Monday, May 6, 2013

Scoring When the Leadoff Hitter Reaches Base

While watching the Cubs-Reds game on Sunday, May 5th, I was thinking about the percentages of runs that score when the leadoff hitter of an inning reaches base. In an earlier post, I gave major league averages over the past four years, but how are the individual teams doing this year? With about 30 games played so far, it's enough of a sample size to draw conclusions. These tables are BUSY but full of useful information. There will be two (with explanations)--the first is how a team performs, and the second is how they perform when their OPPONENTS get their leadoff hitter on base. Here's the first table:

I hope you're not trying to read this on a smart phone. Being the Cubs fan I am, I'll use them as the example. They've had 281 leadoff opportunities, and here's what they did:
1. Hit a single 40 times, of which 13 of those scored, 32.5%
2. Walked 16 times, 3 of which scored, 18.8%
3. Were hit by a pitch 3 times, none of which scored
4. Reached on an error 3 times, 1 of which scored, 33.3%
A total of 62 runners reached first in these varied and sundry ways, 17 of which scored, or 27.4%. That's below the major league average of 34.7%, the number highlighted in yellow at the bottom.

How players reached second or third was irrelevant to me, only that they did. I break out the ways teams reached first as a minor dig at White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, who frequently bemoans the leadoff walk but is strangely silent on the leadoff hit or any other way in which the leadoff hitter reaches first. The numbers show that it doesn't make any difference.

I was somewhat surprised at the number of leadoff home runs there are. There's nothing special about it, I simply had never seen it broken out before. The last columns are a little tricky:
1. TOT is the total number of leadoff hitters that reach base--this does NOT include the home runs, since they're not base runners. 
2. TOT% isn't quite on-base percentage, but it's close enough--it's the TOT column divided by plate appearances.
3. Run% is the percent of leadoff hitters that reach base, ANY base and score. 
The best way to view this table is to compare teams to the major league average and see how they compare. Like every other statistic, it's not a perfect relationship between these numbers and overall success, but generally speaking, the teams that are the most effective in getting their leadoff hitters not only on base, but driving them in are typically the better teams.

This table is how well teams PREVENT their opponents from scoring when the leadoff hitter of an inning gets on:

THIS is where you can draw some pretty solid conclusions--it's only one facet of a game, but if a team can:
1. Get the first hitter of an inning on base
2. Drive him in AND
3. Prevent their opponent's first hitter of an inning to get on and score
Then they're onto something. I'll contrast two teams to see if this holds up:
1. Boston, 20-11 after Sunday's games and tied with Rangers and Cardinals for the best record in baseball--28.1% of their leadoff hitters got on base and of those, 41.1% scored. They allowed 32.6% of their opponent's leadoff hitters to reach base, of which 37.2% scored. 
2. Houston, 8-24 and going nowhere fast--28.9% of their leadoff hitters get on base, of which 39% scored, while allowing 30.3% of their opponent's leadoff hitters to reach base, of which 46.3% scored. 

It's not perfect, but it's data that can't be seen in one place anywhere else and helps add substance to something that all baseball fans intuitively know--keep that first hitter of an inning off base, or else bad things can happen.

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