The Little Things

It’s no secret that the Twins get credited with “doing the little things right.” Moving runners over, stealing bases, hitting sacrifice flies, playing “small ball,” it’s the MO of professional baseball in the Twin Cities. After all, why wouldn’t the Twins try this? They were in a domed stadium that didn’t give up as many home runs as was originally predicted and it provided only a thin layer of AstroTurf to give any additional friction than what you would get from playing on bare concrete, so turning the field into a pinball machine couldn’t have been a bad idea. Injecting a manager like Tom Kelly only encouraged this style of play even more. Pretty soon, the Minnesota Twins became synonymous with hitting the ball to the opposite field or bunting to move runners up a base (not to mention good defensive teams as well).

If you were a Twins fan this year, you noticed that this was not the same case this year and likely for the past few years as well. Two 30-home run hitters emerged, with one missing almost the last month of the season, along with two others that were just short by 2 (one of these hitters missed the whole first month himself). Stolen bases weren’t as plentiful as the national media would have you believe. Defensive metrics like UZR were showing that the excellent defense the Twins had in years past was no longer existent, yet the Twins were still praised for “doing the little things” when they played on FOX and ESPN, with the addition of power often presented as a side note (unless you were Joe Mauer).

Due to this dramatic build-up, you might have guessed what my main point is by now. As I mentioned in my last post, I had decided to look at some things that do not turn up in box scores or the statistical leaderboards on the main page of the MLB website. I had looked at Baseball Reference and could not find any mention of four things that I was curious about, which greatly surprised me. We look at rates that players get on base, get a hit, give up runs over a full game, avoid errors, and steal bases, but we do not have anything for advancing or scoring baserunners. “But what about RBI???????” RBI is not a rate statistic, which is my point of the previous sentence. Enough jabbering, here we go:

1. Percentage of runners scored with runners in scoring position: I’m still debating what to shorten the name to, because I feel that simply using something like RS w/ RISP % is far too long. However, since my next statistic is very similar, I might have to keep the “w/ RISP” in the name just to designate the differences between the two. For this, I looked at every situation a Twins hitter had with at least one runner in scoring position and how often that hitter drove in a run, regardless of the outcome. So, even if a hitter grounded into a double play with runners on 1st and 3rd, he was given credit for driving in a run. Unbelievably, Joe Mauer did not lead the Twins in this category last year; it was Delmon Young.

2. Runners scored percentage (RS %):* Basically the same thing as above, except with the addition of the only situation that a hitter can have without batting with the bases empty: a runner on first. This is one of the many things that Mauer led the team in last year.

* Edit: I also mention this at the end of the post. After finishing this post, I noticed on Baseball Reference that this statistic already exists. At BR, this is called baserunners scored percentage, or BRS %.

3. Average runners advanced (ARA): Very simply, this is the average number of runners advanced by a player in a season. Unsurprisingly, Mauer again led the Twins, but do you remember my last post when I mentioned that Nick Punto was second in one of my new stats? Yep, this is it. Maybe Ron Gardenhire is a little more justified in having a significant man crush on Little Nicky.

4. Average bases advanced (ABA): Just like ARA, except with the average number of bases. Yet again, Mauer is the leader.

Unfortunately, after I finished all my data collecting, I noticed that Adam Peterson from Twinkie Town did something very similar last year (located here and here). However, the main differences that I see between his research and mine is that he was more specific on rating players (by use of runs and wins, and he also incorporated types of batted balls) whereas I stuck to the rates of success. I wasn’t looking to make this complicated, and I intend to keep it that way. Plus, by sticking to a player’s rate of success for these four things, I feel that my statistics appeal to a wider range of people.

If I had done all of this during a season rather than during the offseason, I might be interested in collecting data for all 30 teams. If the Twins really have lost their ability to do the little things right, then I could use this to see if it was true by comparing them to the rest of the league (although I suppose I’d need additional data from previous seasons as well….bleh, too much work). However, I do have to admit that it would suck having to compile all the data for a team like the Yankees*  or just about any National League team.** Oh well, I still have a few months before I decide to finally carry through with this idea.

* For their high-scoring ways, not because I hate the Yankees.

** Because of the inclusion of pitchers. Actually, perhaps it would be fun to see which pitchers were the best at moving up runners?

Just so you all know, even though I did collect data for all of the Twins pitchers that batted in 2009 and Justin Huber* with runners on base,** I chose to ignore them due to how few plate appearances they had during the season. This left me with a good chunk of data for 16 players. If I get enough requests in the comments section, then I’ll add in a special “small sample size” list to my next couple posts devoted entirely to these players. Trust me, their exclusion only makes my information tronger. You all can look forward to me releasing my findings over the next few days, although I’m unsure how I’m going to pair everything together. You may see anywhere between 2-4 posts over the next few days.

* He had only 2 at-bats.

** Bobby Keppel had a plate appearance but it was with the bases empty, but he’s not included in my data.

In each post, I will provide a more in-depth explanation of each statistic, since I was rather brief (yes, this was brief) here. One last thing…I’m glad I’m done.

Edit: I’m going through Baseball Reference more seriously and I discovered some stuff that’s even more similar to what I was looking at than what Adam Peterson did for Twinkie Town. It’s a bit disheartening, but I see that BR (with the Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN) only used their similar statistics for specific situations in a game, rather than all like I did. At least I did something slightly different. The things that Baseball Reference already had:

1. Productive outs (a successful sacrifice for a pitcher with one out, any successful advance of a runner with no one out, and driving in a runner while making the 2nd out in an inning)

2. Percentage of base runners that scored (my #2 above).

3. Runs driven in with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs.

4. Advancing a baserunner from 2nd base with nobody out.

At least my other three can still be considered as “new.”

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3 Responses to “The Little Things”

  1. Josh Says:

    Very interesting stuff… I like it! I’m a stat head, so I look forward to seeing your full report how the Twins rank. I’m particularly intrigued to see where our RBI stud, Morneau sits.

  2. Steven Says:

    So what will these stats try to tell us? Which player is the best at moving runners up, even if the outcome is negative to the team? I’m more comfortable using context-neutral stats to rate players.

    • Andrew Says:

      Don’t worry Steven, I’ll address this when I get to posting everything. I’m not claiming that what I found is perfect, nor that it should be considered as being better than the stats that are currently out there. Think of this as being only a starting point, certainly adjustments and improvements can be made.

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