AN Book Club, Topic 4 - The Myth of Smallball as Sound Baseball

Topic 1 - Are The Playoffs A Crapshoot?

Topic 2 - The Myth of Clutch Hitting
Topic 3 - The Myth of the Importance of Defense

We've been inundated with it for most of the playoffs. Which team is the most `fundamentally sound'? Which team `does the little things right'? You'd have to be blind, deaf, and not live in the United States or Canada not to know that the White Sox won the World Series because they played the game of Smallball. The articles are clear: Smallball wins over Moneyball! The verdict is in: defenders of The Game are correct; baseball fundamentals like base-stealing and sacrifice bunting are how you win games. Simply putting runners on base and driving them in is not creative enough. Moneyball has been proven false by the triumphant White Sox. Much more strategy is needed in The Game. Let's go back to the farm system. Teach those kids to bunt and run! Because, after all, that's how you win a baseball game.

Or is it?

From Eric Walker's, The Sinister First Baseman, "A Desultory Phillippic":

Many if not most of the things that happen on the field of play are beyond the influence of anyone not directly involved in the action. The ball will or will not fall in, and no amount of mental activity will alter its trajectory. Nevertheless, there are certain options, certain choices that can be made. One of the recurring themes in the game of baseball is the delicacy of its many balances, the nicety of the differences between winning and losing; so these options, though they may be perhaps small influences by comparison with such larger factors as the innate abilities of the players, are quite capable of exerting a major effect on net results. Though a number of such options exist, each with its own range of possibilities, there are, at bottom, two basic, opposed philosophies that may guide a manager's pattern of choices within these options. Choices like stealing, bunting, using the hit-and run: these are tactical moves. The range of strategy is bounded by the two extremes frequently denominated the "big inning" approach and the "play for one run" approach. The terms are apt descriptions of the underlying logic.

We're going to call the `play for one run ' approach, Smallball, because that seems to be the defining `opposite' of the Moneyball strategy, which at its most simplistic explanation, believes in the value of the out above all else.

Each strategy represents an approach to the minimization of risks. There is nothing much for a strategist to work with until a man gets on base; then there is a lot. Take the simple and common case of a runner on first with none out. One obvious risk is that the succeeding batters will make three outs without advancing him home. Another risk is that he will be involved in a double play. There are ways to possibly reduce these risks. If he steals second, the double-play risk is virtually eliminated, and his chances of being stranded somewhat lessened; in return, however, he assumes the risk of being thrown out stealing.

Good management consists of making intuitive estimates of the relative magnitudes of these two sets of risks, as well as of those involved in the other possible alternatives, such as a bunt or a hit-and-run-play. These probabilities are not fixed things; a manger cannot reach a firm decision about each and then blindly follow it. To give one ludicrously extreme example, your pitcher (if you are handling a National League team) is decidedly more likely to be able to execute a sacrifice, even if he is not any special expert at it, that to be able to get a hit. As another example, your catcher or first baseman is usually not a good prospect as a base stealer. All this and more the manager factors in, or at least he should.

On interesting theme through this chapter; the emphasis that the manager does matter--a lot in fact--an idea, whether erroneous or not, does not appear to have much intrinsic value in Beane's endgame. It's a well-publicized idea that any manager for Beane is seen merely as a puppet controlled by the front office; yet, as Eric Walker is laying the groundwork of Moneyball, he is simultaneously telling us that he believes the managerial game of chess during the game is still important. Interesting.

The "one-run" strategy generally involves a great deal of managerial button-pushing. The emphasis is on what is variously termed "execution", "doing the little things right", or, most presumptuous, "sound fundamentals." When the very second batter of the game lays down a satisfactory sacrifice bunt, he is "showing good execution," and the team is "playing sound fundamental baseball." Please note that if he instead blasts the ball into the upper deck for a two-run homer, your favorite sportcaster will never say that the man executed well, or that his shot was good fundamental baseball.

I'll pause a moment for the inevitable reaction to this statement. How can you not laugh? It's funny, `cause it's true. But you know what else is true that no one just comes right out and says? It's the simple fact that if a team is considered `fundamentally sound' and plays `Smallball' well, usually that means they have pretty good pitching and an anemic offense. So in reality, when you say a team should play `Smallball', you're admitting that they can't hit.

Underlying the "one-run" strategy is a perception that the team is not a strong offensive unit. The strategy expresses the belief that if the team is left to just hit away, its on-base average and power are inadequate to score a sufficiency of runs. The theory is that if your batters are likely to give up numerous outs anyway, they might as well give them up in a purposeful, directed manner, a manner that will serve to advance a base runner. The attempted steal is seen as less of a risk than the chances for a hit. "Giving yourself up" is a great virtue. In sum, the inning is perceived as a race, an effort to move the first runner to reach base around to home before the third out. Speed is essential.

And the other side?

Conversely, the big-inning approach is based on the idea of competent hitters. It is often somewhat erroneously associated with long-ball hitting, but really it relies more on a good on-base percentage than power per se; the basic concept is that the batter won't make out all that easily. Still, good RBI power will generally be associated with the "big-inning" approach. Broadly speaking, the manager is gambling an increased risk of no runs at all against increased chances for multiple runs. Outs are rarely given up willingly (as in sacrifice bunts), and risks taken on the bases (like stealing) are fewer.

Walker emphasizes that he knows that the game situation can sometimes determine how to play the inning; i.e. if in the bottom of the ninth, you need just one run to win, you might be allowed to be a bit more creative. He cites Billy Martin, who won by handling all of his teams a little bit differently, depending on their strengths. Eric Walker, much like Billy Beane, is not against hit-and-run plays, stealing bases, or bunting, per se, but they are both very much against doing something--anything--just because baseball has traditionally done it that way, especially when the numbers do not support the move.

Unfortunately, all too many managers are doctrinaire about their strategy, and (like most people) the more their illogic is exposed, the more adamant they get. Watching a .280-hitting, 20-plus home-run-a-year #3 or #4 batter try to dump a sacrifice bunt is not funny; it's painful. It's bad enough even if it works, and far worse when it doesn't, which is most of the time. Worst of all is to later hear that manager bellyaching about how none of these kids know how to execute the fundamentals (remember that one?) any more. In my naïveté, I have always thought that getting a hit was the fundamental of batting, and that 150 to 200 of them a year qualified a batter as competent; but no, I guess making an out is today's new fundamental of batting.

Preach it, Brother Walker!

Can I take a moment and just imagine what it must have been like reading this in 1982? We have all read Moneyball and Bill James, so we have some reference, but can you imagine the reaction to these concepts, especially this one, in the eighties? This is the issue that gets Joe Morgan in a frenzy every time Billy Beane is mentioned in today's baseball world; I can't even imagine how this must have gone over twenty-three years ago. Or if it even was talked about at all. I have no idea how popular this book was in its time; the only person that I know of who put his stamp on it was Frank Robinson, who wrote the foreword. What do I know?...I was six. Care Bears were a little more important to me than sabermetrics. Although this bear really should have been around when I was little. Remember, you always win when you're a good sport! Maybe that was the White Sox's secret!

Ahem. Topic. So can good, old-fashioned baseball coexist with all these crazy numbers and blasphemous ideas?

You must by now have deduced that I am not a big fan of the one-run strategy. It's not that I am excessively offense-minded or run-crazy. I abhor the cheap modern rabbit-ball home run, and I have no love for the DH Rule. So why am I opposed to the one-run strategy? Because I don't think it's sound baseball.

I spoke before of minimizing risks and balancing alternative probabilities. The difficulty is that this process is necessarily intuitive, "necessarily" because the sorts of exact numbers that would be needed are not, generally speaking, available; they are not normally kept by teams. What are the cumulative odds of a runner on second with one out eventually scoring? What of those for a runner on first with none out? If you don't know those things to a nicety, you're not making decisions, you're making guesses.

Regardless of any of your feelings on these topics, one thing is clear. It does not matter what you believe; the truth is that we cannot possibly remember every little nuance of a game, or every single AB of a player. We need something to remind us, and for a lot of us, we find it infinitely more accurate to go with actual numbers than our gut feelings. You want to know if Smallball is a good way to manage a game? Well, all we can do is look at tangible data; in this case, the odds of a runner scoring from first with no one out and the odds of a runner scoring from second with one out, and any other data we deem relevant when making a decision.

A response might be made to the effect that those odds [of a runner scoring] are highly variable, depending on the subsequent batters in the order. True, certainly; very true. How much greater, then a need for data-not absolute this time, but related instead to the strength of the batters yet to come; yet no such data is available.

We can only try a little application of common sense. In baseball, some numbers are known, some are not, and the meaning of most can be debated. But there's one number everyone knows and agrees with: three. Three outs, and you're gone. Period. The end. All runners cancelled, all theories moot, all probabilities, zero. That number must, in any rational evaluation of the game, dominate planning.

But does it? How many times during a baseball game (other than a few select teams) will you hear the phrase, "Well, of course, he needs to bunt in this situation!" Translate that next time to this: "Why don't we give up an out in this situation because traditional baseball tells us that is what we should do." By bunting one of your major league hitters, you have just effectively taken a chance for a hit out of that player's hands.

Let's look at some other numbers. An extraordinarily talented lead-off batter will have an on-base percentage of .400; he will thus be an out fully 60 percent of the time. Even a pretty decent batter will make out almost precisely two times out of three. Thinking of it this way, we immediately begin to sense that giving up an out, any out, is going to have a major influence on total run scoring.

Walker then talks about the various computer programs which were designed for the very purpose of using average figures for probabilities of hits and of outs to calculate all the possibilities that could occur with a runner on second with one out versus a runner on first with no one out.

The result confirms our intuition: the sacrifice bunt increases the chances of the runner scoring, although only slightly, but it very significantly reduces the probable total of runs scored. (In fact, when used by players other than pitchers, the sacrifice costs, on average, half a run each time it's used; that is, on average, it costs a run every other time.)

So far, the one-run-style manager is no doubt nodding in agreement. That is, after all, the theory: make the one run surer, at the deliberate cost of any potential further runs.

I'll spell it out: There is a slightly higher percentage of that one run scoring if you bunt the runner over to second base, but by giving up the out with a sacrifice, you reduce the number of total runs scored by a run every other time it's used. Practical application? A team that tries to sacrifice a hundred times over the course of a season in an attempt to get those single runs across the plate has just cost itself about fifty runs overall.

Walker then offers a ratio: the runs your team has scored to the runs its opponents have scored. We are all familiar with this one. We use it all the time! How many runs a team has scored vs. allowed directly corresponds (within a reasonable margin for error) to that team's W/L record. So think about it! Isn't the goal of baseball to score runs? Many runs? Knowing that the more runs you score, the more games you will win? Knowing that although you may lose one game 1-0, you may win a future game 10-9 because your ultimate goal is to score as many runs as possible?

There is a major implication here. It is that the approach that maximizes total runs scored versus the lone run necessarily maximizes total games won. There is a marked tendency in both professionals and fans to look at the immediate game situation only. "This is a weak team I'm playing; if I can just get a couple of runs, my pitching staff can do the rest." That sort of thing. Not so, say the facts. Nobody has a crystal ball; no one can know how this particular game will develop. When your best pitcher gets shelled for four or five runs in the seventh before you can even get a reliever warmed up, which can happen even against the weakest team, then what?

Don't believe this? Ironically, the 2005 World Series and the highly-touted "Smallball" White Sox prove it true. Think about the Series for a moment. Remember game 3? The Astros had a four run lead going into the fourth inning, where the White Sox promptly came up and scored five. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the four run deficit was the best thing to happen to the White Sox in that game. Hear me out. If the White Sox weren't down by 4 runs, what do you want to bet that they played `smallball' and ran themselves out of the big inning? By being down by four runs, they were FORCED to play...wait...what's the opposite of `smallball'? Oh yeah, baseball. They played the game and ended up with a huge inning. Does anyone talk about that? No, of course not.

The White Sox, in a tie game in the Series, or down by only one, would never have scored five runs in an inning because they made it a habit to play Smallball. You can count the White Sox lucky it worked. They were lucky to eek out enough wins to stave off Cleveland from overtaking them in September; they were lucky that the Astros never came up with a couple of game-winning hits and had lousy pitching management. They ran themselves out of a significant number of runs during the 2005 season; it's a good thing that it was a pretty down year for the rest of baseball. Here's my take. The White Sox didn't win by playing smallball; they won because of their surprisingly awesome pitching and in spite of playing smallball. Good thing their hitters were still allowed to homer.

I'm enlisting my new best friend Dayn Perry and his beautiful work on an article entitled "Small Ball is for Small Minds" for a little more modern help, for those skeptics left:

As for bunting, it has its uses, but only under certain circumstances. James Click of Baseball Prospectus not long ago conducted a fairly exhaustive study on the matter. What Click found, generally speaking, is that it makes sense to bunt only in the late innings, when a team needs one and only one run and has a runner on second with no outs. There are some isolated exceptions to this rule, but broadly this is the only time it makes sense to lay one down.

Let's not forget a few things about the sac bunt: even when successful, it costs the team an out. Often -- much more often than you'd think -- it's not successful.

Sometimes, the batter bunts a couple of balls foul, has the sign removed and then, behind in the count, makes an out without advancing the runner. Sometimes the lead runner is cut down, and sometimes the sac is successful, but the runner never makes it to home plate. It takes a fairly rare confluence of events for the sacrifice bunt to be successful and when executed with a runner on first or in the early innings, even when it "works" it may be costing the team runs.

For reference, that article was written nine days ago, yet it is the same idea that was broached to the A's organization twenty years ago by Eric Walker, and guess what? It's still true.

The big-inning manager has intuitively or intellectually arrived at the correct conclusion. By always playing for the most runs, he will indeed sometimes get none at all, and probably even lost some games he could have won with that one run. He will, however, gain back more than he loses that way, by the winning of games that a run or two would not have taken. The main point is that, lacking that crystal ball, a manager cannot decide for himself which game is of which type, for the whole complexion of a game can change with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

Like the shrewd and winning player at any game involving odds, the successful baseball manager must discover the optimum long-range strategy, grit his teeth, and stick to it, in all situations. Poker players who just know that this is the one inside straight it pays to try filling are always welcome at my house.

I'd like to clarify one thing from last week's diary, regarding defense. The point was brought up that if outs are the most valuable commodity in baseball, how can you justify having a shoddy defense that hands extra outs to the other team? Fair question. I think that in Eric Walker's theory on the minimization of the importance of defense, he is not saying that defense is not important, he is saying that it is less important than we think. While errors do, in fact, give away outs, and great plays make extra outs, how often do these come about? Walkers' numbers (though somewhat limited, as shown in the other diary) do suggest that the difference between a good defensive team and a great defensive team is not significant enough to risk minimizing offensive numbers. His assumption is that you will not have a lot of innings where your `bad' defense gives the opponents four or five outs. You may have a couple more of those innings than a great defensive team (and how many exactly is up for debate in all baseball circles), but those innings can be most likely made up for with offensive numbers. The one thing that is absolutely undeniable, however, by Eric Walker, Billy Beane, the A's organization, Bill James, and most of us on AN is the simple idea that the out is the most precious commodity in baseball, and you must have a very good reason, or a heck of a plan in mind to just give one away.

So is bunting inherently bad for a Moneyball team? Of course not! Bunting is fun. Sometimes it's a great idea. You'll notice that the most dramatic moment of the movie Major League actually came about on a bunt. But, please notice that that was bunting with a purpose; with a specific goal in mind, and that goal was not to make an out (which was a good thing, or the movie could have had a sad ending). Even our beloved Athletics, in a recent dramatic moment, have used the bunt with a purpose. Ramon Hernandez owns one of the most famous bunts in Oakland A's history, and his goal was not to make an out, but rather to creatively take advantage of the defense and get the runner home. It's not that the A's won't bunt; it's that they think it is an extremely stupid idea to waste a perfectly good out just because they are `supposed' to. Taking advantage of what the other team is willing to give you offensively is smart baseball. Gift-wrapping an out and handing it to the other team is not smart baseball.  

One interesting observation, and seemingly glaring omission from The Sinister First Baseman, is, of course, the other part of the `Smallball' theory: base stealing. Eric Walker, for all his expounding on Smallball, simply makes the lone cursory observation about calculating stolen base risks noted above and does not comment further on the subject. Could Maybe because he sees basestealing as a player's own skill and not as something to learn, practice and implement into a strategy, unless you have the personnel to succeed? Well, since we don't have Walker's numbers on this subject, we have to use our own. AN has been faithful about this all season, noting success/failure rates, and making the keen observation that although the Angels out-stole the A's a million to one (I'm making a point), their run differential was negiligable. Does the stolen base matter as much as we think? Or is the out really the thing that is most important and we should guard those outs with everything we have?

For a closer look, we can't truly measure the total effect someone like Rickey Henderson has in wreaking havoc on the basepaths, but we can calculate risk vs. reward. We've been unconsciously doing it all season in game threads. We see runners getting thrown out all over the place, we comment on the unnecessary risks, and although we long for some creativity to our offensive strategy, we all agree that the A's don't waste outs.

The numbers are clearer than we think, but I think a disclaimer is in order. Rickey Henderson was an anomaly in baseball and everyone should know it. He was something special, someone that affected pitchers and fielder positioning during every single game he played. We know that there is a good chance that Rickey changed ballgames. No one is arguing with that.

But what you can't do is try to recreate him. You can't make someone else into Rickey Henderson. You can't say, "We need to play more Smallball", so you turn your players into basestealers with the intent of distracting the other team. Your team is what it is, and a good manager will take advantage of his players' strengths and use them to win games. But to try to make something happen by giving away outs, whether in bunting or base-stealing--something has a high probability of costing your team runs-- is not a risk worth taking.

Say what you want about Scott Podsednik, but he cost his team outs, and very probably, wins. Unless I'm way off, I want to say that Scotty Pods, today's most prolific basestealer, was only successful about 70% of the time this year. I'm not exactly a sabermetrician, but I want to say that the 30% CS statistic was probably not a great asset to the power-hitting, low-OBP White Sox. Podsednik was caught stealing twenty-three times this year. That's almost a full game of wasted outs! That's a lot of different times he could have been on base when the extra base hits came. Wasting outs. Different method, same result.

Let's go back to Dayn Perry and "Small Ball is for Small Minds":

While small ball is unwise for most teams in the here and now, it makes even less sense for the White Sox.

They're a team that hits the ball out of the park with some regularity. They're also a team with serious on-base issues. Chicago this season ranked a paltry 11th in the AL in 2005 with a .322 team OBP. In other words, they don't have many base runners to begin with, so getting caught stealing a whopping 67 times -- which entails not only using up 67 outs, but also losing 67 base runners -- is a particularly bad idea for this team.

Let's put some numbers to the argument. By analyzing reams of play-by-play data over the years, we can determine how many runs a homer, single or stolen base is worth on average. Conversely, we can also determine how many runs being caught stealing or laying down a sac bunt costs a team. These values vary slightly from year to year, but generally speaking, in the modern era a stolen base is worth 0.2 runs, a caught stealing is worth -0.44 runs, and a sac bunt is worth -0.1 runs.

Since a caught stealing is roughly two-and-a-half times more damaging than a stolen base is helpful, a team needs to be successful at least 72 percent of the time for the practice to be a net gain. (For the base stealing to have any meaningful impact, the success rate needs to be even higher.) As for the White Sox in 2005, they succeeded in only 67 percent of their stolen-base attempts, which means they actually hurt themselves this season. Let's state this a bit more emphatically: The White Sox this season would've scored more runs if they'd never even attempted a single stolen base.

This certainly isn't to say the stolen base is thoroughly without utility; that's clearly not the case. In isolated, high-leverage situations (think Dave Roberts in Game 4 of last year's ALCS), it's useful.

However, it's not an effective way to build an offense. While the media at large is wont to fawn over the White Sox's approach on the bases, the values therein are negligible and illusory.

Let's go over that again: The White Sox this season would've scored more runs if they'd never even attempted a single stolen base.

Add to that: "The White Sox this season would've scored more runs if they'd never attempted to sacrifice a runner to second" because it's probably true of them as well.

So maybe, just maybe, the White Sox were a phenomenally orchestrated baseball team who could have won 120 games this year with their pitching and offensive power, and instead, were Smallballed into 99 wins instead. Maybe that's why I kept watching White Sox games, thinking, "Man, they're terribly managed. How are they still winning?"

I know you're all thinking it; I looked it up: Anaheim stole a lot of bases this year, true, yet their success percentage was only 74%. You draw the conclusion.

In a similar vein, all-too-familiar to us is the panic that sets in whenever a `new' idea is introduced into the baseball world, inciting an immediate reaction from the core of Ye Old Tyme Baseball-Players-turned-ESPNers. They yap about how much of baseball has been `lost', and how much more fun/classy/professional/fundamental/mystical/wholesome `The Game' used to be. Smallball seems to be part of this fantasy when longing for `the old days'. The very phrase is supposed to hearken back a hundred years; implying an old-fashioned team, with an old fashioned way (read: The. Right. Way.) of playing The Game. Consider basestealing, the supposed `lost art'.  

Let's turn to the ever-reliable Fire Joe Morgan for some more clarification.

The springboard for this discussion comes to us from Roy S. Johnson and his take on "The Lost Art" of basestealing.

Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson ... Scott Podsednik. You were probably with me up until ... Scott Podsednik. You recognized a list of baseball's all-time thieves (in the best sense of the word) until ... Scott Podsednik.

FJM What? No, I was with you all the way. I am a fan of baseball. I like to read about baseball and look at the numbers associated with baseball and whatnot. Therefore, I am very familiar with Scott Podsednik, and the fact that he steals a lot of bases. I am more than comfortable with you putting him in the same sentence as Tim Raines and Vince Coleman. Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in baseball could tell you that Scott Podsednik is one of the most prolific base stealers in the game today. But keep going, [...].

Base-stealing is a lost art, and the first five names represent some of the game's greatest practitioners of the craft. They were all-around players, certainly. One (Brock) is a Hall of Famer, and another (Henderson) certainly will be. The rest were respected pros who contributed to their teams with skill and leadership.

1) Base-stealing is a lost art.
FJM No. People still steal bases, and some believe that the art of stealing bases has only evolved since the days of Rickey Henderson. League leaders don't regularly steal 100+ bases a year, but that doesn't mean that (a) anybody's forgotton about SBs, or (b) it's become any less artful.

2) They were all-around players, certainly.
FJM Certainly? Vince Coleman had 28 career homers. His career OPS+ was 83. He was a base-stealing specialist, and little more. He was far from an all-around player. Wills, similarly, had 20 career taters and a career OPS+ of 88. (By the way, you know where Maury Wills ranks on the all-time Stolen Bases list? EIGHTEENTH.) To round out the list, very quickly, Brock was a good all-around player, Raines was very good (OPS+ 123) and Henderson is one of the best players ever. Ty Cobb, unlike Coleman and Wills, was an all-around player who could steal (4th all time).

3) The rest were respected pros who contributed to their team with skill and leadership.
FJM Hey dude -- remember how they called Tim Raines "Rock"? Yeah. See, that was because he was addicted to rock cocaine. He used to slide head-first so he wouldn't break the vials of coke that were in his back pocket. Class act.

Time was when every team had at least one base-stealing threat, and the best clubs had at least two. Now, all of baseball has only ... Scott Podsednik.

FJM This is just not true. I'm sure Roy S. Johnson wants to think that dudes stole tons of bases back in the day. But let's take a closer look. Here are the league leaders in SBs, back in the "glory days" -- the year Henderson set the all-time record -- and last year.

AL LEADERS -- 1982
Henderson-OAK 130
Garcia-TOR 54
Cruz-SEA 46
Molitor-MIL 41
Wilson-KCR 37

NL LEADERS -- 2004
Podsednik-MIL 70
Pierre-FLA 45
Abreu-PHI 40
Freel-CIN 37
Roberts-LAD 33

Once we get past the league leader, it's really not that different at all, if you consider that Rickey Henderson was basically a freak of nature.

And. We only have Scott Podsednik? What of Carl Crawford? Juan Pierre? Ichiro? These guys aren't necessarily good at stealing bases, but they steal a lot.

(Incidentally, did you know that Lou Brock was only successful 75.3% of the time? Not that great at all -- most of us would agree that at that rate, it's not even worth trying to steal. Wills checks in at 73.8%.)

Anyway, keep going, Roy!

Baseball, sadly, is at a standstill. A generation ago, Podsednik's MLB-leading stolen-base total (70) wouldn't have even been among the league leaders behind Coleman's 110.

FJM Now, this is amazing. Again, I don't know if Roy S. Johnson wants these things to be true so badly that he doesn't bother looking them up. I don't know if he's too lazy to go through the numbers. Maybe he thinks Billy Beane murdered his dad or something. I don't know why he's not capable of doing the same very simple research that I'm about to do.

But he's wrong.

Coleman stole 110 bases in 1985. Podsednik's league-leading total from last year, 70, would have placed him -- ready? -- tied for third. He would have been tied for second in the NL with Rock Raines. Tied for third overall behind Coleman and Henderson. And way better than Willie McGee and Gary Pettis (56 each) who came in tied for 4th that year. So I ask you, Roy S. Johnson, what the [...] are you writing about?

Base-stealing is a risk. Baseball's stat geeks will give you a headache with talk of the "run value" of a stolen base (.22, according to stat whiz Pete Palmer of the Baseball Encyclopedia) relative to a player being caught stealing (-.38), which must also be mixed with on-base percentages, plate appearances, walks, a little oregano and who knows what else to determine whether the stolen base is an effective weapon.

baseballgirl Please notice the REAL problem with Roy S. Johnson and his `analysis'.  

Why work so hard to move a runner into scoring position when he had just as good a chance of being able to sashay over the plate ahead of some guy who just smashed the ball into a concession stand across the street?

FJM Wait, are you being sarcastic?

Are you kidding me? Read that last comment again.

Conclusion: If you can help your team with your speed and high success rate in stealing bases, sure, go for it. If the defense is giving you the base, take it! Knock yourself out. But if you consistently cost your team outs and you run yourself off the basepaths when you could have been driven in by a base hit behind you, then you stay on your base and do not move, mister. for thought.

If we agree with the idea of playing to a team's strengths, I think (and I don't think Eric Walker would necessarily disagree) that the manager may matter more than the current A's organization seems to think. I could be wrong, but I think that most of us on AN can understand the value of not wasting outs, but by the same token, it frustrates us no end when our management shows zero creativity with the offense. I don't think bunting, hit-and-running, and basestealing are `owned' by Smallball, nor do I think they are mutually exclusive with Moneyball. Can't there be a balance of playing to a team's strengths without wasting outs?

And I'll say this much: I don't think Ken Macha has shown much creativity in his stint with the Oakland Athletics. Bullpen management aside, my main criticism of his management style--which may or may not be valid--is that I don't think that he has bought entirely into the Moneyball idea. I think he believes that in theory Smallball has an inherent flaw, but he struggles to draw the line between when the bunt or hit-and-run is a good idea, and when it is a needless, wasted out. Just my speculation. I'd love to hear anything Billy has to say about that.

So I guess, the bottom line is: Moneyball rules! Smallball drools! And I hope that the only people who read this diary belong to the A's side of things, because the only way our current team will outscore the Garden Grove Angels of Fontana with Vlad and Manny will be if a) the Angels attempt to steal a lot of bases so the inevitable homeruns will be solo and b) the Angels decide to play the `percentages' and make those two bunt a lot. Mmmmm...Smallball....

Next week: Who's on First? The idea that a carefully selected batting lineup is crucial to offensive success. (Author's note: I still don't have an opinion on this, which should be fun for everyone. I'm going to put Eric Walker's theory out there and we're going to decide together.)