Friday, August 9, 2013

FUN-DA-MENTALS!

There is a misconception about SABR guys.  Seamheads don't appreciate the fundamentals, they say.  "They" are idiots, but that's nothing new.  SABR guys appreciate the basics of the game quite a good deal.  Hell, they even went so far to create things that attempt the quantify someone's base-running ability beyond just stolen bases.  After all, the ability to steal bases is only a minor part of base-running.

In the recent series against the Washington Nationals, there were two instances on back-to-back nights of Braves running into an out at third base.  The first occurred when a soft grounder that Ryan Zimmerman couldn't get to was picked up by Ian Desmond.  Dan Uggla reached second and looked up to see Desmond rearing back to throw to first.  Knowing that Zimmerman had ranged far away from third and the base was empty, Uggla geared up and started to run toward third.  It would have been a wonderful decision had Desmond actually threw the ball.  Instead, he turned around and ran Uggla down for an out.

That was understandable mistake and a tremendous decision by a good shortstop.  However, the following evening, B.J. Upton made a confusing and just awful decision.  On second base, Upton, who was in the midst of a wonderful night, saw a grounder by Andrelton Simmons cross in front of him.  Without much reasoning whatsoever, Upton took off to third where he was thrown out.

Upton was involved in another questionable decision last Sunday against the Phillies.  On third base with Simmons on second and one out, Jason Heyward grounded toward first base.  Running on contact despite Justin Upton to follow, Upton was thrown out after a short run down.  The Braves didn't get a run out of the inning.

Atlanta won each game.  After all, they enter tonight's game with 13 consecutive victories.  But the question seems to fester.  Do the Braves run into too many outs?

Third base coach Brian Snitker has been a subject of much derision from Braves fans.  He's been the third base coach since the 2007 season when he replaced Fredi Gonzalez as the latter got the job in Florida.  However, though I, and seemingly most Braves fans I talk to, believe he sends Braves to get thrown out at home a lot, the Braves have been below league-average in outs-at-home in every season except 2010.  Our observational bias, however, has made us believe he's abnormally bad at his job.  The numbers don't support that.

This season, the Braves have made outs at first base nine times (not including pickoffs, caught stealing, or force plays).  Often, outs at first come from run-downs or being doubled-off.  The league average is six.  The Braves have run into ten outs at second, one more than the league average.  At third, it's eight times, one below league average, and Snitker has sent runners to die 13 times at home, the league average.  Overall, the Braves have made an out on the bases 41 times, good for a tie for second and three behind the Dodgers for the league lead.

It should be said that often, good offenses run into outs.  More baserunners mean more chances to run into an out.  And a good deal of outs made on the bases come less from bad decisions and more from bad luck or a good defensive play.  There are times that it's a product of being overly aggressive.  Yasiel Puig has already ran into seven outs on the bases in just 240 PA.  But at the end of the day, the how and the why are subjective.

From the numbers, the Braves seem to have a problem that could use a little cleaning up.  Both B.J. Upton and Uggla have ran into seven outs a piece.  Only one player in the NL has ran into more.  It's fairly astonishing since neither have been on base a lot this year, especially Upton.

Fangraphs uses a more complex statistic to gauge base-running.  It's called BsR, or "Base Running" (I know, weird).  It's made up of UBR and wSB.  UBR stands for Ultimate Base Running and it's a rather complex set of conditions that you can find a more informative primer for here.  Weighted Stolen Base Runs, or wSB, is a less complicated number that estimates the number of runs a player contributes to his team by stealing bases.  Like most weighted numbers, zero is average.  For more, click here.

Okay, still with me?  According to BsR, only five Braves are above average base-runners this year and only one, Justin Upton, is significantly above average (5.7).  His brother follows at 0.9 BsR and Jordan Schfer is third with 0.8 BsR.  Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Chris Johnson are significantly worse.  I'm not that surprised by McCann and Johnson, but Uggla has historically been an average to good base-runner according to BsR despite his speed limitations.  Chip and Joe are fond of pointing out how well he cuts the bag and that's a valuable thing. However, this season has not been a good one for Uggla on the base-paths.  Simmons and Heyward both are way too low considering their speed, especially Heyward.

We knew coming into this season that the Braves would take a considerable step back as far as speed goes.  Losing Michael Bourn was bound to hurt.  And stolen bases are down, but it seems that the Braves have ran into a lot of outs, too.  Foolish mistakes will kill teams and the Braves need to clean this up.

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