How much is a single from a leadoff hitter worth?

Report: Dunn signs two-year deal with Nationals
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This post by Tangotiger over at The Book blog might keep you busy for hours. In it he presents data compiled from 1993 through 2008, detailing how each position in the batting order fared with each type of hit. You can see how many runs a single from a leadoff hitter is worth, or how many runs you can expect from a homer by the cleanup hitter. Tangotiger breaks it down by runs scored, runs driven in, and runs participated in, which combines the first two. Yes, the batter himself is subtracted from runners driven in when he hits a home run, so there isn’t any overlap.

As Pinto notes, this creates a strong argument for a team’s worst hitter batting eighth, and adding a decent on-base guy in the nine slot. However, it looks like the seventh hitter in the order participates in the fewest runs. Does this mean that you should hit your worst hitter seventh? It makes sense in a way, given the cyclical nature of the batting order. The only issue is that the seventh hitter will get more ABs than the eighth and ninth hitters. Do you really want to be giving more at bats to a lesser hitter? It appears, though, that the answer isn’t as obvious a “no” as you might intuitively believe.

An interesting aspect to me is the difference between a single and a walk. It’s obvious to anyone, even the most vocal proponent of the walk, that you’re going to drive in more runs hitting a single than taking a walk. Ergo, runs participated in will be higher. However, what about runs scored? After all, both a single and a walk result with the runner standing on first base.

1 .331 .315
2 .321 .302
3 .279 .262
4 .263 .245
5 .256 .236
6 .235 .221
7 .231 .222
8 .244 .209
9 .264 .247

So it looks like a single, in terms of runs scored, is between four and seven percent more productive than a walk (save for the crazy difference in the No. 8 slot). So no, a walk is not as good as a hit in a general sense, given 15 years’ worth of data. Not that this takes away from the superiority of OBP as a measure of production. After all, a walk is still infinitely more productive than an out.

Report: Dunn signs two-year deal with Nationals
The view from the afternoon
  • andrew

    I would guess that the reason a single on average leads to more runs than a walk does is because it means that (on average) you are facing a more hittable pitcher

    • A.D.

      yeah there’s all kinds of confounding variables on that one. Walks are sometimes intentional, semi-intentional, or being careful, hits never are, i.e no one gives up the “intentional hit”.

      But that said I’ve never see someone argue a walk is better than a hit, more that getting on base is more important than batting avg, which still holds.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        True. Realistically, it’s tough to espouse one position (walks have great value and hence, OBP is a much better statistic than BA) without having people who disagree with you take that position to the other extreme (you must be saying that walks are just as good as hits and that’s crazy, meaning your whole position is crazy)…

  • A.D.

    So no, a walk is not as good as a hit in a general sense

    ammunition for Dunn haters & people who love batting average

  • A.D.

    That BB dropoff for the 8 hole is going to be severely impacted by the number of times the 8 hitter is walked with 2 outs in an NL game to get to the pitcher.

    • Joseph P.

      Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. Great catch.

    • Count Zero

      Yep — very observant.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Check out the big brain on A.D.! You a smart muhf#$%a, that’s right! The metric system.

    • toad

      Good point. More generally, hitters followed by weak hitters are going to get more walks than those followed by strong hitters.

      So players get on base with a walk may be followed, on average, with worse hitters than those who get a single.

    • Weisdog

      Sorry to be the naysayer on this, but the notion that NL pitchers walk #8 hitters to get to the pitcher is completely false. In fact, with 2 outs and no one on base NL pitchers bear down to get the #8 hitter out, because if succesful they either a) get to lead off the next inning facing the pithcer, thus improving their chances of starting the inning with an out, or b) force the opposing manager to make a middle innings decision whether or not to bat their pitcher or pinch hit. In fact, if you ever see a pitcher walk a #8 hitter with 2 outs and the bases empty, they are usually cursing into their glove.

      With runners on base, however, the strategy changes depending on how many and what base they are on.

  • http://RossT Ross

    1B > BB because BAA is a better indicator of a ML pitcher’s ability to prevent runs than BB/9?

    In other words, all else being equal, a pitcher who gives up a single (vs. a BB) in a particular isolated AB is just more likely to let in runs?

    • Reggie C.

      Do you think this metric could be used to explain Dice-K’s success last season?

      • http://RossT Ross

        I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve heard interesting musings on Dice-K being sophisticated at “settling” in 3 ball counts, so a particular walk isn’t as strong a predictor of success in subsequent AB’s as with other pitchers.

        • http://RossT Ross

          “…isn’t as strong a predictor of *failure*…”, I should say.

      • A.D.

        Eh, his .267 BABIP, aka some luck, is probably a better indicator.

        • http://RossT Ross

          Definitely, but his season was VERY strange with respect to H:BB and WHIP:ERA correlations. I’m still scratching my head over it.

          • AndrewYF

            I would rather have my pitcher give up singles than walk a guy. How much better is a single than a walk, really? Also, you can give up a single on one pitch. A walk takes at least four.

            Dice-K walked on a tightrope all last season. As much flak Wang has gotten for somehow being ‘lucky’, we witnessed one of the luckiest seasons ever by a pitcher last year. He’s going to settle back into his 4.5 ERA range, and that’s if he can start pitching better. If not, it’s a long way down.

  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    I guess a single is better then a walk because it can advance a runner on base, right?

    • http://RossT Ross

      The issue is what happens to that runner who arrives at 1B AFTER he gets there.

      • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

        Yeah, re-read it, sorry.

      • Joseph P.

        Exactly. We’re only looking at runs scored, not runs driven in.

  • Drew

    I think generally a pitcher is more likely to accept trying to paint resulting in a walk when a weaker hitter is behind the leadoff guy.

  • Fabio

    From the link and the author himself

    For example, 27% of the time you hit a single, the batter eventually scores, but it’s 25% if reaching by walk (or hit batter). Reason? Walk are non-random, and are issued disproportionately with two walks, when they do less damage.

    Triples score .64 runners, while HR score .60 runners. Reason? HR are non-random, and are issued disproportionately with bases empty, when they do less damage.

    And I´m sure he meant walks are issued more often with 2 outs, and not two walks.

    • SF Yanks

      Wait, what? I’m not understanding how a triple scores more than a homerun. Can someone explain this one?

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Are we placing emphasis on the wrong thing here? The point of the article (re: hits v. walks) is not that hits are more valuable than walks, it’s that walks are virtually just as valuable as hits.

    27% vs. 25% is not a huge difference. It’s a very small difference.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    So, based on this, our order should be:

    1.) Damon – L
    2.) Jeter – R
    3.) Tex – S
    4.) ARod – R
    5.) Matsui – L
    6.) Posada – S
    7.) Cano – L
    8.) Gardbrera – S/L
    9.) Swisher – S

    No? Leave Swisher’s high OBP in the 9 hole as an extra leadoff hitter, hide Brelky (and to a lesser extent, Cano) in the less critical 8th and 7th holes…

    • jsbrendog

      swisher might not be happy hitting 9th behind gelky and well i guess thats it since if everyone else in the line up performs up to expectations then thats about right…but swisher could def be in that 6 spot and move posada up to 5 when matsui sits or nady plays and u could nbat nady 9th

      • whozat

        Who cares about “happy”?

        If its the best for the team, that’s all that matters.

        I think that “fast == leadoff” thinking will cause Girardi to decide that the best thing to do is put Gardner in the 9 hole, though.

        • Chip

          No, “fast==terrorizing the basepaths and distracting pitchers” while your best hitters are at the plate. That’d be another interesting one to do as you could factor in FB% and how much having a good base stealer on affects SLG and OBP.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yeah, it doesn’t work as well with Nady in place of Swisher, since he’s more of a SLG guy than an OBP guy… but you’re right, the problem with this is the real world ramifications. Most guys see bigger numbers as less important, so it takes a good sell job to convince Nady or Swisher that the 9th hole is anything but an insult/downgrade over 6th or 7th…

    • Joseph P.

      That’s exactly how I’d do it.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside


        Plus, it keeps the anti-OBP/pro-BA people happy, since Girardi’s doing the “smart thing” by keeping his “worst hitter” in Swisher at the bottom of the order.

        It’s so good, it’s devious.

  • Michael

    Don’t errors factor in to why hits are more productive than walks? For instance, there’s an error on the throw to 1B, and the batter is credited with a single, but ends up on second. Or, in trying to stretch a single to a double, an error occurs, so the batter is on second, but only is credited with a single. Of course, it’s also possible that someone could get a single and is thrown out at second, making the probability that he’d score 0. Interesting…

    • Chip

      I think I’ve seen something to that effect where somebody attempted to determine statistically how smart a first base coach is by comparing how often a hit should be a double or a single (based of LD% and career numbers) with how often a batter actually ends up on second or gets thrown out at second. It was quite interesting but only works on the first couple of years with a new base coach because of a players natural tendency to get slower as they age.

  • Chip

    Isn’t this overall lineup dependent though? I mean if A-Rod is hitting fourth, he’s going to participate in more runs than Melky. Well Melky never hits fourth so the overall runs created numbers for the four spot will naturally be higher for the spots immediately around him.

    My point is that this shows which players benefit from batting in certain spots using conventional wisdom. This is especially true of the national league.

    For example, say that conventional wisdom changed and everyone in the NL started batting pitchers seventh. Well, then a double in the fifth spot would score at a much smaller percentage (my theory on why a double in the seventh spot scores less runs than any other spot) because pitchers would be more apt to walk the next batter with either one or two outs hoping to get a double play or a strikeout from the pitcher. Well suddenly all these numbers would change as the fifth and sixth slots would score less.

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  • Bill

    I think the bias lies with the speed of the batter. Quicker hitters can get on with singles more than slower ones (ie Ichiro and other speedsters), while a majority of the power hitters (who are lead footed) tend to get more walks. Therefore, faster runners in theory should score more runs. Granted this is not a huge difference as the stats show but I think it may account for that.

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