New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi prepared an interesting little homework assignment for beat reporters last week: Find out if Brett Gardner’s OPS was higher or lower if you discounted when he got on base and was caught stealing, but scored it as a double every time he stole second base. The results increase his OPS from .762 to .827.
There are at least two things wrong with this. First of all, in giving so much value to on base plus slugging percentage, Girardi assumes that slugging and on base are equal. They’re not. If a team had a 1.00 SLG, depending on how it got such a high slugging percentage, it would likely have a lot of runs. If a team had a 1.000 OBP, it would have an infinite number of runs. While Gardner’s OPS rises after Girardi’s little exercise, his on base percentage falls from .383 to .369.
Girardi also assumes that a double is just as good as a single and walk plus a steal. It simply isn’t. Typically, a stolen base doesn’t advance runners. A double does that. It’s the whole principle behind why a single is better than a walk.
What’s perhaps most interesting about the whole thing is that it’s a bit of a straw man argument. There isn’t a stats geek alive who would give Brett Gardner the stop sign in wanting to steal. An 83% success rate means that it’s worthwhile to send the runner. The whole reason that stolen bases have a reputation for not being appreciated by stats geeks is because attempted steals are seldom worth it. Put simply: a stolen base doesn’t increase run expectancy enough to overcome how much getting caught stealing decreases it.
Brett Gardner and his 8.1 speed rating are an obvious exception.
Girardi’s assertion that stolen bases are important is kind of funny when we think of the type of player he was in his Major League career and compare him to the modern catcher. As Christina Kahrl reveals in her latest piece for Baseball Prospectus, catchers are becoming more and more of an offensive force on baseball teams. It’s not difficult to understand why offense is becoming more important than defense when stolen base attempts are on the decline. When he was catching, Girardi’s worth to his team had a lot more to do with defense and throwing out runners than it did with actually scoring runs. So, it’s not difficult to understand why he’d place so much importance on base stealing.
The really funny part about all this is that Girardi has talked about leading off with Gardner, which given the power in the lineup immediately behind him, will largely negate his base stealing ability. A stolen base doesn’t do much when the guys hitting behind you are consistently getting extra base hits.
Now if only Girardi would stop upsetting Mad Dog Russo so much.
And The Rest
Thank God baseball is getting back to normal, because you know, it was quite unseemly there for a little while.
Baseball Reference looks at teams that win a lot of home games.
Jon Heyman has evidence of the Yankees starting pitching desperation.
Pedro Martinez will be in The Smithsonian. No, really.
After flirting with joining the starting rotation, Neftali Feliz will be the Rangers closer once again.
Leave A-Rod alone!
It’s true. You can love both statistics and baseball.
Let’s talk about the Seattle Mariners offense. I think whispering about it would be most appropriate.
Finally, while the increasing competition for roster spots may have retired baseball’s useless white guy who only pulls pranks from the game, it’s nice to know that the tradition is still living on in bullpen catchers.