Sigh. The Bruins’ season is over. My life is meaningless. I got to write some pretty killer posts during our brief, torrid affair with the Stanley Cup playoffs, but now I’m just floundering as I wait for the draft (who doesn’t love Ottawa in June?) and try my absolute hardest to NOT die of an aneurysm as I watch the Celtics choke like a fat guy eating a piece of broccoli. Fear not, though, beloved reader! During the long, sweaty hockey off-season, I’ve decided to write periodically about sabermetrics, since I love geeking out over them and I think you will too. Pull up a chair and get ready to take notes: it’s time for a Sexy Sabermetric Stat Session(TM)!
Now, I'm the last person you'd ordinarily label a sabermetrics devotee. (Well, no. That chubby housewife buying cat magazines and those shell-shaped hand soaps that no one is supposed to actually use in front of you at WalMart is the probably the absolute last.) I think sabermetrics are valuable and interesting, but I certainly don't think they can or should be the sole, or even the primary, basis on which someone interprets baseball. I read (and enjoy!) Fire Joe Morgan and The Hardball Times, but I also sometimes do things like go jogging in circles around Fenway Park on the afternoons of playoffs games (when I get under the Green Monster, I whisper, "Let's go, boys!") and draw hearts around pictures of Grady Sizemore in Sports Illustrated. (ONLY SOMETIMES.) There's a lot more to baseball than numbers.
Still, crunching numbers is fun (and tasty!). Today, let's look at RER, which stands for Run Elements Ratio. What RER measures is the ratio of bases gained on walks and steals compared to bases gained on extra base hits. It’s calculated as (walks + stolen bases)/(total bases earned on hits - number of hits). Essentially, it answers the question of how a runner typically gets past first base: do they get there because they run bases, or because they hit past a single? (Or do they wait until the lights in the theater dim, then make their move? ZING!) It’s an important stat because it predicts where a player will be most effective in a batting lineup. A hitter with a high RER draws walks and runs the bases well, but isn’t necessarily a slugger; they’re an ideal top-of-the-lineup choice. Conversely, the player with a low RER tends to get extra base hits, and is thus a better choice for the middle of a lineup because they are more likely to bring base runners home. Since RER is just a ratio, and not an aggregate, it’s not really the kind of stat that has a “good” or “bad” baseline. It really measures offensive style.
Just for kicks, kids, what say we analyze the current Red Sox hitters and construct a sabermetrically idealized batting lineup?
[hears boos] Ah, screw you. If you don't like it, you can GIT OUT!
By way of cheating, incidentally, the fastest way to calculate total bases - hits for the bottom of the ratio is to add the number of doubles once, the number of triples twice, and the number of home runs three times. So here we go, in order of career RER (2008 number in parentheses):
Jacoby Ellsbury 1.452 (1.923)
Julio Lugo 1.087 (0.556)
Kevin Youkilis 1.056 (1.176)
Jed Lowrie 1.000 (omg xoxo!!1!)
Coco Crisp 0.902 (1.200)
JD Drew 0.882 (1.250)
Dustin Pedroia 0.802 (0.750)
Kevin Cash 0.658 (1.667)
Jason Varitek 0.692 (0.267)
Manny Ramirez 0.586 (0.552)
David Ortiz 0.584 (0.842)
Mike Lowell 0.541 (1.333)
Brandon Moss 0.500 (0.167)
Definitely not a surprise that Ellsbury tops that list; it’s been clear since that magnificent second at-bat in his major-league debut that his speed and ability to place shallow hits were going to make him the perfect leadoff man for the Sox. I was surprised to see how high up Youkilis is, though -- he draws walks like a fiend, though, so there you go. (Or maybe it’s a Jewish thing.) A typical batting lineup for the Sox these days looks something like
Lugo (PUT IN JED LOWRIE)
Naturally, leading off with Jacoby makes sense. Our RER analysis might suggest that Pedroia is misplaced at the top of the lineup. The 3-4-5 slots definitely look about right, and Youk in at 6 seems like a good way to lead off the second half of the order. My thought is that, ultimately, Lowrie will make a good #2 batter; he’s known for his ability to draw walks and has batted very well behind Ellsbury so far this year. (HE IS ALSO VERY GOOD AT NOT GROUNDING INTO DOUBLE PLAYS EVERY GODDAMN TIME HE BATS JULIO LUGO I AM LOOKING AT YOU.) Ideally, I feel like I’d steal a page from Tony LaRussa and place someone with a higher RER at the bottom of the lineup in the hopes of having a runner on for the top of the order. I guess that means THEORETICALLY that Crisp and Lugo are desirable #9 hitters, although I’m pretty sure they only bat 9th because they just plain suck.
Youk batting second? Hmm. I feel like I can see it.
Well, that was a pleasant waste of an hour! Hope you learned something… catch you next time for another Sexy Sabermetric Stat Session(TM)!