"Total Run Accounting", or The Value of Doing the "Little Things"

I've finally completed my initial analysis of 2008 offense, writing software that uses MLB Gameday play by play data and accounts for every run, breaking down each play to a level where offensive runs can be assigned to hitters, baserunners and the opposing team's fielders.

I've posted a team by team spreadsheet with total "expected runs" for baserunning, hitting, etc to Google Docs here.

I also posted a detailed description of the method behind this accounting to BTB here, so I won't go into a bunch of detail on how these numbers are calculated. I do have a number of interesting results from a Minnesota Twins perspective.

We all know the Twins are considered by "baseball people" to play the game the "right way", moving runners over, bunting, taking the extra base, etc. The question many of us have asked ourselves is, what is the value of doing these "little things"? Does this give the Twins a significant advantage over other teams, relative to their "standard" performance metrics such as OBP, SLG, wOBA, WAR, etc?

Well, I found that it does. In 2008, by doing these "little things", the Twins helped themselves to the tune of about 27 runs compared to the next best team in baseball, much less the average team (42 runs) or other AL Central contenders such as the White Sox (65 runs).

In this context, what are the "Little Things"? In my analysis, I consider baserunning (stolen bases, caught stealing, taking the extra base, not getting thrown out on the base paths) to be one component. In baserunning, the Twins came out 8.44 runs above the average MLB team, primarily due to taking more extra bases, more often than any other team. Because the Twins' runners were also thrown out, they came out 7th in MLB in baserunning, behind Philly (#1 at +25.15 runs compared to average). By comparison, the White Sox were third worst in the majors (-11.12 runs) due to their general station to station style of play.

The second component of the "little things" is hitting the ball in locations where the baserunner is more likely to advance an extra base. In the spreadsheet, I note "Standard" batting as the outcome of the batted ball, assuming a standard advance of one base for a single, two for a double, etc. I then determined the percent chance (using all games from the 2008 season) where a runner would advance an extra base (e.g., first to third) based on the type of batted ball (GB, FB, LD, bunt, pop fly) and location (position that fielded the ball). For example, a runner is more likely to advance to third on a line drive to the right fielder than on a line drive to the left fielder (47% versus 18%). I assign the batter credit for the "expected" chance that a runner would advance. Then I assign the baserunner credit or blame depending on whether he actually advanced. In the case of a first to third single on a LD to RF, the batter would get 47% of the credit for advancing the runner to third (and all of the credit for getting him to second and himself to first), and the baserunner would get credit for the other 53%. The additional 47% is considered "Other" Batting, part of the "Little Things". 

This is where the Twins blow away all other MLB teams, coming in at +33.78 compared to league average. The next best team in the majors is Boston, at +16.19, and the White Sox come in at -11.97, 8th worst in MLB.

The good news here (from a Twins perspective) is that these "little things" should be repeatable. They are based on aggressiveness and speed on the basepaths, and hitting the ball the other way. Considering that the Twins are 27 runs better than any other MLB team (at least in 2008) at doing these "little things", this corresponds to +2.7 value wins, or equal to Prince Fielder and Vlad Guerrerro, or just slightly greater than Alfonso Soriano and Pat Burrell (+2.6), or Torii Hunter (+2.5) in total value wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs. In other words, the equivalent of signing a $12.2M FA.