Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Dearth of Lead Off Hitters

As box scores are checked on a daily basis, this observer finds himself repeatedly asking himself: "Why is THAT guy leading off?" The lead off batter has long been considered the "table setter" and as such, you want a guy batting first who gets on base a lot, is not necessarily a power threat (or else you would want him lower in the order) and if he can run and steal bases, then great. Of course, the modern prototypes are Ricky Henderson and Tim Raines. Those guys could steal bases. But others such as Wade Boggs--who couldn't run except when his mistress was calling--got on base a high amount of the time. There are very few of those guys around now. And far too many teams have guys with batting averages around .250 leading off. Here is a quick run down of the teams around the majors and their lead off batters. Oh wait! Before we do that, let's make up a statistic (just for the fun of it).

The object of a lead off batter is to get on base. This is good for the obvious reason as he is on base so others can drive him in. But it's also good because this guy will get more plate appearances than anyone else on the team. So you want that guy to be worth all those plate appearances, right? Well, here is a stat for you. We'll call it the Lead Off Quotient or LOQ. Now obviously, it would have been nice if the abbreviation was catchier, but oh well. The LOQ would equal OBP + LOOBP. The LOOBP is the OBP of the player when leading off the game. For example, for his career, Rickey Henderson's LOQ was .781 His OBP (.401) + LOOBP (.380).

What about Tim Raines? .748 (.385 + .363). What about Wade Boggs? .798 (.415 + .383). The weakness of this stat can already be seen. While it is an accurate measure of getting on base, both overall and leading off the game, it does not take speed or stolen bases into effect. The stat as it stands now would give Wade Boggs the edge over Henderson. But Henderson was the better player wasn't he? This is why the Fan doesn't get asked to work with Baseball Prospectus.
Hmmm...think...think...

Okay. Let's add base running on a .020 scale divided by total stolen bases and success rate. We'll give .010 points for 40 steals or more, .008 for 30 steals or more, .006 for 25 steals or more, .004 for 15 steals more, .002 for 10 steals or more and nothing for under 10. For the other half of the .020 scale, simply multiply the success rate by .01. For example, Rickey Henderson was successful stealing bases 80 percent of the time or .80. Multiply that by .01 and you get .008. Then give him .01 for averaging 52 bases stolen a year. So then we can add those two to his results above and you get .799 (.780 + .008 + .010). And thus the base running gives him a slight edge over Boggs who gets nothing for his total lack of base stealing. Tim Raines comes in at .767 (.748 + .010 + .009).

There you go. You may be as confused as can be. The Fan barely knows what he is talking about. But now that we have our silly stat called LOQ. Let's finally look at the teams around the leagues...Oh! One more thing. Since we are near the halfway mark of the season, we'll double the current amount of steals to get our results:

Arizona Cardinals: Felipe Lopez - .781 (.356 + .410 + .002 + .008). That's a good score!
Atlanta Braves: They've tried several guys, so we'll have to go with the cumulative numbers - .597 (.329 + .263 + .000 + .005). Obviously, these numbers stink.
Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts - .750 (.347 + .387 + .008 + .008). Good score.
Boston Red Sox: Again, they have had several guys lead of. Cumulative numbers - .622 (.318 + .286 + .010 + .008). This is a big weakness for the Red Sox, though they are good at stolen bases.
Chicago Cubs: Alfonso Soriano - .639 (.296 + .333 + .002 + .008). There is no way Soriano should be leading off. No way.
Chicago White Sox: Various guys, so we'll go with cumulative - .758 (.339 + .403 + .008 + .008). Surprisingly good.
Cincinnati Reds: Willy Taveras - .566 (.281 + .268 + .008 + .009). Terrible. Dickerson or Hanigan (though he has no speed) would be better choices.
Cleveland Indians: Various. Cumulative - .605 (.321 + .278 + .002 + .004). Also terrible. Off year for Sizemore and then his replacements.
Colorado Rockies: Various. Dexter Fowler - .594 (.342 + .237 + .008 + .007). Not bad over all, but is terrible leading off the game.
Detroit Tigers: Can't just go by Granderson because he's been other places too. Cumulative - .644 (.331 + .299 + .006 + .008). Granderson really should bat lower in the order. But the Tigers don't have anyone else.
Florida Marlins: The season started with Bonifacio which was a disaster. Now they are using Coughlin. We'll go with Coughlin - .788 (.366 + .414 + .000 + .008). It's kind of unfair to rate him this high as he has only been doing this for 29 games.
Houston Astros: Michael Bourn - .760 (.370 + .372 + .010 + .008). Bourn has been great. He is way above his career numbers which is one note of caution.
Kansas City Royals: Various. Cumulative - .633 (.329 + .289 + .008 + .009). Crisp was okay. DeJesus is not close to being okay.
Angels (not typing out that ridiculous name): Chone Figgins - .715 (.386 + .311 + .010 + .008). Great numbers except when leading off the game.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Various (Pierre won't be leading off once Manny is back) - .784 (.356 + .410 + .010 + .008). Pierre has certainly done well despite his history.
Milwaukee Brewers: Various (Hart, Hardy, et al) - .602 (.329 + .273 + 0.00 + 0.00). Imagine how good they would be if they had a lead off batter.
Minnesota Twins: Denard Span - .722 (.373 + .339 + .004 + .006). Overlooked player. Good score.
New York Mets: We'll go with various since Reyes has missed so much time - .660 (.340 + .303 + .008 + .009). If Reyes doesn't come back soon, this will fall like a rock.
New York Yankees: Derek Jeter - .767 (.381 + .369 + .008 + .009). Having a great year.
Oakland Athletics: Various - .659 (.295 + .355 + .002 + .007). Middle of the road...
Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins - .457 (.250 + .194 + .006 + .007). A mystery. A real mystery.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Have to go with cumulative since McCutchen is so new - .722 (.355 + .351 + .008 + 008). This has been a strength for the light hitting Pirates.
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn Jr. has settled in nicely, but not long enough. Accumulative - .640 (.330 + .303 + .000 + .007).
San Francisco Giants: Aaron Rowand - .681 (.359 + .314 + .000 + .008). Not very speedy. But solid.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki - .745 (.405 + .324 + .008 + .008). Ichiro is batting .371 but as always he doesn't walk much. In fact, he has not walked leading off the game all year!
St. Louis Cardinals: Skip Schumaker - .645 (.352 + .288 + .000 + .005). Doesn't do well leading off a game.
Tampa Bay Rays: B. J. Upton - .593 (.330 + .243 + .010 + .008). Terrible at leading off a game. But these numbers will improve a lot before all is said and done.
Texas Rangers: Ian Kinsler - .721 (.344 + .360 + .008 + .009). A good number for a guy who is not having his best year.
Toronto Blue Jays: Marco Scutaro - .758 (.382 + .367 + .002 + .007). Scutaro has been amazing. His season is the most over looked in all of baseball.
Washington Nationals: Guzman has been there but not anymore, so various - .556 (.308 + .250 + .002 + .007). Guzman's unwillingness to take a walk helped lead to this awful number.

The average is .672 which really isn't very good. So the numbers seem to prove out that with a few exceptions, there are not many good lead off batters in the majors. The numbers make you appreciate what Scutaro, Jeter, Lopez, Bourn and Brian Roberts do day in and day out.

3 comments:

eyebleaf said...

Great post. You're right about Scoots. He's been nothing short of heroic.

bobook said...

Like your stat though your methodology is, shall we say, LOOB-P!

Reminds me of my favorite nickname for Mr. Piniella (a subject of a previous post though I disagreed) 'Little Latin Loob-p Lou!'

Josh Borenstein said...

Very ingenuitive to come up with the stat.

Michael Bourn has been amazing. I'm wondering if what we're seeing is the real Michael Bourn, though.

I like Denard Span a lot. I think I've said that before.