Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Little Things

Managers and coaches and fond of telling their players that wins and losses tend to hinge on the little things: throwing to the right base, advancing from first to third on a single, or making the routine defensive play. In the early years of rigorous baseball analysis, analysts were quickly able to quantify hitting and pitching: the big things. In recent years, though, progress on capturing the little things, such as defense and baserunning, has been remarkable. Defensive statistics are starting to make their way into the mainstream, and baserunning stats will likely follow shortly.

As we're all painfully aware, the Orioles have made several high profile baserunning blunders in recent weeks. The blunders have been so egregious that today Peter Schmuck's column wonders whether this lack of attention to detail could eventually cost Dave Trembley his job. Are these just one-off events, magnified by the late-game situation? Or are the Orioles really a bad baserunning team, as Schmuck asserts (without any corresponding data)? Using the Baseball Prospectus statistics page, not only are the Orioles one of the worst baserunning teams, they are the worst baserunning team. The Orioles rank dead last in EqBRR, a measure which indicates the "number of runs contributed by a player's advancement on the bases, above what would be expected based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities with which the player is presented, park-adjusted and based on a multi-year run expectancy table." In other words, it measures how frequently a team takes extra bases. According to EqBRR, the Orioles have lost 17.4 runs this season from their baserunning, compared to an average team. Using the sabermetric rule of thumb that 10 runs = 1 win, that's nearly two wins missing from the Orioles total.

This offseason, I also made quite a big deal about the Orioles improving their defense. Unfortunately, that was wrong, at least based on a half year's worth of data. According to FanGraphs, the Orioles have actually faltered substantially on defense this season. Given that Aubrey Huff and Ty Wiggington have seen significant time at the infield corners, and that Cesar Izturis has been injured, this isn't entirely shocking, but it is still disappointing. Not only do the Orioles need to improve their pitching (mightily), but a renewed focus on the little things is also in order.

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