Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Starting at the Top

The term “leadoff man” usually applies to the number one hitter in the lineup. However, all batters lead off innings. In fact, traditional leadoff men bat first in fewer than 20 percent of their team’s total innings.

When the leadoff batter for an inning reaches first base, his team’s run expectancy becomes .86 runs. If he makes an out, it drops to just .26. That’s a huge swing and teams face this situation nine times each game, 162 games per season.

While number one hitters get the most opportunities in this role, everybody in the lineup receives numerous chances over the course of the season. For example, Michael Bourn led off more innings (282) than any Braves batter by far. But that was just 19.6 percent of the team’s total innings. There were 327 Major League players who led off at least 50 innings in 2012. Most position players – including those currently arbitration eligible impacted their teams in these situations.

So who stood out when leading off innings last season? None of the top five players in on-base percentage resemble prototypical leadoff men, but all shined in this role: Joey Votto (.457 OBP), Travis Hafner (.456), Miguel Cabrera (.456), David Ortiz (.441), and Joe Mauer (.439).

This data also enables us to measure how number one hitters perform in these situations, when getting on base is much more valuable than with one or two outs. The arbitration-eligible Austin Jackson had a .409 on-base percentage when leading off an inning versus .355 in all other plate appearances. So when he could make the greatest impact by reaching base, Jackson excelled.

We can dig deeper in this analysis as well. Reaching second base to start innings carries major value – a 1.07 run expectancy. A slugger topped this group as well. Giancarlo Stanton got to second base (or further) 28 times in 121 inning leadoff plate appearances. His 23.1 percentage blew away everybody with at least 50 plate appearances in these spots. Oakland’s Brandon Moss topped all arbitration-eligible players. He made it to second in 16.4 percent of his leadoff plate appearances, seventh best overall in MLB.

This analysis results from one small shift in thinking. In arbitration and free agency, such approaches can really pay off.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Arbitration and Free Agency: A Key Distinction

Baseball arbitration and free agency differ tremendously in one respect: free agency is about what a player will achieve while arbitration focuses on what he has done.

Future projections – based on past performance – play a role in free agency. But projections aren’t included in the arbitration criteria. This distinction makes certain types of information and analysis, which clubs may not want to see in a free agent package, extremely important to an agent’s arbitration brief.

For example, skills like bunting and advancing runners with outs won’t fetch top dollar on the free agent market. But arbitration is a whole different ballgame. Exhibits detailing how a player excelled at “little things” – that resulted in wins – help make your brief a winner. Demonstrate how he performed better than comparable arbitration eligibles in these areas, and it strengthens your case even further.

Gregor Blanco didn’t post big numbers in core statistical categories, but he delivered in many other ways that impacted the Giants outstanding season.

1) Blanco did not hit into a double play in 453 plate appearances. This had only been done seven times since 1950.

2) He advanced a runner from second base with nobody out in seven of eight plate appearances in this situation.

3) He drove in a runner from third base with less than two outs 10 times in 18 opportunities. Six of these RBI came in the seventh inning or later, seven contributed to wins and three made up the margin of victory in one-run games.

4) Blanco topped 25 steals and had 5 triples in fewer than 400 at-bats. Only one other Giants player had done that since 1912.

5) He executed five successful sacrifice bunts. The Giants went 4-1 in these games.

All those feats are impressive enough, but they also contributed to a World Championship team. Looking back, for arbitration, that bottom line is all that matters.