FanPost

Could a Small-Ball Team Win?

It seems to be generally accepted in the stat-oriented community that small-ball isn't a winning strategy. As fun as it can be to watch, and as exciting as Billy Martin's 1981 A's team was, it seems that small-ball is not a winning strategy. However, as a thought experiment, I decided to try and compile a small-ball team and put the question to AN: is this a winning team?

My basic criteria involved finding players with high OBP and high sacrifice outs, as well as high SBs (in conjunction with good SB/CS ratios.) I wish I knew where to find a statistic that would show the percentage of a player's swings that results in contact, for purposes of the hit-and-run. Additionally, in keeping with the spirit of small ball, I omitted most of the superstar/power hitter type of guys.

LF - Brett Gardner. He's tied for seventh among major league outfielders in OBP with .378. He adds 33 SBs (with a 82.5% success rate.)
CF - Denard Span. .337 OBP. 18 steals (85.7% success rate.) Good bunter.
RF - Ichiro Suzuki. He OBPs .362 this season, which is below his ability--he's a career .377 OBPer. His 29 steals come out to a 80.6% success rate.
1B - Daric Barton. Barton ranks ninth among MLB first basemen with his .379 OBP. Everybody ahead of him has 19 or more homers on the season. Additionally, only two players--Albert Pujols and Aubrey Huff--that are ahead of him have struck out significantly fewer times. Ks suck more for a small-ball team than for most teams. And, of course, Barton does well with the sac bunt. He has 12. Of the four players with 13, two are pitchers. As far as SBs go, Albert Pujols is the only first baseman in the majors with double digits--he has 11--and although guys like Gaby Sanchez have good SB/CS percentages (Sanchez is 5-for-5), it's a pretty small sample size.
2B - Chone Figgins. His .341 OBP needs a little work, but his 30 stolen bases (79% success rate) and 10 sacrifice bunts make him a good choice for a small-ball team.
SS - Cliff Pennington. I know most people would assume an Elvis Andrus or a Rafael Furcal to be a better choice, I'm going with Pennington. His OBP is .334, but that's held back by an atrocious May. He's more accurately about a .350 OBP player, and his SB success rate of 86% is excellent--especially because he has 18 SBs on the season. Of the shortstops who steal bases, none do it better than Pennington. He also has seven sac bunts.
3B - Chipper Jones. I know he's dead now, but aside from a total lack of bunting, he's the best small-ball choice at 3B. His .381 OBP ranks him second in the majors at his position. There aren't a lot of great bunters or baserunners at the hot corner, so Jones takes it.
C - John Jaso. He's only got about 300 PAs on the season, but his OBP is .384 in that span. I'm not really focusing on SBs or bunting here, because none of the catchers that do those things well can get on base.
DH - Jack Cust. No one should be shocked to see the ol' hippopotamus in this starting nine. He's reinvented himself this year as one of the better hitters in baseball at the unposition. Although he doesn't have qualifying PAs yet, he leads the majors in OBP among DHs with .395. It's a tough choice to not put Johnny Damon here, as he's the only DH in baseball who seems to have any ability to steal bases or bunt, but his .361 OBP is so far below that of Cust that I have to tip it to Cust.

My batting order goes: Gardner, Barton, Jaso, Cust, Jones, Ichiro, Pennington, Span, Figgins.


BENCH

IF - David Freese. Freese doesn't run the bases, but he does have a .361 OBP and four sacrifice bunts, tied for second in MLB at his position. He's a third baseman, so he's your backup corner infielder.
IF - Elvis Andrus. If I were in a different mood, I might have had him starting at SS. He has a .368 OBP, good for second among shortstops, and 13 sac bunts. He also has 27 steals, but his 67% success rate means he's costing you too many outs on the basepaths. As a shortstop, he's a backup middle infielder.
C - Carlos Ruiz. Like Jaso, he's only got about 300 PAs, but his OBP is .381.
OF - Rajai Davis. He has 36 steals. He's been caught seven times. His 83.7% success rate on the basepaths isn't the best in the majors, but it's very close, and it's definitely the best among baseball's top base stealers. Rajai has the fourth-most steals in baseball, but you have to go all the way down to 13th on the list to find a player (Chris Young) with a better success rate. Rajai's impatience at the plate (only 17 walks on the season) keeps him out of the starting lineup, but a small-ball team can't afford to not have baseball's best baserunner on the bench. And if someone could teach the kid patience at the plate...
OF/DH - Johnny Damon. Even at his ripe old age, he can run, he can get on base, and he can play the fundamentals game. As an expert bunter, one of the great base stealers of his generation, and an excellent hitter with a patient approach to the plate, he's the salty old veteran this team needs.

For pitching, I focused on ERA, WHIP, and GB/FB ratio. Again, I tried to stay away from the superstar/power pitchers. Wouldn't you know it, a couple of these pitchers are a little familiar to A's fans.

SP1 - Tim Hudson. Hudson is one of only three starters in baseball to appear in the top 10, MLB-wide, in all three of the categories I looked at. He's first in G/F ratio (1.95), second in ERA (2.13), and tied for sixth in WHIP (1.07.) When no one was looking, this dude remembered how to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
SP2 - Adam Wainwright. Wainwright is the second of those three starters. He leads the majors in ERA (1.99), he's second in WHIP (0.97), and he's tenth in G/F ratio (1.25).
SP3 - Trevor Cahill. Cahill is the third of those three starters. He's third in WHIP (0.98), sixth in G/F ratio (1.31), and seventh in ERA (2.50).
SP4 - Francisco Liriano. 1.32 G/F ratio. 1.33 WHIP. 3.26 ERA. Fourth starter.
SP5 - Jon Lester. Lester has a 2.80 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, but his 1.27 G/F ratio is still solid.

Bullpen:
Peter Moylan
Johnny Venters
Brandon League
Scott Downs
Javier Lopez
Jose Valverde

Coaching staff: I realized after the first three that I had selected solely guys that have been members of the A's, so I just went with that.
Manager: you know it has to be Rickey Henderson.
Bench Coach: Carney Lansford.
Pitching Coach: Curt Young.
Bullpen Coach: Dave Stewart.
Third Base Coach: Willie McGee.
First Base Coach: Eric Chavez.

This team's current salaries add up to $91,532,052. The 14th-highest payroll in baseball is $92,355,500.

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