Do Batting Runs Overrate Ichiro?
Non-Giants post, obviously. This is a thought that crossed my mind a few days ago (honestly, how much of a nerd can you be if stuff like this randomly pops into your head?) and I thought I’d do a bit of investigating.
Batting Runs, also known as Linear Weights, are the preeminent method for valuing individual hitters. If you’re familiar with this site or sabermetrics in general, you’ll know why- if not, I’ll briefly explain. Linear Weights take the marginal run value of each event based on its impact to the run-scoring process. We all know that a double is worth more than a single, a triple more than a double, and so on and so forth. LWTS essentially give us an empirical value of every event, and are ideal for evaluating individual hitters. Why? Well, not all hitters face the same opportunities due to the lineup they’re in. And while it is certainly true that a walk is more valuable to a leadoff hitter than, say, a #8 hitter, the player has no control over where he is placed in the lineup. A #8 hitter for the Yankees, for example, might be the leadoff hitter for another team like the Nationals. So we can’t look at runs and runs batted in, because they’re heavily dependent on the other players in the lineup. By using the marginal amount of runs each event produces, we can better get an idea of how valuable a hitter’s performance is in a neutral lineup. To get an idea of what this looks like, here is a LWTS equation for the 2009 NL (pitcher hitting excluded):
LWTS = .47*1B + .78*2B + 1.07*3B + 1.42*HR + .49*ROE + .30*NIBB + .33*HBP + .17*IBB – .29*NonKOut – .30*K
Note the bolded coefficient for singles- the run value for a single is around .47 runs. Except that accounts for all singles. Not all singles hold the same weight, though. Infield singles, for example, should hold less weight than a non-infield single because it has a low advancement rate. Turns out this is true. A while back, I read an old article written by Mitchel Lichtman- the creator of UZR- entitled “What is Manny Worth?“, in which he investigates Manny Ramirez’s (then) future contract heading in to 2007. He provides us with this linear weights equation:
MGL’s LWTS = .48*(1B – Inf1B) + .40*Inf1B + .77*2B + 1.07*3B + 1.40*HR + .32*BB + .51*ROE – OutValue*(AB – H)
I asked MGL in an email a while back if the run value of the infield hit generally sits around .40, and he confirmed that this is indeed the case. Pretty cool, no? This is something that’s usually- if not always- overlooked in most hitting performance estimators. This made me wonder, then…how about those slap hitters that rely on infield singles to reach base? How much does this change their offensive value as measured by linear weights?
The first player that came to mind was Ichiro. I’m sure other players might come to yours first- maybe a Juan Pierre, a Michael Bourn, and so on and so forth. Why check Ichiro? Well, there’s three reasons: the first being that he’s a very prominent figure in Baseball, and the second being that I’m sort of a closet Mariners fan (my favorite AL Team are the Rays, with the Mariners trailing behind. It was their acquisition of Justin Smoak, whom I have had a Baseball man-crush on ever since the 2008 draft, that made me jump on the fanwagon.). The third reason is because he’s had a very long and very successful career, with 50.7 rWAR heading in to 2010 (I’ll be excluding 2010 from this analysis, by the way, because the season isn’t over yet). So here are the league’s infield hits rate, calculated as INF1B / 1B:
The league average generally sits about 14-16% of all singles. That’s pretty good- players by and large do a bit more damage than just slapping the ball into the 5/6 hole. But what about a player like Ichiro, that seems to (by my own observations and by his reputation) do this rather often? How much does this rate change?
Pretty crazy, huh? Ichiro is actually hitting infield singles at almost twice the rate of the league average. That’s some crazy slappage. How does this convert into runs? Remember, the difference between a non infield single and an infield single is .08 runs, so…that’s our run value. We can figure Ichiro’s runs above/below the league average by comparing his expected infield singles to his actual infield singles, and multiplying by the run value. That gives us this:
And…BAM! There it is. While on the seasonal level we’re not looking at a huge difference- about 2-3 runs- this definitely adds up over time. Ichiro’s been overvalued by roughly 1.8 wins over the course of his career, and by the end of 2010, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s surpassed the two wins mark. This looks like a pretty fun topic to cover, so perhaps I’ll take a more in-depth look at other players at some point in the future.