Mythbusting the Rays' Offense Part 1: The Stranded Runner

We're all familiar with Derek Shelton's slogan of GTMI at this point. There has been, however, some significant disagreement about is how successful it's been: many Rays fans are of the opinion that we strand too many baserunners because of our immense strikeout totals and need another high batting average guy other than Carl Crawford to be an "RBI-guy" while others are of the belief that we do an acceptable job of Getting The [Man] In.

As of now the Rays are 3rd in Runs Scored so obviously our offense has been scoring runs, but let's take a deeper look as to whether the first camp has a valid point.

The Rays are currently 14th in the majors in baserunners stranded (1st means fewest, 31st means most), or basically right in the middle. Consider this, however, in the context of the rest of the elite offenses in the AL.

 

Team Runners Stranded Rank in Runners Stranded
Yankees 931 22nd
Red Sox 963 27th
Twins 980 30th
Rangers 921 17th
Rays 911 14th


Here's a fun fact: In 2009 the team that stranded fewer runners won just 41.8% of the time. In the words of the great Joe Posnanski:

We have it jammed down our throats that you can’t win when you are leaving players on base. You have to take advantage of your opportunities!

But what this stat tells me is that scoring runs more about creating opportunities than cashing in on them — I think this takes us back to the whole RBI discussion. The RBI is a tempting stat to love because it feels tangible and heroic — to score runs, you usually need to someone to drive ‘em in. But what the numbers consistently seem to show is that if you create enough opportunities, SOMEONE is going to drive in those runs.

And if you don’t create as many or more opportunities as your opponent — no player and no team is consistently clutch enough to make up for that gap. Not over a long season. My evolving theory about baseball is like my evolving theory about life. Sure, there are heroics in baseball and in life. But you can’t count on ‘em. You’re better off banging on a lot of doors.

The above two things convey a point that is not nearly well enough understood in baseball: Great offenses are great at getting runners on, and those runners will be stranded more often than not. An excellent offense will strand runners left and right because they're getting men on left and right!

It's much more meaningful if instead we take a look at what percentage of baserunners score for the Rays and other top teams.

Team % of Baserunners to Score MLB Rank
Yankees 39.3% 2nd
Red Sox 38.0% T-5th
Rays 38.5% 3rd
Twins 36.6% 12th
Rangers 37.9% 8th

The correlation between % of runners scoring and batting average was a weak .403 so it appears as though improving the Rays batting average would really not be helpful here anyhow. If stranding runners truly is an issue for a team, much better correlated are OBP (.521) and SLG% (.77). Adding a high BA guy wouldn't be as helpful to driving in runners as adding a high OBP or a high SLG hitter would be. As for the strikeouts? The R^2 between strikeout total and % of baserunners scoring is .18%, meaning that a team's K totals have almost no relationship with baserunners scoring.

As for the Rays offense, it ranks 3rd in terms of % of baserunners to score, equal to its ranking of 3rd in runs scored. I think it's safe to say that the myth of the stranded runner is busted.

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