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Adding It Up on Offense

Let us hold Kenny Lofton up as an example of a true leg man.

Let us hold Kenny Lofton up as an example of a true leg man.

Everything counts. Or at least everything we can count counts.

On offense, we can currently count a lot of things, and on BBREF, they roll up under three things:

  • Runs from batting events (on-base events, slugging events, outs, reaching on errors, etc.)
  • Runs from baserunning (steals and advancement)
  • Runs from avoiding double plays

Here are the top 10 retired players who started their career in the play-by-play era (1948–2014) in BBREF’s Batting Runs:

  1. Barry Bonds 1128.5
  2. Hank Aaron 875.1
  3. Willie Mays 808.8
  4. Mickey Mantle 802.4
  5. Frank Robinson 729.7
  6. Frank Thomas 690.6
  7. Manny Ramirez 651.3
  8. Jeff Bagwell 591.0
  9. Jim Thome 587.3
  10. Gary Sheffield 560.7

Now here are the top 10 in BBREF’s baserunning runs (Rbaser):

  1. Rickey Henderson 144.5
  2. Willie Wilson 120.4
  3. Tim Raines 114.8
  4. Luis Aparicio 91.7
  5. Davey Lopes 83.0
  6. Barry Larkin 80.2
  7. Joe Morgan 80.2
  8. Ozzie Smith 79.3
  9. Kenny Lofton 78.5
  10. Paul Molitor and Lou Brock 77.9

And finally the guys who best avoided the deuce:

  1. Johnny Damon 49.5
  2. Larry Bowa 36.4
  3. Willie Davis 33.6
  4. Steve Finley 33.4
  5. Brett Butler 33.1
  6. Vada Pinson 32.9
  7. Cristian Guzman 30.8
  8. Mickey Rivers 29.2
  9. Richie Ashburn 28.8
  10. Randy Winn 28.2

Notice how not a one man shows up on all three? In fact, no one shows up on two of them. These skills are not always isolated from one another, but at the extremes, they each seem to have their expert practitioners.

Now what if we add it all up?

  1. Barry Bonds 1178.0
  2. Hank Aaron 907.0
  3. Willie Mays 877.2
  4. Mickey Mantle 864.1
  5. Frank Robinson 739.0
  6. Rickey Henderson 703.4
  7. Frank Thomas 639.4
  8. Jeff Bagwell 605.5
  9. Manny Ramirez 602.0 (edit: thanks to MadelineandMike for noting the error I made in forgetting Manny, this rectifies it)
  10. Chipper Jones 566.0

Anticlimactic, I know. Rickey Henderson, tops among baserunners does suddenly leap into the rankings, but he was eleventh among hitters to begin with. So big, booming bats make the biggest difference.

But there are surprises lower down in the rankings. I took the top 185 retired players whose careers fall entirely in the 1948–2014 era and when I ranked them by their combined bat + base running + DP avoidance, some players leaped or dropped a lot compared to just their batting alone.

Foremost among all gainers was Kenny Lofton. He went from last on the list of batters to 92nd on the combined list, a gain of 93 ranks. He started with 139.8 batting runs and added 101.7 seven runs of base running and DP avoidance, boosting his overall offensive runs by 73%. That’s by far the best increase in rank and overall performance. Here’s our top 10 gainers:

NAME         Rbat RANK  TOTAL   RANK  +/-   % GAIN
                       OFFENSE       RANK   IN RUNS
====================================================
K. LOFTON   139.8  185  241.5    92   +93    +73%
B. BULTER   188.1  138  258.5    76   +62    +37%
B. LARKIN   200.2  125  284.0    67   +58    +42%
V. PINSON   145.0  178  205.9   123   +55    +42%
K. GIBSON   176.1  147  222.2   106   +41    +26%
R. SANDBERG 192.0  134  235.9    93   +41    +23%
E. DAVIS    197.1  128  244.4    88   +40    +24%
L. WHITAKER 209.4  116  257.5    77   +39    +23%
R. WHITE    190.5  136  231.7    97   +39    +22%
C. CEDENO   224.0  105  283.8    68   +37    +27%

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this group is how much Lofton laps the field. As noted previously about Willie Wilson (who didn’t make the survey), the efficient application of speed (on both sides of the ball) can make an average player good and a good player great. Wilson was the former, Lofton the latter. The appearance of Kirk Gibson surprised me. He was a fine athlete and a stolen base threat at a decent percentage before his knees gave out, and as a lefty hitter with speed had an advantage in GIDP-avoidance. Oh, and this table shows us another reason why Lou Whitaker was overlooked: a fifth of his offensive value came from his legs despite mediocre stolen base rates that wouldn’t grab the Hall voters’ eyes.

How about our trailers?

NAME         Rbat RANK  TOTAL   RANK  +/-   % GAIN
                       OFFENSE       RANK   IN RUNS
====================================================
J. ADCOCK   214.0  112  166.3    152  -40    -22% 
J. POSADA   204.5  121  155.6    160  -39    -24% 
Chi. DAVIS  218.0  108  177.1    145  -37    -19% 
R. CARTY    228.4  100  188.5    137  -37    -17% 
H. BAINES   233.8   91  204.9    125  -34    -12% 
G. LUZINSKI 241.9   87  210.1    121  -34    -13% 
G. FOSTER   230.5   96  204.4    126  -30    -11% 
To. PEREZ   267.4   75  225.3    105  -30    -16% 
J. TORRE    303.6   56  247.3     86  -30    -19% 
M. VAUGHN   222.9  107  189.7    136  -29    -15% 
D. LEE      243.4   85  219.9    114  -29    -10%

A couple catchers, a very fat first baseman, two guys known for the ill health of their knees, and The Bull. You might wonder where the notoriously lead-footed Mark McGwire ends up (6 career triples, only 43% as many doubles as homers, only 20 steal attempts). He loses only three rankings. Seems that his offense ranks so highly that despite shedding seven percent of his offensive value, he hangs in pretty well.

Finally, among these 185 top batsmen, who got the most value from their legs? Well, obviously, it’s Kenny Lofton, a cool 42 percent of all his offensive value came from running and DP avoidance. But after that come some expected and not as expected names

  1. Kenny Lofton 42%
  2. Tim Raines 30%
  3. Vada Pinson 30%
  4. Barry Larkin 30%
  5. Brett Butler 27%
  6. Craig Biggio 23%
  7. Robin Yount 22%
  8. Cesar Cedeno 21%
  9. Rickey Henderson 21%
  10. Kirk Gibson and Lonnie Smith 21%

Biggio is quite surprising. His 3,000 hits make him a little overrated as a hitter, but he was an outstanding base runner (54 runs’ worth), but more interestingly, he is the only righty hitter among these 185 players to accumulate 20 or more runs in DP avoidance. Roberto Clemente (at 11 runs) is the only other righty with more than 8 runs in this department. Indeed, among all hitters (not just the good ones that we’re looking at), Biggio is second only to Al Dark in this category. Raul Mondesi is the only other to reach 20 runs. Biggio’s secrets? Frankly, I don’t know! He was quick, of course, but he was right handed. He hit the ball in the air at league-average rates. There’s no obvious reason for his ability to stay out of twin killings, and there’s little he has in common as a batter with either Dark or Mondesi. You got me.

How about Rickey? I would have thought he’d generate a much bigger percentage of his value from running. Interesting to see how relatively little of his offensive value was leg-related. But that’s a testament to the potency of his sometimes overlooked bat.

It’s also interesting to see Lonnie Smith among the top 185 batsmen. He’s a mostly forgotten name but had a couple awesome seasons.

It takes all kinds to play baseball, and even at the top of the talent pyramid, players assemble value in any which way they can. Once you start adding in defense, things get interesting in a hurry. But on the offensive side of the ball, we can look pretty definitively at three areas and get a strong idea how value gets cobbled together. And when we do, we can see how some stars and even the greats generate runs, wins, and a stylish HoME resume.

—Eric

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “Adding It Up on Offense

  1. any particular reason you started with ’48 (play-by-play era)?
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | August 13, 2014, 10:28 am
  2. I notice that Manny falls off the total list despite being 7th on hitting. In looking at BBREF, it states he loses 22 rbaser and 27 rep; wouldn’t that leave his with 602, good for 9th place?

    Posted by madelineandmike | August 13, 2014, 10:33 am

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