Using BsR to forecast run and SB totals in 2017

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. Last Sunday Maine-Endwell Little League, from Binghamton, NY, ended a four-year drought for the U.S. at the Little League World Series. Ryan Harlost grabbed the spotlight after a complete game gem combined with scoring the game-winning run. Make no mistake; Ryan Harlost’s exploits went a long way in deciding the outcome of Sunday’s contest.

However, what ultimately decided Sunday’s contest cannot be found in the box score. With Jude Abbadessa on first base, Harlost hit a sharp single to right field. Abbadessa, without hesitation, went from 1st to 3rd on the play. The throw to third allowed Harlot to advance to second, resulting in runners on 2nd and 3rd with Conner Rush stepping to the plate. With the infield in, Rush lopped a would be infield fly rule for a single scoring Jude. After advancing to third base on the play, Harlost later scored on a Wild Pitch, giving the U.S. all they would need. If hypothetical scenarios appeal to you, one could easily surmise that had the events duplicated themselves; instead had Abbadessa played it safe and gone station to station, the U.S. could very well have been shut out.

BsR is Fangraphs’ all-encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealing, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above or below average. With exception to the stolen base aspect of the equation none of these items appear directly in the box score, yet the overwhelming majority of games are decided by the moments encompassed into this statistic.  As fantasy players we’ve spent the last half-decade ingraining analytical data into the fantasy game. For most of us, pitchers and hitters in many ways have become more defined by what the analytics tell you then the numbers they have produced. One area that analytics has seemed to pass by in terms of fantasy analysis has been base running. The current analytical approach to stolen bases used by most fantasy owners is essentially a questionnaire with two questions:

  1. Are you fast?
  2. Has your success rate warranted the continued pursuit of SB?

Answer yes to both and you’ve got yourself a SB target.

The Runs category is a staple in fantasy scoring, and much like stolen base is not among the most analytically processed statistics. The requirements to success are universally agreed upon.

  • Possess some power; after all driving yourself in is the easiest way to make sure a run is scored.
  • Get on base. The more times you’re in traffic the greater the opportunity is for scoring.
  • Have a solid supporting cast around you. Lineup placement can be golden.

The more boxes you can check, the better off you’re going to be when it comes to scoring runs. So once again I must question how exactly BsR could potentially help me?

Counting stats tend to get bunched up in Roto leagues. It may not always be spread out among the league in its entirety, but more often than not groups will be found somewhere. Sometimes a handful of runs may be the difference between a 4th and 9th place finish in the category. Could the evaluation of BsR statistics net me enough numbers to make an impact? If our past processing of analytical data is any indication, then yes, opportunity is there for the taking.




Take Mike Trout and Joey Votto, for example. Mike Trout has a .436 OBP, Joey Votto’s sits at .430. Trout’s 25 home runs are 3 more than Votto’s 22. Trout’s supporting cast has been Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun, and Albert Pujols. Votto has had Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Adam Duvall this season. Perhaps a slight edge to Trout overall, but 19 Runs seems a bit extreme. Joey Votto’s BsR is -1.1, while Mike Trout’s 8.0 mark is the 3rd best in baseball.

Now look at Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera. By all accounts Miggy is the better hitter; his OBP of .383 is nearly 50 points better than Davis’ .336 mark. On the season Cabrera has 556 PA compared to Davis’ 548. Of Cabrera’s 556 PA, all but 2 have come out of the 3 spot; of Davis’s 548, 460 have come from the 3rd and 4th spot while 88 have occurred batting 5th or 6th. From a team standpoint the Orioles rank 9th in Runs with the Tigers ranking 10th, a mere seven runs behind on the season. So to recap Miggy has been on base more often and in theory has been surrounded by a very similar supporting cast, yet on the season Miggy has scored 72 runs while Chris Davis has 84. Cabrera’s BsR is the worst among qualifiers in baseball coming in at -8.2. Davis’s mark of 4.8 is good for 14th best in baseball. Davis’ one stolen base gives him the distinction of being the only player among the Top 30 in BsR to have less than five steals.

Keeping with the Davis findings, he and Nelson Cruz also have a very similar statistical profile. Cruz has 545 PA compared to Davis at 548. Among those 545 and 548 PA respectively, both have managed to hit 32 HR. Like the comparison to Cabrera, Davis once again finds himself at a distinct disadvantage to Cruz when it comes to getting on base. Cruz has posted a .360 OBP this season, 24 points better than Davis’ mark. Once again the overall supporting cast of the Mariners is very similar to the Orioles offensively. As has already been established, the Orioles 624 Runs have been good for the 9th best in baseball. The Mariners have scored 611 which is the 11th best mark right behind Cabrera’s Tigers. Despite the lower OBP Davis’ 84 runs are 8 runs better than the 76 Cruz has scored this season. Davis’ BsR 4.8 – Nelson Cruz is -5.4.

Now that we’ve got something with meat on it, let’s continue breaking down this new-found value in fantasy.

Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson are both having MVP quality seasons. Bryant has 588 PA compared to Donaldson at 582. Bryant has 36 home runs compared to Donaldson’s 34. Donaldson has a slight edge in OBP with a .407 compared to Bryant’s .403. The Cubs rank 3rd in runs with 677; the Jays come in at 4th with 653. Kris Bryant’s BsR of 5.4 is the 11th best mark in baseball, Donaldson’s -0.8 is producing negative value. So naturally Donaldson’s Run output of 106 is a far cry from Bryant’s 112… okay, so maybe this isn’t the best sales pitch for bringing BsR value into fantasy.

As is the case with any statistic, BsR is open to bending and twisting to get your point across. The reality is the Run statistic is very much tied to the very things we’ve always believed. Among the top 20 run leaders, six have a negative BsR rating.  That’s nearly the same amount of Top-20 BsR players (7) who appear on the same list. One could easily view that as a way to dismiss BsR, yet you could also choose to look at it as 70% of the top 20 run leaders grade above average as a base runner. I took the same approach with the Top-50, 75 and 100. Among the Top-50 run leaders 60% have a positive BsR, 59% have a positive BsR among the top-75, and 58% of the Top-100 have managed a positive BsR. When viewing BsR in this way it would seem that there is some value to be found in it.




Aside from base-running miscues that could lead to reduced playing time or a change in role, I’m not quite sure what value, if any, BsR has in-season. In draft prep, however, I can see value in the tool. One area in particular where I feel BsR can be beneficial is in projections. BsR could help in evaluating home run dependency for individual players in regards to runs scored.

Take Mookie Betts for example: To my surprise Betts has hit 30 home runs this season, though if I were projecting for next season I would be closer to 25. That loss in HR will have a direct hit on his run totals. By taking Betts’s 30 home runs and subtracting them from both his runs total and PA, I can factor in how many runs Betts produced per PA this season. Betts has averaged a run every 7.86 PA that didn’t result in a HR, thus far. This number tells me that even if Betts struggles to return to 30 home runs next season it would still be reasonable for me to expect another 100+ run season even if the power loss is extreme.

Now consider Jose Abreu. In a season in which seemingly every power hitter is a 30 home run bat, Abreu would need a spectacular month to reach that bar. Currently Abreu has a Run per PA-HR of 16.57. While this number could easily fluctuate from year to year, it’s likely never going to be a Betts-type number. So going into next season, if I don’t foresee a power surge for Abreu it would be hard for me to project much more than 70 runs, given his limitations as a base runner.

Jose Altuve could be another instance where I will use BsR in projecting for 2017. After posting a 4.9 mark in 2014, Altuve was a negative performer in 2015 thanks to being caught 13 times on the bases, and he is just above league average this season. The two consecutive seasons of decreased stolen base attempts combined with less effectiveness on the base paths could very well mean the stolen base potential may need to once again be adjusted for 2017. Should the power regress then the Altuve run production we’ve come to expect may also need to be adjusted.

Billy Hamilton has posted a 11.8 BsR this season, easily the best mark in baseball. Hamilton’s slight improvement with the stick has improved his fantasy value. As we look toward 2017, it will be interesting to see by how much. Hamilton’s value is clearly in stolen bases, but should 2016’s numbers continue Hamilton could realistically push 100 runs. Hamilton is averaging a Run scored every 6.94 PA using the Run per PA-HR method – that is also the best mark among qualified hitters. Between minor injuries and a lack of commitment by the organization earlier in the year, Hamilton only has 449 PA this season. If Hamilton’s PA were closer to 600 that would put Hamilton at around 90 Runs with nearly a month to go. Paying the hefty price for solely speed is something many are not comfortable doing. Having plus run production to go with the stolen bases would make paying that draft day price more palatable.

*****

As much as I hate to see the 2016 season end, I’m just as eager to start the process of prepping for 2017. Every day newfound player evaluation tools are created, all for the purpose of improving the forecasting tool. I’m not suggesting that BsR will join the mainstream reference points such as BABIP or FIP but I do feel we can use it to our advantage somehow. Every season the difference between winning and losing is razor-thin. Oftentimes the outcome is decided by one category. Getting from 1st to 3rd on a hard hit single could lead to an additional run in the stat sheet. One run may be the only difference you need to be labeled a champion.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.
Josh Coleman

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