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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 26, 2009 at 8:53 AM

Ichiro: Most Valuable Baserunner…and Charlie Hustle

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In today’s statistical world, it’s possible to quantify virtually every aspect of baseball — or at least there’s a bold sabermetrician making the attempt.

Take “hustle,” an intangible that baseball fans have admired since Ty Cobb, but have never had anything more than subjective means of identifying. The dirtier the uniform, the greater the hustler.

A big thanks to Ken Davidoff’s fine “Baseball Insider” blog in Newsday for pointing out what I probably should have already seen. Baseball Prospectus has come out with its second annual batch of EqBRR statistics (equivalent baserunning runs), which endeavors to find out how valuable good baserunners are. And as Davidoff posits, and I’ll demonstrate in a moment, you can make the leap that this statistic at least partly identifies that esoteric concept of hustle.

I’ll get back to methodology of BP’s Dan Fox, the father of EqBRR (and now a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball operations department) in a moment, but first let’s cut to the chase: Guess who led the majors in EqBRR in 2009 while racking up one of the greatest such seasons of the last 50 years?

None other than much-maligned, supposedly-selfish, doesn’t-steal-enough Ichiro. His 12.6575 rating places him handily ahead of second-place Willy Taveras of Colorado, and is the 13th greatest such baserunning season since 1956, according to research on the Dan Agonistes blog (which, I have been told, was run by none other than Dan Fox himself before he joined Baseball Prospectus and then the Pirates). That means, according to this theory, Ichiro accounted for more than 12 extra runs last year just by his baserunning. And that, in turn, translates to more than one extra victory for the Mariners via Ichiro’s legs alone — the biggest such contribution of any runner in the majors.

There are five aspects to measuring EqBRR, and I won’t even pretend to understand the formula that puts it all together and spits out a number

They are, as synthesized by Davidoff (you can get more detailed explanations on the BP site by clicking on each category, but these descriptions are pretty easy to understand):

1) Equivalent Air Advancement Runs (EqAAR). Runners advancing, or failing to do so, on outs in the air.

2) Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs (EqGAR). Runners advancing, or failing to do so, on groundball outs, including sacrifice bunts.

3) Equivalent Stolen Base Runs (EqSBR). Runners’ success rates at stealing bases, including pickoffs. Not including when the runner is trailing on a double-steal.

4) Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs (EqHAR). How runners do when they are a) on first, with no runner on second, and the batter either singles or doubles; and b) on second, with no runner on third, and the batter singles.

5) Equivalent Other Advancement Runs. Runners who take advantage of passed balls, wild pitches and balks.

So based on these categories, Ichiro is the most astute, most alert, hustlingest baserunner in all of baseball. Juan Pierre held the title in 2007 (with a lofty 13.1174), when Ichiro ranked 10th at 7.0572. The best season in the last 53 years, according to Agonistes, is Maury Wills’s 20.6 in 1962, the year he broke Ty Cobb’s stolen-base record with 104.

No other Mariners ranked in the top 100 for 2008 (although Endy Chavez, then with the Mets, was 69th; Franklin Guitierrez, then with Cleveland, was 91st; and Russ Branyan, with Milwaukee, was 129th). A distant second to Ichiro on Seattle, ranking 104th at 1.19196, is Willie Bloomquist, who to most fans was the paragon of hustle.

In general, however, the Mariners were lousy in this metric: Out of 858 total players ranked — Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro coming in 858th at -8.03294 — the M’s had five starters rank near the bottom: Raul Ibanez at No. 788 (-2.19876), Adrian Beltre at 797 (-2.29751), Jose Vidro at 803 (-2.47818), Jose Lopez at 816 (-2.71314) and Yuniesky Betancourt at 828 (-3.16345). Oh, Ken Griffey Jr. was ranked twice — No. 783 with the White Sox (-1.96504) and No. 804 with the Reds (-2.48018).

In doing some googling to research this post, I came across another interesting article I had overlooked, this one from Lookout Landing. It touches on Ichiro’s EqBRR stats and also offers statistical analysis on how much he contributes defensively.

Ichiro may infuriate some teammates with his style of play, but it’s hard to argue he’s not a valuable ballplayer in a variety of ways.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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