06 June 2011

Cup of jO's: No, Mr Jones. You Don't Have to Run Out Every Ball.

Yesterday, I was finally able to make use of my press pass again and make it to the rubber match between the Orioles and Blue Jays.  Mark Reynolds crushed a home run.  We do not need to speak of anything else.

Today is the draft and we aim to have a lot of draft items coming at you over the next couple days.


One thing I would like to rehash from yesterday's game was something that I wrote that resulted in a number of my readers becoming upset with me.  In one of Adam Jones' plate appearances he hit a rocket to shortstop, Yunel Escobar.  Escobar got good glove on the batted ball, Jones broke his stride, and then the ball popped out of Escobar's glove.  Jones momentarily sped up until he saw that Escobar quickly recovered.  Jones never had a shot at first whether he was running full speed the entire time or not.

In response, I wrote something close to the point of Jones really should not have been running that ball out at 100% because it really did not matter.  This upset some people who follow my twitter account.  I will try to go through my thinking on this one.

Chance of Success

When I was in instructional league, I played for the First National Bank Brewers.  It is a memorable year for two reasons: 1) other kids cried when they faced me because I threw hard for a third grader and 2) I managed to get on base every plate appearance except for one.  Only the second feat is pertinent to this conversation.  I got on base every time because I was in the left handed batter's box, I was reasonably fast, and fielders at the instructional level can barely field and are almost completely unable to throw a ball in the air on target to first base.  You have to run out every single batted ball because the chances of success are great.

As you move up through the ranks, fielding becomes exponentially better until it begins to plateau after high school and flat lines at the MLB level.  At the MLB level, a batter facing an average defense is likely to benefit from an error once every 75 times up to bat.  At my high school over a decade ago, a batter had a chance for an error to occur once every 15 at bats.  I think we can all appreciate that difference.  The chances that hustling will result in a man on base at the MLB level is far, far below what that would be at the high school level just using these two teams as examples.  It simply does not happen very often, so hustling on every play should not be valued equally at each level of play due to the diminishing value of the effort.

I will try to put a number here using some assumptions.  We already established an error now occurs once every 75 plate appearances (9 times every 700 PA).  Let's assume that 1970 was the golden age of hustling.  Then a batter had a chance of benefiting from an error every 55 plate appearances (13 times every 700 PA).  When these two numbers in mind, lets say a modern batter, if hustling, would get on base an extra four times a year.  Reaching on base via error is worth about 0.5 runs per eventThis would mean that a batter would produce two more runs a year if he hustled all the time.  That would mean an additional 0.2 wins per player hustling.  An entire teams of hustlers would give you almost two wins more a season.  That would be consequential to teams right on the bubble.

What is the cost?

It is also important to recognize that effort is not limitless.  There is a cost.  Players often speak of the grind of a season wearing down on them.  Many will also speak of how a brutal sun and humidity leaves them barely hanging on at the end of a night.  These qualitative assessments we have all heard and some of us have even felt these things.  There is a cost to trying hard.  Let's step through this in an extreme form of effect: injury.
a. At full exertion, we are forcing our body to our limits.  This increases injury rate because we are challenging our tissues to withstand the stress we are placing on it.  Simply put, you are more likely to injure yourself running a full sprint than you are walking. 
b. As we tire, injury rates also increase.  As our muscles fatigue, they are not able to access needed nutrients in a timely manner which increases chance of injury.  As our muscles fatigue, we are less likely to be mechanically sound in our efforts.  As we fatigue, our ability to focus decreases and we are more likely to put ourselves in situations that are not ideal.  All of these increase the chance of injury.
If a starter gets injured, it is likely that the player that will replace him in the lineup will be around replacement level.  If you have a 3 WAR player (good but not great), the break even point would be losing 10 games to injury.  If we are talking about an MVP caliber player, the break even point would be losing four games to injury.  When you factor in the possibility of a catastrophic injury (career-ending or elite performance ending) the cost to a team's current play as well as creating a new need for the future along with enormous sunk cost resulting in roster inflexibility seems impossible to think that hustling all the time is beneficial.

Running out plays is a Cost / Benefit analysis

This last step is the most difficult one to take.  I personally do not know how more likely a player is to be injured (or to become less effective) due to hustling.  We can all agree there is a cost there, but I am not sure what that cost is.  I am also sure we can agree that players should not fully hustle on every single play.  It would be surprising to me to talk to someone who thinks a player should slide into the bag at the end of each play.  It would simply make no sense because a player would be pointlessly increasing his chance of injury.

For me, a line drive straight at an infielder or a simple ground ball as occasions that would not make me demand a player to press his luck.  I would prefer having his glove and his bat in the lineup instead of risking ineffectiveness by legging out a play that results in an out 98% of the time.  I might be too conservative here.  I don't think I am.  To me, it seems like common sense.  The problem is that hustling is risky for the team if the best players hustle.  Their performance cannot be replaced and an extra ten runs a season is not worth a lot if there stands a small chance that a catastrophic injury might occur.  It really is not about babying a player . . . it is about preserving your resources and employing them in a fashion to have the greatest chance of success.

One final thought, when I think of hustling I think of catchers and second basemen.  These are rough and tumble positions.  The career life span of players who play these positions are rather short.  A career of getting bounced around at second base making the turn or getting hit by foul balls and barreling catchers at home results in a age curve where it is difficult to be a useful player past the age of 32.  Although I have no proof that hustling causes similar effects, I think it is a reasonable position to assume that it does.

With that in mind, I must say: No, Mr. Jones, you do not have to run out every ball.

1 comment:

The Oriole Way said...

Excellent post. I was a firm believer in hustling until I played summer ball in college. We play 6 nights out of 7 for June, July, and most of August. I hustled out every ground ball and by August had tendonitis in both knees. I completely forgive players that don't run out routine grounders in the Majors.