I'd settle for a speedburner or two on the bench and patient/power hitters in the everyday lineup.

Clute said...

I can guarantee you that a player that wants to be a student of the game can improve on disciplines. Those are the type of players that you want in your lineup and Pinella can go a long way in ferreting the ones that don't. You're always going to take a little bit of reckless hacking from a power hitter, because one swing can produce at least one run, but most teams are made up of young or mid-level players, and it's these players that need to use everything in the book to excel.

I don't think anyone would say David Eckstien has much God given talent. He doesn't hit power or even for a great average, but is still a tough out. He understands his shortcomings and realizes that he can at least make contact by shortening his swing, choking up on the bat, laying down on bunt and making the pitcher work hard.
If Ecksyien wasn't a student of the game, he'd been out of baseball long ago.

Maddog said...

I think Eckstein represents a special case. I haven't checked out Eckstein's career stats, but I'd be willing to bet that he's always been a tough out, even at the minor league level if stats were available to show one way or the other.

What I'm trying to say, and may not have articulated well enough before, is that a player is unlikely to learn these aspects at the MLB level. I'd say it's even unlikely they could learn them at the MiLB level. I guess what I'm saying is that I think it's a skill just like hitting for average, hitting for power, defense, baserunning, and patience among others. Eckstein possesses that skill and is one of the best at what he does.

Can a player like Cedeno become someone like Eckstein? I don't believe he can. I think Cedeno could learn a few things, of course, but I think he has so few skills that he's just not going to be able to learn these things.

I'm basing this opinion off of statistical research, which has its flaws, but I don't think there is much in this game that a player is going to learn to make him a better player by the time he reaches the minor league level and then into the majors. Players skill sets remain remarkably consistent over time, which tells me that it's either very hard to learn how to adapt one's game or that it generally doesn't happen.

I think your point about the Cubs needing some players with baseball smarts is an excellent one. Woody and I have been saying the same thing for a few years now. I'm just not as convinced as you are that it's something that can be learned or even taught. This game to the naked eye crawls along, but as you know, what happens on that field happens, it seems, in a nanosecond. I think too much of this game is about instincts. You see the pitch coming out of the pitcher's hand and you make up your mind immediately if you're swinging or taking. Is there really any rational thought that goes into these things beyond preparation, which I do expect we'll see this team be more prepared and maybe that will show up in the ways you're talking about. I hope it does.

So much of this game (almost all of it) is defensive. The only player who is consistently on offense is the pitcher. Even the hitters, who we traditionally call offensive players are actually defensive players reacting to what the pitcher does, which by definition is defense. Defenders react to where the ball is hit. It moves at such a fast speed.

theantigoat said...

Not the Eckstien comparison again. Enough with Eck already. I do agree mostly with Maddog on this one. I don't think a player can necessarily "learn" plate dicipline. He either has it, or he does'nt. Same thing with a power hitter. You can't convince me that a player can "learn" to hit the longball. You can notice trends in a player from high school on, this is why we have scouts, otherwise we would simply go with the most athletic and apt to learn people. That does'nt make him a ball player.

Wrigley Ville said...

So what does that mean for the A's players (if I'm remembering this correctly, though that is no guarantee) who are basically told: Be patient. Don't swing at the first pitch? Is that simply the players they sign/develop, or are they taught that?

theantigoat said...

I think in that instance, if you are being "told" to do something, that is one thing. Having the ability to follow a simple instruction does'nt make you a "diciplined hitter".Do you think that if Vladdy G is told to not swing at the first pitch, then suddenly he "learned" to be a diciplined hitter?

Wrigley Ville said...

Hm. I guess that depends on your definition of disciplined. The A's must be disciplined, for fear of being disciplined, I suppose.

theantigoat said...

True. Diciplined for fear of being diciplined.

I guess the point that I am trying to make is that no matter how much you study the game, how many ground balls you take, how much time you spend in the cage, how well you are coached..... the bottom line is you, first must have the available talent in order to hone your skill. Some players have a different natural talent level and this must be diagnosed early for fear of wasting a whole lot of everyone's time. Some players are never going to produce no matter what you do to help them. It is a special talent to be able to react in split second and decipher whether or not to swing, it cannot be taught. I hope that made sense.

Wrigley Ville said...

It certainly makes sense. For example, I can't make up my mind in slow pitch softball half the time. And, when I do, it's often the wrong decision.

I could bat second for the Cubs!

Maddog said...


The A's draft players who appear to be heads and shoulders above the rest when it comes to not just patience, but power as well. Everybody thinks that Beane loves OBP, but Beane loves OPS and OBP is one part of that as you know.

Also, there aren't any promotions through the minors that are undeserved. You have to reach certain plateaus and if you don't, you stay behind. That doesn't mean that a player has to take, say, 50 walks, but it's a system that does only promote those who are worthy, which means that the type of players you're going to see reach the majors are the ones who have exceeded at what the organization believes they should be doing.

The Cubs have this idea that you just promote a player and they probably don't even look at the guy's stats.

Jason said...

I'm going to have to go with the commenters on this one. I think the reason that it's hard to teach discipline is that it requires an actual physical skill, the ability to recognize whether a pitch is a strike or a ball and recognize it quickly. This requires very good eyes and, I suppose, pattern recognition. Some players have this and some players don't.

That being said, the skill can improve with time, but I don't think a player can improve beyond a certain point.

Clute said...

Ok, let me first address Gerald Perry, since he's the new hitting coach for the Cubs and was previously with the A's. He came to the A's because of his work with the Pirates.

Perry was acquired by the A's because their hitters weren't demonstating enough patience at the plate. Walks went up by 113 last year.

Second on the notion of Vlady not being a patient hitter. I thought I addressed this in an earlier comment but suffice it to say, that a team recognizes that their run producers main attribute is to drive in runs not take a base on balls and very few clubs would prefer an Adam Dunn who takes alot of walks and has alot of K's to a Soriano.

Third, the notion that a player only has so much talent and once they get to the MLB level, they can't improve their eye at the plate. I think everyone of you misunderstand the level of talent even the worst scrub at the MLB level has. The difference in a 250 hitter and a 300 hitter may be as litter as one hit per week. To think that even the worst hitter could not change his approach at the plate to take a BB if he was coached on the little nuances and actually put the time in and paid enough attention to how effective the opposing pitcher was that day.

One extra BB per game averages out to 162 extra walks. You're telling me that if hitters weren't coached on just taking advantage of an opposing pitcher who's struggling that day that a team couldn't increase their BB by 162 over a course of the year?

These MLB players are so talented you can't possibly imagine and anyone who makes it to the Bigs, certainly has the ability to change their approach at the plate enough to take an extra walk when the situation calls for it.

When you're at the plate it's really a pretty simple strategy. If you get ahead early in hte count, you're chances of getting on base dramatically.

The main value of a hitting coach is to change a players approach at the plate and teaching hitters how to pay attention during a game to understand the stuff and control of the pitcher they're facing.

When a hitting coach has to change a hitters swing, it becomes a much more daunting task, unless the coach has noticed a departure in the players mechanics.

Maddog said...

You may in fact be right that any hitter CAN change his approach at the plate to take a few more walks here and there. I don't really know. I just know that it's not something we generally see. Maybe most of the coaches aren't worth a crap. i wouldn't disagree with that one bit. I think most of them are useless, if not all of them. But if this was very possible--that listening and coaching could make a player more patient--wouldn't we see this reflected in the stats? I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think patience is as much a skill as anything else in this game. All skills can be improved to a certain point (I'm sure we could even get Juan Pierre to hit more home runs if we worked with him), but there's a level where a player is going to top out because he's just not capable of getting any more out of that one specific skill.

I actually agree that it's possible, POSSIBLE, that a coach could help increase his team's walks by 1 per game, or 162 over the course of a season. You figure an average of about 40 plate appearances per game; one more walk per 40 plate appearances is certainly possible. However, I'd bet that many of these walks would be come from 2 or 3 specific players. For example, we'd see Ramirez take 50 more walks than he did last year, Murton would increase his walk total by another 30 and Derrek Lee increases his by 30. The remaining 50 would be from elsewhere.

I definitely think something like that is possible, but I'm not as positive as you are that you can take a player like Cedeno, who is far more talented than I could imagine, and teach him to take more walks. The game went so fast for this guy he was clearly out-matched...out of his league so to speak. I don't think you can take a player like that (as well as most players in baseball for that matter who are already doing everything they can just to remain in this game) and teach him to be more disciplined or patient. The players that are well above average, yes, but I don't think it's possible with the lesser talented players in the game. At least not without some other aspect of their game slipping because they've been spending so much time working on discipline and not the amount of time they need to work on, say, turning a double play just to be an effective middle infieder.

I think we'll see a more patient team as a whole next year so, to some extent I definitely agree that we can teach this aspect of the game.

greg said...

Clute, good stuff going on here.

I also agree with what you are saying about patience and being able to change your approach. Any player can do it. It comes down to the player actually wanting to make an adjustment.

Maddog, i saw that you would put your speed guys on the bench. I think that is a terribly inefficent way of using speed. how many times will you need a pinch runner? Very few. So why have one of your fastest guys on the bench all of the time? To me that is stupid.