“Bobby Ball”: aggressive, fundamentals, hustle– “Expectation Bar” has been raised


FanGraphs has added a base running stat [BsR] that allows obsessive Number Nerds to tweak a player’s offensive WAR ratings and it showed that the worst base running team in baseball in 2011 was [quick, look surprised!] the Red Sox.

And, no doubt Bobby Valentine has studied the results and there will be a major shift in the Red Sox approach to base stealing, holding runners, and tossing out base thieves this season.

Before we compare the teams in the AL East, for context know that the best base running team in the majors is Texas; the team gained 23 runs which amounted to about two wins; Boston, was the worst base running team in 2011 and lost -15.7 runs, about one and a half wins; would that have meant the playoffs last year?

(OK, Math Mavens at M.I.T., you can find the short definition for BsR and UBR [Ultimate Base Running], as well as link to the full formula at the end of this post.)

For the rest of us Red Sox fans, let’s take a zoomed-out look at the relative base running stats for our team of slugs and the rest of the AL East.

[NOTE: the following numbers represent the number of RUNS per SEASON; Texas had +23 RUNS, which translated to 2 WINS; hence: about 1 WIN for every 11.5 RUNS per SEASON.]

Significantly for the Red Sox, the two teams right behind the leader, Texas [+23], are Toronto [+10.5] and Tampa [+4.8] and the Yankees finished 6th overall [+1.3]; the irrelevant Orioles [-4.5] ranked 11th in the AL, but ahead of the Sox in the AL East standings.

"AL EAST RANKINGS                                 Rs per 162*   Ws per 162**   Ls per 162**Toronto                     +10.5                      1Tampa                        +4.8                      .50Yankees                      +1.3                        0Orioles                             -4.5                                          .50Red Sox                           -14.7                                          1[* Fangraphs; ** Earl Nash]"

Although Sox fans may be initially horrified by the gap of 25.2 Runs per season with the Jays, that stat represents a difference of 2 games per season in the standings; but the 1.5 games behind with the Rays was close enough to make the difference in playoffs or not in 2011, or will in 2012 with the new Wild Card format.

Valentine will be more aggressive with the running game; he will not only fully utilize the speed of Crawford and Ellsbury, but has also been handing out enthusiastic “atta’ boys” to the lumbering sluggers, Ortiz and Gonzalez, for hustling from first to third on base hits.

The flip side of creating runs with speed is defending against stolen bases and there will be a sea change in the Red Sox approach under Bobby Valentine.

"The Red Sox have allowed 476 stolen bases in the last three seasons, the most in the American League. Opponents have succeeded in 80 % of their attempts."

The Yankees gave up 91 fewer steals in that same period and the Rays 193 fewer.

Bobby Valentine has made controlling the running game — or at least trying to — one of his priorities this spring. But that will involve changing a lot of ingrained habits and franchise traditions.

Under former manager, Francona, and pitching coaches, John Farrell and Curt Young, the Red Sox assumed that focusing on a runner on first would lead to poor pitches to the batter.
Valentine does not agree and told Peter Abraham, Boston Globe[1]:

"“I hear — and this might be real wrong — I hear there were a couple of pitching coaches here who said it didn’t matter…”"

“If you can keep them on first and get a double play, a lot of times that means a whole another inning. It means an entire other inning that starter could pitch…If he goes to second and you get the next three guys out and you use your arsenal, a lot of times that’s your last inning. That’s a big difference in today’s game.”

Valentine will have the cannon arms with Saltalmacchia [25% C/S] and Shoppach [28% C/S], who both have significantly better career “thrown-out” percentages than Varitek [23%], who was a victim of the “ignore the runner” method. BTW, Ryan Lavarnway throws out [28%], which is a tick above the AL league average of 27%.

As part of the new “Bobby Ball,” the “Bobby Sox” will be working hard on defense to keep runners close to first and throwing them our when they attempt a steal. On offense the Sox will be taking the extra base and attempting more steals.

Valentine has picked up the “Expectation Bar” off the ground and lifted it over his head; some of the over-riding themes for “Bobby Ball” include: small ball basics, thinking baseball, and hustling.

The decades-old stodgy traditions of “station to station” and wait for the “3-run homer” have been stopped in their tracks by the more aggressive, pressure the opponent Valentine style; players and fans will need to take it up a notch to keep pace with Valentine’s shift from the passive “Go… Sox…” to the aggressive “Go-Go Sox!”

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[1] http://articles.boston.com/2012-03-17/sports/31205424_1_red-sox-josh-beckett-theo-epstein

At Fangraphs, UBR is available under “Bsr” or “Base Running” in the player pages and leaderboards.
Here’s an excerpt from the UBR primer:
“Base running linear weights or base running runs, or Ultimate Base Running (UBR), is similar to the outfield arm portion of UZR. Whatever credit (positive or negative) is given to an outfielder based on a runner hold, advance, or kill on a batted ball is also given in reverse to the runner (or runners). There are some plays that a runner is given credit (again plus or minus) for that do not involve an outfielder, such as being safe or out going from first to second on a ground ball to the infield, or advancing, remaining, or being thrown out going from second to third on a ground ball to SS or 3B.
Runs are awarded to base runners in the same way they are rewarded to outfielders on “arm” plays. The average run value in terms of the base/out state is subtracted from the actual run value (also in terms of the resultant base/out state) on a particular play where a base runner is involved. The result of the subtraction is the run value awarded to the base runner on that play.”
[FULL TEXT OF PRIMER: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/ultimate-base-running-primer/]