# Thread: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

1. ## The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Consider this thread to be an attempt at injecting some critical thinking into the forum before the grand merger and before Spring Training begins.

After reading some of the threads on the Minor League Forum, many of which discuss Billy Hamilton and how he may affect the future of sabremetrics. One of the first posts that got me thinking was a post by Atomic Dumpling that provided a primer that explained the differences between different WAR calculations. A second was a series of posts discussing John Sickels' prospect rankings, which culminated in this quote by Scrap Irony:

Originally Posted by Scrap Irony

[...]

Hamilton's speed-adjusted WAR could very well double the next highest person on the list. He could be the Babe Ruth of the WAR speed set. And that makes me giddy.

Imagine a line of .225/ .320/ .380 with a WAR in the top ten of the game.

Could happen.

Could very well happen.
This immediately reminded me of THIS article, which brought up the following points: [WARNING: Boring math nerd stuff ahead. If you don't like boring math nerd stuff, skip these quotes]

In 2000, during the apex of the stolen base depression, teams needed to maintain a 69.7% success rate on the base paths just to simply break even on the run value game (granted: game context — such as the pitchers, stadium, weather, and score — allows for varying levels of acceptable SB-rates). But by 2012, the break even point dipped to 66.6%.
Before we expand that concept, we must understand why the run values for CS and SB have changed. In the height of the Steroid Era, home runs came in discount baskets. In the aforementioned 2000 seasons, the HR/PA rate nearly hit 3%. Compared to the 2.68% of 2012. That comes to a difference of almost a whole home run per five or six games.
A simple equation of:

Break Even Rate = 0.590 + 3.33 x (HR/PA)

This phat function allows us to predict the optimal break even point not just for a league, not just for a team, but for a lineup.
Obviously, this analysis of the running game is crude. But the ideas welling underneath it point to a concentric theme: Managers need to buckle their courage pants and start beaming the green light again. Home runs may never come back in quite the same fashion, so stealing deserves its renascence.
[end boring math nerd stuff]

So, it seems that the league may be trending to a spot where speed is becoming more and more valuable. The effects of speed for a batter are relatively varied: outs can become hits or errors, singles can become doubles, stolen bases become a more common practice, and so on. A parallel can be seen in other sports leagues such as the NFL where speed-oriented players are gaining ground.

Furthermore, because of the change in landscape across MLB since the end of the PED era, a change in the calculus could lead to the speedy player being a more common contributer to a team than the slugger. Because there have been fewer and fewer true sluggers, maybe the wheel turns and the Ryan Ludwicks, Raul Ibanezes or Michael Cuddyers get phased out while the Michael Brantleys, BJ Uptons, or Ben Reveres become the players in vogue. As the landscape becomes more varied, players with unique skillsets (such as Our very own Brandon Phillips might become more prevalent than the replaceable parts that have been around MLB for years.

One of the really interesting things about WAR is that it got fans to think about players in a different way. Players like Adam Dunn who were ridiculed because of high strikeouts, poor defense, and low batting average were seen to have much higher value than some had thought. Now, players with elite speed might be viewed in the same way as Dunn was after the modernization of stats.

So, Reds fans! If this trend continues... how do you think this will influence the landscape of the game, and how would you use this information going forward to better the team?

2. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

I'm sure not just the lineup as a whole, but each game situation has a different "breakeven rate". Given that this whole topic basically stems from us having the poster boy for this style of baseball waiting in the wings in AAA, the obvious question is how to get the most value out of a player that will probably bring very few of the sabermetric skills we all drooled over in 2005.

Should he be batting leadoff is one question I'd have. Seems to me the breakeven rate would be drastically lower if Hamilton is trying to swipe bags in front of Cozart and Hanigan on deck as opposed to Phillips, Bruce, Votto, etc.

3. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

It is an interesting concept. I agree that Stolen Bases are more valuable now than when scoring was elevated 10-15 years ago. Whether the break even rate for stealing bases should be directly tied to the home run rate seems questionable to me. It might make more sense to base it on Runs per game rather than home runs per plate appearance. I could be wrong, but that is my gut feeling.

I would also challenge the notion that Steroids or PEDs were responsible for the elevated scoring years. Contrary to popular belief, the rates of PED usage and scoring do not correlate very well. Scoring began to drop off while PED usage was still on the upswing. By the time the peak of the Steroid Era came around scoring had already been declining for years.

As I have detailed more thoroughly in other threads and as Baseball Prospectus has extensively shown, there are much better reasons than PEDs for the increased scoring during those years. PEDs simply don't have nearly as much effect on the game of baseball as most people have been led to believe. The biggest reasons for the increased scoring during that time were smaller ballparks, denser bats, bouncier balls, team expansion, improved surgical techniques, less emphasis on defensive skill, improved recognition that OBP and SLG were better indicators of hitting skill than AVG, an influx of talent from outside the USA and bigger players. The players are bigger, taller, stronger and more athletic due to improved diet and weight training, and they are more physically fit and flexible due to professional training regimens.

Players today lead far different lifestyles in terms of athletic training and physical fitness than they did 25 years ago. Steroids used to be a quick, easy and risky shortcut to physical strength. But for the last 15 years or so players have taken the long road to strength and fitness by devoting themselves year-round to intense regimens of training guided by professional athletic trainers and strength coaches -- folks who didn't exist back in the pre-steroids era. The average player right now is bigger and stronger than the average player at the height of the steroid era yet scoring is down significantly. Scoring is down due to increased emphasis on defensive skill, defensive shifting, increased video scouting that exposes hitters' weaknesses, higher average pitch velocity, increased usage of relief specialists and increasing usage of effective pitches like the cut fastball. Many of the newer stadiums are also pitchers' parks compared to the ones they replaced and they use a humidor in Denver now.

Getting back to the issue of stolen base break-even rates, I can see why the rate is dropping down into the 66% range. It is getting tougher to score each year. So if you can scratch out an extra runner into scoring position you should do it. When calculating the break even rate why don't they factor in pickoffs? Most pickoffs occur when the runner is intending to steal but dives back into first base and gets tagged out. Since he did not run to second base he is not charged with a Caught Stealing. I think the pickoffs should be factored into the stolen base break-even rate.

Billy Hamilton's stolen bases are impressive, but his speed may have even more affect on run scoring due to taking extra bases on batted balls (his and others), scoring on balls normal humans can't score on, forcing errors by defenders and by beating out enough infield hits to keep his OBP high. It will definitely be interesting to see for ourselves just how much his world-class speed affects the game. Can't wait!

4. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by Superdude
I'm sure not just the lineup as a whole, but each game situation has a different "breakeven rate". Given that this whole topic basically stems from us having the poster boy for this style of baseball waiting in the wings in AAA, the obvious question is how to get the most value out of a player that will probably bring very few of the sabermetric skills we all drooled over in 2005.

Should he be batting leadoff is one question I'd have. Seems to me the breakeven rate would be drastically lower if Hamilton is trying to swipe bags in front of Cozart and Hanigan on deck as opposed to Phillips, Bruce, Votto, etc.
Agreed. A player should not be placed at leadoff merely because he can steal bases. The leadoff hitter must have a high OBP. Speed pales in comparison to OBP in terms of importance.

I also agree that stolen bases have added value when they are stolen with a singles hitter at the plate. You don't need to steal second to be driven in by Joey Votto or Jay Bruce and you sure as heck don't want to get thrown out on the bases with your best hitters at the plate. But guys like Ryan Hanigan and Zack Cozart are unlikely to drive you home unless you are already in scoring position. Put the basestealer in front of the singles hitters, not in front of the power hitters.

5. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by AtomicDumpling
Agreed. A player should not be placed at leadoff merely because he can steal bases. The leadoff hitter must have a high OBP. Speed pales in comparison to OBP in terms of importance.
I think we can all agree on that. My point is that if Hamilton develops as we hope, he's filling two roles offensively: getting on base at a solid clip and subsequently stealing an impossibly high number of the bases in front of him. He profiles perfectly as a leadoff hitter, but it's also presumably somewhat limiting to the value he can provide on the bases by running in front of a potent middle of the order. Would it be worth using a slightly less ideal leadoff hitter like Phillips and letting Hamilton have the constant green light in the 7th spot to set up easy RBI opportunities for guys like Cozart?

6. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

I think there's a lot going on which leads one to think that it's possible emphasizing the running game may be the next new thing:

1. Teams de-emphasize stopping the running game -they do this as a philosophy and approach (see the Pirates as the most extreme example).

2. A good many catchers have been brought up to the major leagues for their ability to hit- their defensive skills were viewed as less important.

3. Players with stolen base talent were pushed further to the margins. Now that the break even point has moved toward rewarding their ability - they may gain more traction and playing time.

The last time this happened in a big way was the late 50's/early 60's - the game had become a haven for slow players with lots of power- catchers and their ability to throw out baserunners were't a concern because -well, no one really tried to steal a base. Maury Wills (an example) comes along and the game plays to his advantage.

By the 1970's....when i was a kid (70's and 80's) many players were expected to steal bases - sakes a live, Randy Milligan, who was one of my favorite players growing up, stole 41 bases in the minors - Randy Milligan was HUGE and...well....really big. It's an extreme example but it points toward a different time---- i got off track.

I do wonder if we are close to the tipping point where running and speed come back into the game.

7. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by AtomicDumpling
Agreed. A player should not be placed at leadoff merely because he can steal bases. The leadoff hitter must have a high OBP. Speed pales in comparison to OBP in terms of importance.

I also agree that stolen bases have added value when they are stolen with a singles hitter at the plate. You don't need to steal second to be driven in by Joey Votto or Jay Bruce and you sure as heck don't want to get thrown out on the bases with your best hitters at the plate. But guys like Ryan Hanigan and Zack Cozart are unlikely to drive you home unless you are already in scoring position. Put the basestealer in front of the singles hitters, not in front of the power hitters.
So the ideal lineup with BH playing would be:

LF Choo
2b Phillips
1b Votto
RF Bruce
3b Frazier
CF Hamilton
SS Cozart
C Hanigan

How does that grab you?

8. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

I think Phillips or Choo would be best qualified to make contact while Hamilton is on base. I don't think Cozart would be a better choice than them. If Hamilton's getting on base .350 of the time, I think he's the best choice for leadoff. I wouldn't hate Choo batting leadoff in the late innings though, as he could end a game easier of course.

Anyway, I found this discussion with Walt relevant to this thread:

I’d seen him several times in the Fall League batting lefthanded getting down to two strikes in the count and he’d lay down a perfect drag bunt. He made it to first base in 3.3 seconds one time.’’

For Hamilton, though, it’s not just about the speed.

"You have to have good instincts. And he’s got them," Jocketty said.

Hamilton told Jocketty it was manager Delino DeShields at Billings, Mont., in Billy’s second year of pro ball, who taught him the drag bunt with two strikes, and manager Ken Griffey Sr. last year in Bakersfield, Calif., who reinforced it.

That brought a smile to the GM’s face.
Took me a second, but I realized that the threat of bunting well with 2 strikes is so important because it's the count a batter is most likely to get a decent pitch for it, and it's taking the weapon one step further which is uncommon and difficult for the defense to get used to. It's almost like being persistent about going for it on 4th down because you can.

9. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by AtomicDumpling
PEDs simply don't have nearly as much effect on the game of baseball as most people have been led to believe. The biggest reasons for the increased scoring during that time were smaller ballparks, denser bats, bouncier balls, team expansion, improved surgical techniques, less emphasis on defensive skill, improved recognition that OBP and SLG were better indicators of hitting skill than AVG, an influx of talent from outside the USA and bigger players. The players are bigger, taller, stronger and more athletic due to improved diet and weight training, and they are more physically fit and flexible due to professional training regimens.
Many of the things you mentioned are still in effect today. What in your opinion, led to the barrage of HR's (the 60+ seasons to be specific) and then the decline of said huge seasons. Did the pitching just catch up to the hitters? PEDs? Other?

10. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by kaldaniels
Many of the things you mentioned are still in effect today. What in your opinion, led to the barrage of HR's (the 60+ seasons to be specific) and then the decline of said huge seasons. Did the pitching just catch up to the hitters? PEDs? Other?
Incidentally the biggest steroid abuser of the era, Barry Bonds, only hit 50+ home runs in a season once in his career.

The reason the 60+ HR seasons declined is because opposing teams basically quit pitching to Bonds and McGwire and Sosa. Once pitchers started intentionally walking Bonds at a record pace and pitching around him almost every at-bat it made it very hard for him to hit home runs. He had a .609 OBP with 232 Walks in 2004!

Teams today rarely give a superstar a pitch to drive.

The average player today is bigger than the average player back at the height of the home run bashing steroids era.

11. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by Plus Plus
Consider this thread to be an attempt at injecting some critical thinking into the forum before the grand merger and before Spring Training begins.

After reading some of the threads on the Minor League Forum, many of which discuss Billy Hamilton and how he may affect the future of sabremetrics. One of the first posts that got me thinking was a post by Atomic Dumpling that provided a primer that explained the differences between different WAR calculations. A second was a series of posts discussing John Sickels' prospect rankings, which culminated in this quote by Scrap Irony:

This immediately reminded me of THIS article, which brought up the following points: [WARNING: Boring math nerd stuff ahead. If you don't like boring math nerd stuff, skip these quotes]

[end boring math nerd stuff]

So, it seems that the league may be trending to a spot where speed is becoming more and more valuable. The effects of speed for a batter are relatively varied: outs can become hits or errors, singles can become doubles, stolen bases become a more common practice, and so on. A parallel can be seen in other sports leagues such as the NFL where speed-oriented players are gaining ground.

So, Reds fans! If this trend continues... how do you think this will influence the landscape of the game, and how would you use this information going forward to better the team?
So the stat line you quoted reminded me of the late 70's Pirate, Omar Moreno

http://www.baseball-reference.com/pl...orenom01.shtml
He only had a WAR above 2 twice and never above 3. Is the thought that we should recompute WAR to take into account the influence of Speed via intangibles?

12. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by Superdude
I think we can all agree on that. My point is that if Hamilton develops as we hope, he's filling two roles offensively: getting on base at a solid clip and subsequently stealing an impossibly high number of the bases in front of him. He profiles perfectly as a leadoff hitter, but it's also presumably somewhat limiting to the value he can provide on the bases by running in front of a potent middle of the order. Would it be worth using a slightly less ideal leadoff hitter like Phillips and letting Hamilton have the constant green light in the 7th spot to set up easy RBI opportunities for guys like Cozart?
Yes, when Billy Hamilton reaches the big leagues it would make sense to start him out in the 6th or 7th spot in the lineup. If he proves he can get on base at a .350+ rate in the major leagues, then and only then should he be put in the leadoff spot. It is the OBP that determines whether a player is qualified to bat leadoff -- not his speed.

But since Hamilton plays centerfield and is fast I am sure Dusty Baker will have him bat leadoff no matter what his OBP is.

And I agree with you that a stolen base is more valuable in front of Hanigan or Cozart than it is in front of Votto or Bruce.

13. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by Superdude
I think we can all agree on that. My point is that if Hamilton develops as we hope, he's filling two roles offensively: getting on base at a solid clip and subsequently stealing an impossibly high number of the bases in front of him. He profiles perfectly as a leadoff hitter, but it's also presumably somewhat limiting to the value he can provide on the bases by running in front of a potent middle of the order. Would it be worth using a slightly less ideal leadoff hitter like Phillips and letting Hamilton have the constant green light in the 7th spot to set up easy RBI opportunities for guys like Cozart?
To me, no. If the argument for having OBP at the top of the order is to maximize RBI opportunities for the middle of the order, it seems counter-productive to take the guy who's going to set up the most easy RBI opportunities and put him behind the RBI guys.

I will agree that Cozart will see more relative good from a stolen-base king hitting in front of him than Votto would, but I'm not convinced that in absolute terms it translates to more runs for the Reds. Remember that even for a terrific hitter like Votto, nearly 90% of his plate appearances don't end in extra-base hits. It would be nice to see somebody crossing the plate on his two-out professional-hitter-at-work liners to left, too, not just on the rockets flying over the fence.

I also agree that Hamilton needs to have a leadoff-worthy OBP, not just the speed. That's why I'm okay with the Reds taking their time here. He's not a finished product yet and I'd like him to keep building on his success and come to the majors when he's good and ready.

14. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

I don't think there's anyway that a base stolen in front of Hannigan is worth more than one stolen in front of Votto...how do u make the math work for that? D....oesn't seem possible ....how does the math show that?

15. ## Re: The Changing Landscape of Baseball and (maybe) a new Roster Approach

Originally Posted by AtomicDumpling
Agreed. A player should not be placed at leadoff merely because he can steal bases. The leadoff hitter must have a high OBP. Speed pales in comparison to OBP in terms of importance.

I also agree that stolen bases have added value when they are stolen with a singles hitter at the plate. You don't need to steal second to be driven in by Joey Votto or Jay Bruce and you sure as heck don't want to get thrown out on the bases with your best hitters at the plate. But guys like Ryan Hanigan and Zack Cozart are unlikely to drive you home unless you are already in scoring position. Put the basestealer in front of the singles hitters, not in front of the power hitters.
I don't think anybody would disagree with the OBP over speed argument. But one thing I think gets overlooked in regards to having a guy like Hamilton in front of the middle of the lineup is the distraction effect he'll have on the pitcher. And thus the more likely it'll be that the pitcher makes a mistake pitch. Give an advantage like that to our better hitters and they'll take advantage of mistakes at a higher rate than our lesser hitters (Cozy & Hanny). I get the argument you're making and it's certainly valid, but there are other factors that make it work in favor of him being in front of the sluggers too.

And by the way, great idea for a thread Plus Plus.

#### Posting Permissions

• You may not post new threads
• You may not post replies
• You may not post attachments
• You may not edit your posts
•