Statistic of the day: Seth Smith's base-running

By Jason Wojciechowski on May 23, 2012 at 6:40 PM

In the interest of having more than just a post every time the A's make a transaction, and completely failing to find any controversies or roster situations on the A's compelling enough to make me write furious missives yelling that the A's will miss the playoffs unless they start using one utility-infielder instead of another, I present what will hopefully be a semi-regular feature: statistic of the day!

(First, though, go play my free $350-prize one-day fantasy game at DraftStreet! There is no downside! Do it!)

So, if you had to guess who the most valuable base-runner on the A's had been so far this year, who would you guess? The speedy Jemile Weeks? The equally speedy (albeit injury-shortened) Coco Crisp? The athletic Josh Reddick? Tools-monster Yoenis Cespedes? Scrappy scrapper of scrap Cliff Pennington?

Well ... oh, wait, I titled my post with his name. This isn't a surprise anymore. Dadgummit. The answer is Seth Smith. Are you surprised? I'm a little surprised. Or I would have been surprised had I not looked up the answer before I started writing.

Here's the deal. Baseball Prospectus keeps a set of base-running statistics that track how players do advancing on ground-balls, air-balls, hits, steals, and "other." These are different from the FanGraphs-style base-running stats in that they don't use the ball-in-play statistics that also form the basis of UZR and other fielding metrics. Outside of that, I understand the two statistics to be built in similar ways -- advancement, non-advancement, and being thrown out on the bases all have run values that are easy to see from a standard run-expectancy table. Compare a player's performance on the bases to the average performance (e.g. on singles fielded by the right-fielder, runners on first advance to third X% of the time) and you can fairly easily, I think, see how you build a metric.

If you look at the "Here's the deal" link above, you'll see the top 30 in major-league base-running on the season. You'll notice, first, that players don't really distinguish themselves in enormous ways on the bases. The league-leader in base-running runs (which is compared to average, not replacement) is Gerardo Parra at +3.4. Over the season, that's +15 runs. Matt Kemp, by contrast, is already something like +21 runs batting.

With the exception of Alex Presley, who's been thrown out trying to steal entirely too often, you'll notice, second, that the way the top 30 in base-running so far have accomplished the feat is by being a little bit above-average across the board. Nobody is, for instance, +4 in steals but a little bit negative in all the other areas. The largest positive in the top 30 is Jordan Schafer's +2.7 runs on ground-balls, making up over 80% of his total base-running value.

So now to Seth Smith, who, like the others on the list, does not stand out in any particular area. He's basically average in steals and "other," +0.3 on air-balls, and +0.6 on both ground-balls and hits. None of this adds up to much, just +1.6 runs total, but the A's, of course, can use every bit of help they can get on offense, so it's worth keeping an eye on Smith going forward to see how he's running the bases in ways that add value despite not having blazing speed.