This is kind of like “Old School” vs “analytics”. It is the idea that moving runners is how to score and how winning should be done. Of course, that is not how baseball is played at the big league level, so it is worth the adventure to see how and what is going on. Credit to the stats guys out there that there actually is a way to measure moving runners. It is called Productive Outs. I will be looking into that plus some other data points to create a correlated story of how winning is done today.
The first thing I am going to look at is base runners and how often they score. The following image shows all the teams with how many baserunners they had, and how many runs scored of those baserunners. The league average was 14.30%.
This image is VERY telling in many ways. First off, look at the teams at the top of this list. Rays, Jays, Astros, and Red Sox were all playoff teams! Only Giants, Cardinals, and Brewers were not above the MLB average from the teams in the playoffs last year, but they were very close to it! It tells something we already know but maybe didn’t put enough emphasis on. First and foremost, winning is done by getting baserunners then driving in those runners, and hitting Home Runs. Let’s look at TB Rays. They had 3736 base runners and scored 16.50% of them (618). Look near the bottom. PIT Pirates had 3712 base runners (only 24 less than TB) yet scored 12.40% of them (471 runs). The variance was 147 runs with only 24 fewer base runners! That is pretty close to 1 run per game less (actual is 0.91 runs per game)! Yet, look at the NY Yankees! They only scored 1 more base runner than the Pirates! Let’s look back a bit and dissect this on another level. TB scored 857 runs in 2021 but only 618 of them were from base runners (72.1% of their runs came from base runners). They hit 222 Home Runs which is where the majority of the rest came in, so now they have 840 runs when the HRs. They scored 17 runs via weird other things. PIT scored 609 runs (which 471 were from base runners) or 77.3% from base runners. They hit 124 Home Runs for a total of 595 runs from base runners plus HRs. They had 14 weird runs scored. The NY Yankees scored 711 runs (472 from base runners) which 222 came from HRs. They had only 66.3% of their runs accounted for via base runners. We are showing this so we can get to the next level. However, wRC+ does correlate to a degree the ability of a team to drive in / create runs via base runners. It also includes HR so it is very good at identifying these issues and strengths. TB 109 wRC+ or 9% better than the average team and finished 3rd. PIT 83 wRC+ or 17% worse than the average team and ranked 29th. NYY 101 wRC+ or 1% better than the average team ranked 9th. This shows the importance of being on base and how beneficial HR is.
We are going to look now at Productive Outs. A productive out is advancing a runner with one out, driving in a base runner with the 2nd out, and a successful sacrifice by the pitcher with one out. Ideally, this is the “old school” philosophy of get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in. However, does it work?
The MLB average of successfully moving a runner is 26.40% or roughly 1 out 4 times. Look at the teams on the top of this list! There are 5 playoff teams above the league average and six below it! In fact, the team with the best record in MLB (SF Giants) was the worst team in MLB at moving runners! It means that moving runners is not a critical component of winning baseball. There were only 8 teams with a worse record than the KC Royals last year (74-88, 14 games under .500) yet they were the best team in MLB at moving runners over and it wasn’t even really close! Maybe for them moving runners helped to score runs as they finished 11th in scoring percentage of scoring their base runners, but I will go further to say, if they were to focus on the 129 base runners below the league average that they finished (KC 3526, MLB AVG 3655), they would have scored more runs and won more games than the moving the runners helped them. Right now the correlations are base runners, and Home Runs. Now let’s get into some more!
Here is one that is a bit of a stretch but never really looked at. It is the Ground into Double Play. Once a team has base runners, it is a KILLER to have them wiped off the base paths by a double play and the teams good at staying away from those were some of the best teams in the game!
This image shows the teams with the fewest GIDP at the bottom and the most at the top. It is not a mistake to see the Rays, Braves, Dodgers, and Red Sox excel in staying away from GIDPs! These are very good teams and this is one of those reasons they are great teams. We illustrated above that the NYY had issues getting their base runners to become runs. Looking at this, it is no wonder! They led all of baseball in GIDPs! It is the easiest way for your team to NOT score runners on base and they were the best! This also creates another valuable look into wRC+ because NYY ranked 9th with 101 even though they had 154 runners wiped off by GDIP! wRC+ values the HR and the remaining productivity scoring appropriately. What if this team just hit into the average number of GDIP? They would have more runners, thus more runs. Simple ways to get more runs or wins. I believe this is a mental focus when batting. Some teams/players have a do damage theme, and others have a don’t hit into double plays theme. It is interesting to note that the Rays (tied 222), Braves, and Dodgers hit as many or more HRs as did the NYY! It is possible to do damage and play smart baseball. Now the correlation is base runners, Home Runs, and do hit into double plays!
Another correlation is the groundball to flyball ratio. It makes some sense. Hitting ground balls create double plays, is generally not barreled up and has 5 defenders to cover the area. Hitting flyballs reduces the double play to nearly zero, is usually hit with a greater exit velocity (barreled up), and has the potential to do more runs coring damage. It seems likely that if a team is good at hitting more flyballs than groundballs, they should score more runs thus win more games. Let’s see.
Look at the teams atop this list! Giants (best record in the game), Dodgers (2nd best record), Braves (World Series Champs), Blue Jays (AL-best Offense), Astros, Red Sox, and Cardinals were all teams that made the playoffs and they are #1 thru #7! Only the White Sox, Brewers, and Yankees were below-average teams that made the playoffs. This is definitely a correlation to winning baseball! Combine this with base runners, Home Runs, and not grounding into double plays and you have a team that is going to win games. It is not about moving runners over anymore!
In summary, it is imperative to get as many runners on base as possible, hit Home Runs as opposed to moving runners over, stay out of double plays, and hit flyballs. The best teams in MLB do the majority of this and they win games. A productive offense should resemble these characteristics as much as possible. Certainly pitching is a component all to itself but that is for another time. “Old school” theory can still apply in certain situations and off the normal game theory model spots (such as a pitcher’s duel), but it no longer is the smart way to play the game to win.