Left On Base, the Hidden Enemy


Recently, Derek Jacques at Baseball Prospectus wrote a great article called Stranded! It’s focus was trying to determine if the Batters Left on Base (BLOB) statistic for a team was a measure of offensive success or failure. It was a fascinating article. It confirmed some common sense and completely missed the crux of the matter. I sent him a quick note and I will share and elaborate here.

The Obvious

Let’s cover the obvious. The more people that you put on base, Total on Base (TOB), the more people will score. It is a simple concept that powers Batting Average (AVG) and On Base Percentage (OBP). Derek ran some numbers for about 918 teams over the course of 25+ seasons and sure enough, there was a strong correlation.

Next bit of logic, the more people that you put on base, the more people that you leave there. Very simple. If you, on average, got 40% of your base runners home, then you would have a higher BLOB with 2000 base runners than with 1900 base runners. The numbers confirm the correlation, not as strong as with runs, but strong.

Finally, he compared the number of Runs with BLOB. This also had a strong correlation, but it was the weakest of the three. This may seem to indicate that a high BLOB is good. Well, over the course of a season it isn’t bad as it indicates more men on base which leads to more Runs.

Derek then concludes that saying a high BLOB, while frustrating, may be a good thing. This is where I pick it up.

Base Running Efficiency

I decided to check the ratio of Runs to BLOB in 2007. Derek used numbers from 2007 for his quick illustration, and I’m going to use the same numbers, mostly because I have them readily accessible from Derek’s article.

The more Runs a team scored, the higher the ratio. What is very interesting was that the ratio for the majors last year was .666. That means for every two LOB, a team scored a Run. Those that fell below that ratio, faired poorly. The top 15 teams all had ratios higher than .666. Of the bottom 15, only the Blue Jays ranked at 17, had a score above the mark. They came in at .677, but were in the bottom 25% in TOB. Back to obvious statement number 2, more on base, more runs. Let’s call this the Left on Base Ratio (LOBR)

To look at it another way, the lower scoring teams got 33-35% of their base runners around to score. The higher scoring teams, around 40%. The number 15 team, the Tampa Bay Rays, got 37.3% of their runners across. Their ratio of Runs to Everyone that scored more than them (756 Runs) had a better ratio of getting those runners home. Only 1 of the remaining 15 teams below them had a better rate. Let’s call this Base Runner Efficiency (BRE).

Here is a quick chart with all the numbers for 2007. Totals for the majors are at the bottom.

Team Runs TOB BLOB BRE LOBR
NYA 968 2371 1249 40.8% 0.775
PHI 892 2289 1295 39.0% 0.689
DET 887 2182 1148 40.7% 0.773
BOS 867 2314 1291 37.5% 0.672
COL 860 2271 1250 37.9% 0.688
ANA 822 2125 1100 38.7% 0.747
TEX 816 2019 1092 40.4% 0.747
CLE 811 2174 1216 37.3% 0.667
ATL 810 2145 1205 37.8% 0.672
NYN 804 2146 1196 37.5% 0.672
MIL 801 2032 1117 39.4% 0.717
SEA 794 2080 1127 38.2% 0.705
FLO 790 2107 1192 37.5% 0.663
CIN 783 2098 1170 37.3% 0.669
TBA 782 2098 1166 37.3% 0.671
BAL 756 2076 1152 36.4% 0.656
TOR 753 2014 1112 37.4% 0.677
CHN 752 2070 1190 36.3% 0.632
OAK 741 2143 1258 34.6% 0.589
SDN 741 2014 1153 36.8% 0.643
LAN 735 2096 1200 35.1% 0.613
SLN 725 2073 1168 35.0% 0.621
PIT 724 1997 1119 36.3% 0.647
HOU 723 2058 1181 35.1% 0.612
MIN 718 2020 1120 35.5% 0.641
ARI 712 1939 1090 36.7% 0.653
KCA 706 1964 1089 35.9% 0.648
CHA 693 1925 1074 36.0% 0.645
SFN 683 1978 1141 34.5% 0.599
WAS 673 1992 1163 33.8% 0.579
23322 62810 35024 37.1% 0.666

One thing that you realize, and can enter the obvious discussion, the more people a team can get on base, the better they are at getting them home. The very act of getting on base can push existing runners closer to home, or the rest of the way there.

What can we do with this in evaluating our daily frustration? Let’s look at a recent slate of games apply the norms for the majors to the games.

Any Given Day

Here a a chart showing the Teams, Runs, BLOB, LOBR, and Result for Sunday, May 18 2008 I’ve paired the teams from each game together, Winner and then Loser.

Team Runs BLOB LOBR Result
Cubs 4 6 0.667 W
Pirates 3 5 0.600 L
Royals 9 7 1.286 W
Marlins 3 5 0.600 L
Reds 6 7 0.857 W
Indians 5 9 0.556 L
Red Sox 11 9 1.222 W
Brewers 7 2 3.500 L
Braves 5 6 0.833 W
Athletics 2 11 0.182 L
Blue Jays 6 4 1.500 W
Phillies 5 11 0.455 L
Cardinals 5 16 0.313 W
Rays 4 5 0.800 L
Astros 5 9 0.556 W
Rangers 4 3 1.333 L
Rockies 6 9 0.667 W
Twins 2 5 0.400 L
Nationals 2 8 0.250 W
Orioles 1 5 0.200 L
Angels 10 5 2.000 W
Dodgers 2 6 0.333 L
White Sox 13 5 2.600 W
Giants 8 8 1.000 L
Mariners 3 5 0.600 W
Padres 2 5 0.400 L
Diamondbacks 4 8 0.500 W
Tigers 0 7 0.000 L
Mets 11 3 3.667 W
Yankees 2 5 0.400 L

Go National League! 8-6 on Sunday. What we are looking at though is the LOBR. Here is the average for the Winners and Losers:

  • Winner LOBR: 0.935
  • Loser LOBR: 0.543

The Winning teams did leave an average of one extra runner on base. However, they scored twice as many runs, winning by an average score of 7 to 3. It was a good day for all the teams as the overall ratio for the day was 0.754.

A quick note of exceptional games:

  • Boston over Milwaukee (11-7 Runs, 9-2 BLOB). The Brewers were very efficient in getting their people home. However, the Red Sox got them by volume and were still over the 0.666 average at 1.222.
  • St. Louis over Tampa Bay (5-4, 16-5) Another case of sheer volume. Tampa did a great job, they just needed more.
  • Houston over Texas (5-4, 9-3) Just like the St. Louis game, just smaller LOBR numbers. Two one-run games. Reinforces the importance of getting on people to start the process.

The other 12 games went to the winner in LOBR. If I had a full database, I’d pull more games in and see how it all maps out. In any case, this can serve as a starting point in understanding the role of BLOB in greater detail.

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