On Jason Giambi’s baserunning efficiency

Pettitte strong as Yanks win again
Albaladejo makes team for second straight year

I was perusing Joel Sherman’s latest blog post about Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner last night when I came across an initially dismaying line. It is, on its face, the prime example of the anti-Moneyball approach to baseball. Wrote Sherman:

But when not hitting a homer, Giambi was – in many respects – an on-base detriment. He was station-to-station. He offered no threat on the bases. He scored nearly as many runs (32) via his own homers as all the other ways (36) combined, which also includes trotting home on other’s homers.

My kneejerk reaction to that statement — an on-base detriment — is to simply shake my head and move on. Joe Morgan and Dusty Baker hate players who “clog the bases” even when it’s been proven beyond a doubt that runners on base help a team score runs. That is, after all, the goal of baseball, and people who talk like Sherman did generally aren’t making valid points.

But then I got to thinking: What if Sherman is on to something here? Could a player be so slow that, while not a detriment, he underperforms on the base paths? Let’s find out.

In a way, Jason Giambi was remarkably inefficient on the base paths last year. With an OBP of .373 in 565 plate appearances, he reached base 211 times last year. He scored just 68 runs for a conversion rate of just 32.2 percent. As Sherman notes, when we omit Giambi’s home runs, he scored 36 runs in 179 times on base. That means that in just 20 percent of his non-home run times on base, Jason Giambi scored a run.

That doesn’t seem too impressive until we bring in Giambi’s overall numbers. Throughout his career, Giambi has scored 35 percent of the time after getting on base. If we eliminate his home runs, he has scored 26 percent of the time after getting on base.

But now we’re just looking at Giambi in a vacuum. Let’s see how the Yankees performed as a team in these situations. Counting the home runs, the Yankees turned 36.8 percent of their baserunners into runs. Discounting home runs, they turned 31.1 percent of their runners into runs. On a larger level, the American League numbers were 36.8 percent counting home runs and 31.5 percent without the home runs.

In other words, while Jason Giambi was just four percent worse at scoring overall than league average, he was nearly 10 percent worse at scoring in non-home run situations.

So what then does all of this mean? After all, Jason Giambi had a net positive effect on the Yankees in 2008 and had, by any account, a good season. Well, for starters, that combination of speed and power is quite valuable. A-Rod, for example, in his career has scored nearly 45 percent of the time he gets on base and 35 percent of the time in non-home run situations.

While the next obvious conclusion is that Jason Giambi, as he aged and slowed down, become a problem on the base paths, but that’s not one we can readily make. After all, Giambi’s scoring is as much a function of the guys hitting behind him as it is his own speed. For much of last year, the guys hitting behind Giambi included Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Wilson Betemit and Jose Molina. That was not a pretty bunch offensively, and they could very well be the reasons why Giambi’s percentage of runs scored not off of home runs was so slow.

Maybe, though, just maybe, Joel Sherman isn’t far off the mark. Maybe exceedingly slow — exceptionally slow, painfully slow — baserunners can slow a team down. It would require a lot more research, but as baseball analysis is all about challenging the norms, it’s an idea that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand even if it runs counter to the Shrine of the On-Base Percentage.

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Pettitte strong as Yanks win again
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  • Al

    Hey Ben,

    Has firejoemorgan.com really been retired this long? As you know, just search “clogging the basepaths.”

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      While FJM does provide some entertainment on that front, I think Ben’s going for something different here. It’s about an extreme type player — low AVG, high OBP, horrendously slow — that warrants another look. There are no conclusions, since we haven’t conducted a study. Yet it might be an interesting one to dive into.

      • Tom Zig

        Adam Dunn?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      Hey Al,

      Did you actually bother to, you know, read my first few paragraphs or not? I certainly give nod to the idea that “clogging the basepaths” is a stupid, stupid idea. We obviously want people on base as opposed to not on base. But the idea that everyone with a high OBP is a net gain on the base paths may not be true. That’s all I’m suggesting. It’s not a terrible thing to challenge the normal way of thinking without the knee jerk “check out teh Fire Joe Morgan!!11one!” reaction you provided.

      • A.D.

        They’re still a net gain, the issue is what is the speed (or base running efficiency) to OBP tradeoff. Its could be something like 10 pts on OBP is worth 2% on the baserunning efficiency to score the same number of runs in 600 at-bats.

        • andrew

          Exactly. Having a guy with an OBP of .375 who can’t run like Giambi may or may not be more valuable than a guy who has an OBP of .325 but steals 60 bases. Again, somebody would have to run the numbers to determine what the tradeoff is in baserunning vs obp, but its certainly an interesting one to look at.

      • Al

        Yeah. I was really more just lamenting the loss of FJM than anything else. I do appreciate you trying to nuance the argument somewhat. Since this post is obviously directly related to many posts at FJM (although more nuanced, as I said), I was simply lamenting FJMs departure and not attack your analysis. So, sorry if I offended you, which i obviously did.

        • Grant

          You guys are a little sensitive there.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            The irony here is going to make my head explode.

    • http://www.bronxbaseballdaily.com Bronx Baseball Daily

      10% worse seems like a huge difference to me. Sounds like a base clogger. Just because Joe Morgan said something doesn’t automatically mean it’s wrong. He said lots of things. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  • Reggie C.

    Talking about baserunning efficiency , Gary Sheffield just got released from the Tigers. Tigers are eating his whole salary. Wow…Dude’s one homer shy of 500. The Mets should give him a call at a veteran minimum.

    I guess that really had nothing to do with baserunning or efficiency…

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Well, Sheffield is probably an inefficient baserunner…

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        1,592 runs – 499 HR = 1,093/1592 = 68.65%. Not awful, I guess?

        • A.D.

          Well actually it’s

          Career:
          W/HR: 38%
          No HR: 30%

          Last Year
          W/HR: 33.1%
          No HR: 24%

          So he’s well below league avg on scoring from the basepaths nowadays.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Sheff’s been on base 4,183 times in his career, an astonishing number. Last I checked there were only 39 players who reached base at least 4,000 times in their career.

          He’s scored 1,592 runs and hit 499 homers.

          (1,592-499)/(4,183-499) = 29.7%

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

            I find it amazing that Sheff was nearly 300 more BB than K in his career.

            • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

              Dude’s a way underrated player, IMO.

              • jsbrendog

                its because he’s been such an angry contoversial player everywhere he has gone. nto to say that he’s a cancer or etc etc but he does speak his mind and that might have had something to do with it.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Yankee fans: Pick your favorite Yankee player over the past 30 years, not including ARod.

                  Do you have him in your head?

                  Gary Sheffield is better than your favorite player.

                  BAM! THAT JUST HAPPENED.

                • andrew

                  But! but! Jeter has intangibles! I saw him lead the Yankees with my own eyes!

                • MikeD

                  tommiesmith,etc., good point, which I gather is that Sheff is much better than people realize (well, some people). That said, I can name better overall players, and I can certainly can name many who had better careers with the Yankees. Let’s start with Rickey, who iwas a better player, and better as a Yankee.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Wow. Yeah, Tigers are really a trainwreck.

      Yeah, the Mets should be all over that one. Too bad Sheff is atrocious in the field now.

      Ben Maller (FoxSports.com’s “gossip guy”, according to his Twitter bio) says Rangers, Reds, Marlins, or Red Sox.

      http://twitter.com/benmaller

      • Reggie C.

        Next thing you know, the Tigers are trading Miguel Cabrera and half his contract for Fred Lewis, Jonathan Sanchez, and Angel Villanova. Its gonna happen.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          “Angel Villanova”… I love it.

          • Grant

            I wouldnt doubt they trade Miggy and his contract.

  • jsbrendog

    “Maybe, though, just maybe, Joel Sherman isn’t far off the mark”

    ::head explodes::

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      He also called Melky a 4th outfielder on an NL team. While that’s a little harsh, it’s probably not too far off the mark either.

      • jsbrendog

        stop. his sensible remarks are going to make the world end.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Maybe the global recession and the impending death of newspapers has put the fear of Mo in him and forced him to step his intellectual game up.

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

            Much as it saddens me, I doubt the Post is doing poorly.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              The Post hasn’t gone out of business yet because it’s subsidized by NewsCorp’s huge profit margins.

              But by itself, it hemmorages money. Post loses like $50M a year.

              • Grant

                What newspaper doesnt lose money?

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Many newspapers lose money. Problem is, none of them lose money as rapidly or for as long as the Post.

                  Back before newspapers starting folding, say, 5 years ago, the Times, WSJ, and DN all turned a profit. The Post was losing money back then. It’s been losing money for like 10 years straight, maybe more. If it wasn’t owned by NewsCorp it would have been extinct long, long ago.

                  http://www.businessweek.com/ma....._mz016.htm

  • A.D.

    So basically it looks like behind the numbers on Giambi show that he doesn’t hurt you scoring runs overall, and that he’s a pretty below avg baserunner. You can take the runners behind him, obviously a factor, but when you consider his mark against the AL averages, its still a far cry.

    Given that he’s probably going to make up for having a lower scoring % than other by the sheer number of oppertunites, thus giving you the same, or more runs than the avg guy because Giambi’s OBP > than the avg.

    Looks like an interesting way to see how well base runners convert, and help quantify those guys who may not be the fastest but are labeled “smart base runners”, along with seeing if someone with great speed actually translates that into scoring runs at a better clip.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Although, the overall conclusion is that the OBP is still worth more than the baserunning conversion rate.

      Giambi’s speed (or lack thereof) should really only be used as a tiebreaker vs. a player with similar OBP skills. If you can find another guy who can get on base a lot and hit plenty of homers like Giambi, but is fast enough to convert bases into runs as well, you take him.

      • A.D.

        Yes, what it would come down to though is if a player is significantly better at converting, you may see that reduced OBP & increased conversion = the same number of runs in XX at bats.

        Thus there’s a tradeoff where better OBP for a bad baserunner isn’t more valuable at scoring runs as a much better baserunner with a lower OBP, where that point is, I don’t know.

  • Tommy

    According to Dan Fox’s EqBRR stat (a useful aggregate of all baserunning contributions), Giambi cost the Yanks 11.1 runs from 2006-2008 on the basepaths. That is the equivalent of about 1 win spread over three years. When you add in the fact that he added 129 runs with the bat over that time and cost 17 with his fielding, it seems pretty minor to me.

    See: http://www.baseballprospectus......mbja01.php (sub. req.)

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      I agree with this comment.

      (IAWTC?)

  • Ben

    has no one mentioned yet that Giambi also got pinch ran for a fair amount which could really affect his run numbers

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      That’s a good point. Let me see if I can drag up the number of times Girardi opted to pinch run for Giambi.

  • Jimmy

    Ben,
    These are the types of posts that make this site worth reading. I too am a believer in OBP as a leading metric in determining one’s ability to score runs (Giambi is less efficient at scoring when on base, but more efficient at getting on base – does this even things out?), but in the last few years I have felt that for some players it is over-valued. This started for me when Giambi was struggling a couple of years ago with his health, his power was sapped and his avg. had taken a huge hit, but he was still drawing a lot of walks. Listening to John and Suzyn applaud him for his OBP began to really annoy me. It was obvious that there were times that he just didn’t want to swing the bat and that he would take a walk at the expense of letting good pitches to hit pass him by. This is not to say that for much of his career Giambi’s OBP hasn’t been a huge asset (because when he is healthy and selectively aggressive, it has been) only that it isn’t always a measure of a player’s effectiveness.

    It would also be interesting to look at whether OBP is a less effective measure when not everyone in the lineup is capable of jacking one out. There was a time not so long ago when SS, 2B, CF, and C didn’t hit 30+ HR (make that 20+, actually 10+). In fact, from ’82 to ’95 the Yanks leading HR hitter had 35 HR only twice (Winfield in ’82, Mattingly in ’85) and 30+ in 6 of the 14 years. As we move away from the Brett Boone type of years, do players with limited base-running ability become less effective.

    • steve (different one)

      you might say, these types of posts help to remove the tarnish from a site that is already losing credibility?

      • Jersey

        ???

        • steve (different one)

          http://riveraveblues.com/2009/.....ent-313466

          i’m trying to start up a new running joke.

          these things just don’t happen by themselves. you can’t make lemonade from lemons, water, sugar and just a dash of fresh mint leaf.

          • Jersey

            A-ha, I see. Onward!

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Steve, it’s long, but I vote for:

            “You socialists are further detracting from the already tarnished credibility of your website.”

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

        Is this going to be a new meme?

        • steve (different one)

          i’m trying…

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

            Socialists with tarnished credibility.

            • jsbrendog

              haha well so its not new itsj ust an addendum to socialists….now youre tarnished socialists.

              tarnialists…..

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                tarnialists…

                George W. Bush: Can you describe your presidency in one word?
                George W. Bush: I can do it in two, actually, and those words would be “tenacious” and “awesome”. And when you put that together, that’s… “tenawesome”.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        ICWUDT

  • Patrick T

    Dan Fox came up with a slightly more sophisticated statistic to measure a players baserunning efficiency for the 2008 BP Annual, EqBRR. I think the upshot here is that unlike what the traditional media would like you to believe, no matter what the difference between Giambi and Juan Pierre, Giambi is the superior asset, because if for no other reason, he gives you a whole lot more opportunities to hit 2-run homers.

  • JRVJ

    I may be misunderstanding, but I think this phrase is wrong: “In other words, while Jason Giambi was just four percent worse at scoring overall than league average, he was nearly 10 percent worse at scoring in non-home run situations.”

    (If Giambi scores 20% of the time on non HR situations, and the league average is 31.5%, that would mean Giambi is at least 50% worse than league average at scoring in non-home run situations).

    Ben brings up a good point, which I’d like to add to: I can see Giambi being a very detrimental runner when at 1B (a Double Play waiting to happen), but surely he’s a better runner when at 2B or 3B and he can’t be forced.

  • Jersey

    Giambi’s EqBRR was among the worst in the league in 2008.

    That said, I disagree with the fundamental assumption being made here that Giambi’s failure to score more often is his own fault. I think it says much more about the meat hitting behind him for much of last year, which I would expect to be LARGELY more important. According to BP, he basically cost the team two runs last year due to poor baserunning – which is like a third of a win or so? Pretty minor.

    On the other hand, if you REALLY wanted to see the impact of Giambi’s baserunning, you should also calculate what you lose offensively when you’re forced to pinch run for him. As in, his baserunning might cost you a little bit over the course of the year, but the offensive dropoff you get in the lineup when you’re forced to remove his bat because you’re pinch-running for him would likely cost the team additional runs (maybe the difference between Giambi’s RC per 9 and the substitute hitter’s RC per 9, over the course of the season). But that will probably be small too.

    Anyway, great post. Thought-provoking.

  • http://newstadiuminsider.com Ross

    This is an interesting topic. My initial reaction is that no matter how low his runs scored percentage is, he is still valuable in terms of runs/wins based on his high slugging percentage. As for actually being on base and not scoring. There is something to be said about the extra effort it takes a pitcher to throw out of the stretch. Also, a lot of pitchers are not as effective out of the stretch, so Giambi being on base may have a positive effect on the batters around him.

    Ben, I see your point in all of this, but I cannot believe that even with a low percentage of runs scored, Giambi is anything other than a positive contributor when his OPS+ is 128.

    • A.D.

      No one is trying to argue Giambi isn’t a positive contributor, all its doing is looking to show/measure good and bad base running.

  • frits

    Nice piece. This is why youre the best of the 3.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      OH SNAP NO HE DI’NT

      • frits

        Ben K is like Joba, Mike A is like Hughes and Joe P is the offspring of IPK and Igawa.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          Thanks man.

          • jsbrendog

            see, now that you go full names i can no longer say that the p stands for patron saint of yankee blogs….

            but youre way better than ipk igawa haha.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Joseph Pawlikowski, you are one pathetic loser!

            No offense…

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

              No, none taken. You know what really chaps my ass though? I spent my life savings turning my van into a dog. The alarm alone cost me two hundred.

              • jsbrendog

                you sold petey!?!?!?!!

        • steve (different one)

          so all 3 are busts?

          • jsbrendog

            ietc AND icwudt

          • andrew

            ietc

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    Larry Walker is one of my all-time favorite players, and for years we heard about how great of a base runner he was.

    Times on base: 3,211
    Runs scored: 1,355
    Homers: 383

    (1,355-383)/(3,211-383)= 34.4%

    Wowza.

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      Maybe he would’ve scored more if he had ice skates on.

      • Jersey

        Or a jetpack.

    • A.D.

      Lou Gherig: 36.5%

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Johnny Damon: 40.8%

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Rickey Henderson: 39.6%

          • A.D.

            Juan Pierre 37.9%

            • A.D.

              Han-Ram 40.4%

              • andrew

                Your mom: 63.2%

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                ARod: 10.2%
                Scott Brosius: 93.1%

                (I may have made those two up.)

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

                J-Roll: 40.2%

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Larry Walker scored all those runs with his pure grit.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        Larry Walker scored all those runs with his pure grit.

        Is there a grit adjustment for Walker being a Canadian?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Canadian = grit

          No adjustment necessary.

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            Then Jason Bay will be oozing with grit this year. Canadian and being on the Sox? He might just break a grit record.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              If Jason Bay grew a beard, he’d be Chuck Norris.

              • A.D.

                It he grew a beard & was undersized he’d bring the biggest grit factors together:

                White
                Canadian
                Beard
                Red Sox
                Undersized body (aka Eckstianan)

                when these grit powers combine..

  • Daniel P

    I really don’t think it’s fair to compare his stats with everyone else. That means you’re comparing his ability to score with players in the 1-3 spots behind RBI machines.

    I think to normalize to similar players, there needs to be something like, compared to other players whose 3 batters behind him have similar SLG or OBP percentages.

    Thoughts?

    • Jersey

      I think you’re absolutely right. It’s apples-to-oranges until you control for spot in the batting order and hitters behind you, though I don’t doubt that Giambi would still come out poorly in baserunning, though I think the impact would be even smaller.

  • A.D.

    So interesting experiment on this….Juan Pierre vs Big G (both Career):

    With HR:

    Big G Scores 35.2% of the time & gets on 40.8% of the time, thus in 600 at bats:

    600*.408*.352 = 86.11

    Juan Pierre scores 38.3 % of the time & gets on 34.6% of the tome, thus in 600 at bats:

    600*.346*.383 = 79.48

    And Sabermetric theory holds, Big G > Juan Pierre

  • La Costco Nostra

    Favorite Michael Kay adjective used to describe Jason Giambi’s base running:

    Lumbering

    • jsbrendog

      good one.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Fortuitous?

      • steve (different one)

        the little girl with the curl?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Gold lamé thong?

  • A.D.

    Jose Reyes:

    42.5% at converting.

    • jsbrendog

      0% at converting at getting into the playoffs

      BURN

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        • jsbrendog

          i assume there’s a vid or something in there that im not seeing?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        100% at being a latin salsa-dancing clubhouse distraction

        • jsbrendog

          if only jose were on the mets when rickey was. then he woulda learned a thing or two

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