Gabe Kapler is Off the Bases like the Spiderman Logo

As hopefully everyone knows, WAR does not account for baserunning. Stolen bases and caught stealing are included, but stuff like advancing to third from first are not.  I suppose you could call it a hidden value in player evaluation that even the best metric in the land is yet to fully encompass - for now at least - so rather than pretend it doesn't happen, or stone the people who point this out, let's look at the Rays baserunners to see who benefits and who does not.

Note that all of these statistics are way of Baseball-Reference.

First up, the number of times a batter is on first when a single is hit. I set the bar at 10 times because this seems to coincide nicely with 200 plate appearances received. Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton lead the pack and were amongst the team leaders in plate trips, so hey, it works out just fine. Amusingly, Upton lead the team with 37 occurrences; here are the rest of the qualifiers:

 

Player 1stS 1stS2   1stS3   Third%
B.J. Upton  37 27 10 27.03
Evan Longoria  34 23 11 32.35
Jason Bartlett  28 18 10 35.71
*Carl Crawford  27 19 8 29.63
*Carlos Pena  23 12 10 43.48
#Ben Zobrist  22 14 8 36.36
Pat Burrell  21 17 4 19.05
#Dioner Navarro  19 13 6 31.58
*Akinori Iwamura  17 14 3 17.65
#Willy Aybar  15 11 4 26.67
*Gabe Gross  14 9 5 35.71
Gabe Kapler  10 9 1 10

 

What does this chart tell you? For one, the number of times a runner was on first when a single was hit (1stS), then how many times that runner reached second on the play (1stS2), and how many times they reached third (1stS3). What follows thereafter is a column with the header "Third%". Essentially: the amount of times the runner reached third. Now, keep in mind this is not a perfect metric by any means. Context is important and something that lacks with such a small sample size. There's a real and almost certain chance that the distribution of batted ball degree varies strongly. By that I mean some players - a la Carlos Pena - may have experienced more hard hit balls than others - vis-a-vis Gabe Kapler --  that or smiles are the fuel for legs.

Pena and Gabe Gross really leap off the page. I think if we did a community scouting report on the best and worst baserunners those two might be near the bottom based on speed alone. Meanwhile, Akinori Iwamura would likely be near the top with Kapler, and here he is advancing to third less than Pat Burrell. Upton and Crawford are around a third of the time, which is less than Longoria, Bartlett (I think most would have him top three), Ben Zobrist, Dioner Navarro, and pretty close to Willy Aybar. I can't think of a reason why, except that the ability to steal the extra bag leads Tom Foley to hold them on plays deemed too close. The factoid that dismisses that theory is that he literally does it for nobody else if such is the case, and that makes no sense.

Now let's shift gears a bit and look at the situations in which the runner was on first when a double was hit. From there we're seeing whether they scored or reached third - the minimum advancement:

 

Player 1stD   1stD3   1stDH   Score%
B.J. Upton  6 3 3 50
Evan Longoria  14 11 3 21.43
Jason Bartlett  16 9 7 43.75
*Carl Crawford  10 6 4 40
*Carlos Pena  8 6 2 25
#Ben Zobrist  9 5 4 44.44
Pat Burrell  9 8 1 11.11
#Dioner Navarro  10 8 2 20
*Akinori Iwamura  3 1 2 66.67
#Willy Aybar  7 7 0 0
*Gabe Gross  4 2 2 50
Gabe Kapler  2 2 0 0

 

Now the sample size is really too small to say with any trace of confidence. Iwamura, Upton, and Bartlett lead the team, while Crawford and Zobrist aren't too shabby either. Guys like Navarro, Aybar, Pena, and Burrell are low on the totem pole as well. Nothing else stands out.

Our final situation involves the runner being on second when a single is hit and whether they scored or not:

 

Player 2ndS   2ndS3   2ndSH Score%
B.J. Upton  20 7 12 60
Evan Longoria  15 5 10 66.67
Jason Bartlett  22 12 10 45.45
*Carl Crawford  24 3 20 83.33
*Carlos Pena  15 6 9 60
#Ben Zobrist  18 6 11 61.11
Pat Burrell  9 6 3 33.33
#Dioner Navarro  9 2 7 77.77
*Akinori Iwamura  18 8 9 50
#Willy Aybar  2 1 1 50
*Gabe Gross  11 9 1 9.09
Gabe Kapler  9 4 3 33.33

 

So here's where the speed wins out. Crawford is fantastic. Longoria, Upton, and Zobrist are good. Navarro morphs into a rollie pollie when needed, and Gabe Gross is atrocious at it. I would've expected Bartlett to be higher, but them's the breaks.

What does all of this mean? Well, if you use Dan Fox's EQBR metric - by the way, he's now in the Pittsburgh front office - then unsurprisingly Crawford and Bartlett rate well, and .... Gabe Kapler is the worst baserunner on the team by nearly two full runs.

For all the (deserved) talk about Kapler's headiness and managerial experience, is he really the worst baserunner on the team? This seems counter intuitive on multiple levels. Kapler's body type resembles that of a safety more than a linebacker or defensive end. He appears to have quick feet. He doesn't fit the profile of a laggard given his defensive prowess either. So what's going on here?

Well, random fluctuation it appears.  I took each of Kapler's individual seasons as a baserunner and ran the same percentages on them. The sexiness of having data dating back over a decade is appealing and great, but do you think 23-year-old Kapler's ability to go second to home tells us much about 33-year-old Kapler's ability? Maybe an extremely small amount, but what we really need to focus on is his last three seasons. Given that managerial break in 2007, we're looking at a period of four years and comparing them to 2009. The inherent small sample size issues get in the way again, but take a look at the contrast that exists:

 

Time 1stS   1stS2   1stS3   Third% 1stD   1stD3   1stDH   Score% 2ndS   2ndS3   2ndSH Score%
3 Yr 24 19 4 17 9 5 4 44 18 7 10 56
2009 10 9 1 10 2 2 0 0 9 4 3 33

 

Kapler rated better in each of three categories in the previous seasons. Barring some inside information that I'm not privy to, I'll go ahead and chalk this up to mostly poor luck. If you really wanted to dive into this data pile you could find the league averages and do a Marcels type projection to get super accurate figures, but know this, the gain is minimal. The spread of baseruning talent simply isn't that thick. It results in about a win differential from the worst team to the best. That's nothing to sneeze at and I'm not saying stack your team with nine Pat Burrell types ... unless they get on base at extremely high clips, then yes, stack them up and watch the runs pile up.

Again, many thanks to B-Ref for the data.

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