Reader Question: Cashing in Multiple Runners

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I love finding answers and solving problems, which makes writing about baseball so rewarding. There are many questions and tons of information, and occasionally a reader sends in a question they’ve been wondering about but haven’t had the time or ability to figure out. This post seek to answer one of those questions, and I hope it encourages more. Last week, at a reader’s request I examined Torii Hunter’s defense. Today, I’m looking into a more complicated question.

So I’ll set the stage. Reader Dennis asked if there was anything to a team being able to driving in multiple runners with singles, doubles, and triples. His claim was that it seemed like the Tigers seemed to only score one run at a time (except on HR) early in the 2012 and he was wondering if there was anything to a team being able (or unable) to get hits that scored multiple runners.

Dennis rightly recognizes that this is a context dependent statistic like RBI, but his question centers around a team’s ability to score runs rather than judging an individual player based on his role in the run scoring process. I wasn’t really sure what I would find, but someone asked a question nicely and I couldn’t resist.

Let’s start with a simple calculation. Let’s just look at the team’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) from 2012 with men on base and overall. This will tell us how often a team gets a single, double, or triple when they make contact with a ball that doesn’t go over the fence. In the first column is the team’s BABIP with men on base and the second column is the team’s total BABIP. The third column is how much worse they are with men on base.

Braves 0.285 0.296 -0.011
Yankees 0.284 0.293 -0.009
Marlins 0.281 0.289 -0.008
Cardinals 0.31 0.316 -0.006
Blue Jays 0.276 0.281 -0.005
Padres 0.293 0.297 -0.004
Mets 0.295 0.298 -0.003
Astros 0.286 0.288 -0.002
Brewers 0.297 0.299 -0.002
Giants 0.313 0.315 -0.002
Reds 0.294 0.296 -0.002
Red Sox 0.3 0.301 -0.001
Twins 0.297 0.298 -0.001
Angels 0.311 0.311 0.000
Dodgers 0.298 0.298 0.000
Cubs 0.287 0.286 0.001
Indians 0.289 0.288 0.001
Pirates 0.294 0.291 0.003
Rangers 0.309 0.306 0.003
Diamondbacks 0.312 0.307 0.005
Nationals 0.314 0.308 0.006
Orioles 0.294 0.286 0.008
Rockies 0.329 0.321 0.008
Tigers 0.315 0.307 0.008
Rays 0.294 0.284 0.010
White Sox 0.3 0.289 0.011
Mariners 0.29 0.276 0.014
Phillies 0.304 0.29 0.014
Royals 0.316 0.302 0.014
Athletics 0.296 0.281 0.015

Interestingly enough, you’ll notice the Tigers actually got more hits on balls in play with men on base than they did overall, and therefore with no one on. Generally, you would expect a team to have a higher BABIP when men are on base because the first basemen is often out of position and the pitcher is in the stretch. But you can see with the chart that it’s actually pretty even between teams that are better or worse. There are a lot of factors involved in this that I’m not controlling for, but this is just a jumping off point. From here on out I’m going to use a case study approach because using data from all 30 teams would be very time consuming and quite difficult to present clearly. I’m going to take the 2012 Tigers and the 2012 Angels (who scored more runs in a more pitcher-friendly park) and compare how they scored their runs with respect to Dennis’ question.

Let’s start with some basic stats to get you started:

Angels 767 187 7.3% 18.2% 0.311 0.274 0.332 0.433 0.331 113
Tigers 726 163 8.4% 18.0% 0.307 0.268 0.335 0.422 0.328 105

First you’ll notice that the Angels scored 41 more runs than the Tigers, mostly by out-slugging them and hitting more homeruns. If you correct for their ballpark advantage Angels were a better offensive club using wRC+ (what’s wRC+?) which is a statistic that measures a team compared to league average. The Angels were 8% better and the Tigers were 5% better than average correcting for park effects.

I’m using this example because the Angels outscored the Tigers and did so in a tougher park. Generally, they should have a harder time scoring runs but they scored more. Is it possible they were better at driving in multiple runs at a time or were they just better overall. That’s the question I’m looking to answer here, per Dennis’ question. Let’s just grab some quick numbers with men on base to get us going:

Tigers 0.349 0.425 0.332 107
Angels 0.335 0.432 0.329 111

Let me call you attention to this very important set of numbers. The Tigers and Angels derived similar unadjusted offensive production using wOBA (what’s wOBA?) and the Angels get a bump from their park in wRC+. But what is interesting is that the Tigers are getting more value from getting on base and the Angels are doing it with slugging. Let’s really dig deeper now.

The Tigers had 6,119 plate appearances in 2012. Of which, 912 came with more than one man on base. The Tigers had 912 opportunities to drive in multiple runs without hitting a homerun (Angels had 6,121 and 832). The question Dennis asks is how often did they do it?

Let’s break it down by outs, because it’s only fair to consider that the out profile is very important. Here the the raw numbers for the Tigers reflecting times when there were at least two men on base:

Outs PA HR Hit 1 RBI Hit 2+ RBI Non Hit RBI 0 RBI Reached 0 RBI Out
0 171 5 22 7 14 20 103
1 350 7 58 21 47 39 178
2 391 7 47 26 4 52 255

And now here are the numbers for the Angels:

Outs PA HR Hit 1 RBI Hit 2+ RBI Non Hit RBI 0 RBI Reached 0 RBI Out
0 157 7 20 5 24 17 84
1 299 9 51 19 39 26 155
2 376 4 45 29 6 46 246

The teams had the same number of total trips to the plate, but the Tigers had two or more men on base during 80 additional plate appearances. Let’s break this down by percentage for better comparison. What you see below is the raw number divided by PA with 0/1/2 outs. First the Tigers, then the Angels:

Outs PA HR Hit 1 RBI Hit 2+ RBI Non Hit RBI 0 RBI Reached 0 RBI Out
0 171 2.92% 12.87% 4.09% 8.19% 11.70% 60.23%
1 350 2.00% 16.57% 6.00% 13.43% 11.14% 50.86%
2 391 1.79% 12.02% 6.65% 1.02% 13.30% 65.22%
Outs PA HR Hit 1 RBI Hit 2+ RBI Non Hit RBI 0 RBI Reached 0 RBI Out
0 157 4.46% 12.74% 3.18% 15.29% 10.83% 53.50%
1 299 3.01% 17.06% 6.35% 13.04% 8.70% 51.84%
2 376 1.06% 11.97% 7.71% 1.60% 12.23% 65.43%

So what does this tell us? Are the Tigers bad at cashing multiple runs without a homerun? It turns out that Dennis’ perception was incorrect, at least when applied to the entire season. His comment was actually about the beginning of the season and he put it in context of the whole league and not the Angels, but presenting this data for all 30 teams would have been really hard to swallow. I picked the Angels because they scored more runs than the Tigers in a tougher park. Their offense was more successful than the Tigers, so I wanted to see if they were cashing in more effectively.

In reality, it’s just the opposite. The Angels hit more homeruns with two or more men on base than the Tigers and they drove in runs one at a time more often especially if you look in the Non-Hit RBI column. So I’ll apologize to Dennis for doing a case study instead of checking in on the entire league, but that would have just been too difficult to communicate to the readership. I worry this is already too much information.

What I find very interesting is that the Angels scored 375 of their 767 runs in these situations and the Tigers scored 374 of their 726 runs in these situations. The Tigers scored a higher percentage of their runs with multiple men on base than the Angels did despite hitting fewer homeruns.

So you can interpret this how you want to, but my guess is that Dennis was responding to a difference in baserunning ability. The Angels were about 3 wins above replacement better than the Tigers in the baserunning department in 2012 which can easily be the difference between scoring from second on singles and first on doubles on a number of occasions.

The lesson, I think, is that our perceptions are often clouded by flashpoint data. There was probably a stretch in early 2012 when the Tigers couldn’t get a hit with men on base to save their lives and that’s what Dennis remembered, but in reality, that was just part of the normal variation and the Tigers weren’t any worse than other teams in this department.

For a quick summary, the Tigers had 912 PA with two or more men on base. Let’s see how they did in each:

912 374 782 157 49 3 19 361 76 15 155
10 9 35 8 71 0.292 0.348 0.435 0.783 0.325

And now the 832 PA for the Angels:

832 375 711 146 37 3 20 356 63 11 149
6 17 34 14 47 0.29 0.338 0.435 0.772 0.323

The Tigers did pretty well getting hits in these situations and scoring in the way Dennis asked about and probably would have been better off driving in a few more runners with sacrifice flies. In fact you’ll notice that despite being in fewer of these situations, the Angels hit more HR and just one fewer sac fly. The Tigers cashed in with hits in play while the Angels were homering and hitting sac flies, which might be good evidence that scoring runs is scoring runs no matter how you do it. It was an interesting question and fun to look into. If you’re got questions like this, send them my way and I’ll try to fit them in.


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