27 April 2013

Aggressive Baserunning and Pacific Outfielders

The season is still quite young as the Orioles have 139 games remaining, but there has been something that has caught my eye.  I was thinking about Russell Carleton’s article several years back at Baseball Prospectus on the Conservative Nature of Third Base Coaches.  I was thinking about that article because the Orioles have been gunned out at home three times this year:
  • April 13 – Nate McLouth is thrown out at home during an Orioles 5-3 win over the New York Yankees
  • April 17 – Nick Markakis was caught between third and home on a Manny Machado double in an extra inning 10-6 extra inning win against the Rays.
  • April 24 – Manny Machado is thrown out at home in the 10th inning in an Orioles 6-5 loss in Toronto
These three outs with the apparent windmill action at third base and the Orioles being killed at once at second (Adam Jones) and once at third (Manny Machado) made me think that maybe the aggressive nature of the team is a good thing.  The numbers may not exactly bear that out yet with the Orioles taking successfully extra bases 42% of the time against the MLB average of 39%.  The statistic used there is XBT% which divides the number of times more than one base is taken by a baserunner when a hitter hits a single and the number of times more than two bases are taken when a double is hit by the number of those opportunities.  It assumes all context is the same, which certainly can be problematic.

This led to thinking about the Orioles outfield.  They have not killed a single baserunner.  This is a bit of a concern because this outfield is not known at all for covering large swaths of area in the outfield.  Nick Markakis made his outfield reputation on his arm.  Adam Jones, with his poor initial reads, has made up for that with his speed and a sterling arm.  Nolan Remiold as well is known more for his arm than his route running.  Really, only Nate McLouth is known for covering sufficient range in left field (though certainly not in center).  Combine that all together and it creates some concern.  Especially because it fits in with a small study I did on the performance of elite outfield arms last fall.
Here are the numbers:
Left Field
Nate McLouth (25 opps, 48% hold; 13 advances, 0% kill)
Nolan Reimold (11 opps, 46% hold; 6 advances, 0% kill)
—–League Average (66% hold; 2% kill)
Center Field
Adam Jones (27 opps, 37% hold; 17 advances, 0% kill)
Chris Dickerson (1 opp, 0% hold; 1 advances, 0% kill)
—–League Average (41% hold; 1% kill)
Right Field
Nick Markakis (21 opps, 33% hold; 14 advances, 0% kill)
Chris Dickerson (3 opps, 67% hold; 1 advance, 0% kill)
—–League Average (48% hold; 3% kill)
In total there have been 88 opportunities for runners to advance for all fields.  In left field, runners took 6.8 more bases than we should expect based on league averages.  In center and right, those numbers are 1.4 and 2.5 bases respectively.  That leaves the outfield giving up 10.7 more bases than the typical outfield.  Those extra bases while not being able to gun anyone out is worth in the neighborhood of 3-4 runs.  If that rate continues (and I am not sure it will), then you are looking at the team giving up about 30 or so runs over the course of the season.

That is not a good thing and it pales in comparison to what was once considered to be a great strength of future Oriole teams.  I think we can remember back to the Felix Pie, Jones, and Markakis days where everyone thought each fielder would be worth about 30 runs saved over a season (which would have made them one of the best, if not the best, outfield in baseball) to a team that may be vying for one of the worst outfield defenses in baseball.  We know Camden Yards is either a tricky place to play or unfairly assesses outfielders (or abound in peculiar, consistent statistical coincidence), but the data is concerning.

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