Another post on the impact of speed

The impact of speed, as measured by taking the extra base or stealing bases, is not a huge in baseball, but in some cases the impact of speed is quite large, when you consider how it adds to a hitter’s basic stats. Great speed can add 30 hits per year in some cases. This isn’t additional value, a hitter who bats .300 by legging out singles isn’t any more valuable than a slow hitter who hits line drives and puts up the same stats. In fact, he’s slightly less valuable, as infield hits don’t have the same advancement value.
I thought it might be fun to try and measure how much speed can add, so I consulted an old friend, my retrosheet database. I looked at all groundballs that never left the infield, where “fielded by” indicates an infielder or the pitcher. Groundballs that make it to the outfield are not included, as they are hits for everybody, except for the occasional 9-3 groundout. Then, I looked at how often a groundball hit to any given infielder winds up as a hit, and compared each batter to the league average. For this exercise I counted reached on error the same as a hit, and used separate calculations for righty and lefty batters, which I consider a must do.
Over the last 4 years (2003-2006) Ichiro has reached on groundballs 84 more times than an average batter. Without the speed, he would be a .280-.290 hitter in 3 of the 4 years, with a .325 average in his big 2004 year. Slow-chiro’s overall offense would be slightly below average, unless he can really change his game and become the power hitter Seattle batting practice watchers think he could.
Bengie Molina is a pretty decent offensive player, as long as you use the qualification “for a catcher”. He’s not a patient hitter, but rarely strikes out and is pretty good at hitting the ball squarely. He’s also perhaps the slowest player in the game. His lack of speed costs Bengie about 7-9 hits per year. Give him average speed, and Speedy Molina hits .298/.300/.317/.305 over the last 4 years. His OPS would be above average every year, including .824 and .826 the most recent two.
I’m pleased with how this stat ranks the fastest and slowest players. Ranking by hits added per infield groundball, The top 10 are Willy Tavaras, Alex Sanchez, Corey Patterson, Ichiro, Joey Gathright, Dave Roberts, Rocco Baldelli, Adam Everett, Kenny Lofton, and Carl Crawford. In the next 10 are Luis Castillo, Juan Pierre, Ryan Freel, Chone Figgins, and Jose Reyes.
At the bottom of the list are Jason Phillips (slower than Bengie!), Bengie, Toby Hall, Damian Miller, John Olerud, Carlos Delgado, Adam Dunn, Mike Piazza, Jeff Francoeur, and Andruw Jones.
In other words, several catchers, some other well known slow players, and two Braves outfielders who are not supposed to be this slow (and certainly don’t field like it). Maybe Braves fans can answer: Does Jones fail to run hard to first most of the time? Is Frenchy picking up his bad habits?
If I ever need to run speed scores with the old Bill James formula, I think this stat is worth working in. It can replace the range factor part, since hardly anybody these days thinks range factor does anything more than tell you how many balls are hit to you.

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4 Responses to Another post on the impact of speed

  1. Pizza Cutter says:

    Sean, I used something similar as one of the components in my speed score formula. I didn’t use ROE (for philosophical reasons) or do lefty-righty splits, but what’s nice about infield hits as a speed stat is that it correlates nicely with things like SB%, and 3b / (2b + 3b). It’s a good quick proxy.
    Interesting findings about Andruw and Francoeur. John Beamer are you out there? Are there any other fast (at least by reputation), but apparently lazy players in this mold in your findings?

  2. Sean Smith says:

    I’ve got a correction, that’s not Jeff Francoeur near the bottom of the list, its Julio Franco, who has a good excuse, its hard to get down the line fast using a cane.
    Retroid is Franj002 for Julio and Franj004 for Jeff, who is a bit above average by this speed measure.
    Most of the players in the bottom 50 or so are catchers or 1B/DH types. Besides Andruw, others that are a bit surprising on the low side are Matt Lawton, Khalil Greene, Robinson Cano, Ray Durham and Orlando Hudson. No real basestealing threats. Orlando Cabrera steals a lot and just makes the bottom third of my list.

  3. Ron says:

    Yes, Andruw does indeed generally make little effort to get to first on any batted ball in the infield. I don’t think he is literally one of the slowest players in the game, but there is a certain amount of laziness on infield grounders on his part.

  4. Ap says:

    I’ll concur. Andruw is just lazy. Watching him walk to first base as he hit into a game-ending double play down by one run with the bases juice was jsut disgusting.
    Or maybe I’m just anti-Andruw.

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