Thursday, November 18, 2010

Addressing Speed, Quickly

Considering all the smart takes already filling the Google Readers of the Blue Jays blogosphere, there isn't much insight I can add to the Rajai Davis acquisition. That hasn't stopped me from chiming in before, and it surely won't stop me this time.

There isn't a lot of outrage over giving up two right handed relievers for a fourth outfielder/pinch runner/defensive replacement at worst, starting outfielder at worst. Many are quick to note speed as something sorely lacking from the Jays offensive punch since, oh, forever.

As one of the loudest "you can't steal first" advocates, I'm often quick to denigrate the value of a thief like Davis. Thankfully, the good people at the Red Sox Beacon are much smarter than I and put a useful modern stat - wRC+ or weighted runs created plus - to show value in baserunning. Patrick Sullivan of RSB compared wRC+ to OPS+ to show what a difference speed can make when evaluating players. While OPS+ simply takes on base, smashes it into slugging then adjusts for park; wRC+ uses wOBA (already a superior metric) while incorporating base running.

While their example of Carl Crawford is more extreme (because Crawford is extremely good) a quick look at most Blue Jays shows little variance. Iron Lyle Overbay matches his wRC+ to his OPS+ because by not trying anything on the bases, he doesn't add nor take away. Might this impact the way we view young Rajai?


Once you factor in baserunning, Davis' career year in 2009 looks less like Lyle Overbay circa 2010 (slightly above league average, meh) and a lot more like Scott Rolen circa 2009 (20% above my swooning heart).

This not-so simple tool demonstrates that, yes, speed does have value. The ability to steal bases efficiently does rate with the cold-hearted Nerd Herd. I don't mean to suggest that Davis should play every day. He's as much a right fielder as Fred Lewis, so we should stop the "he can play all three positions!" talk.

If this move hints at bigger plays to come, cool. If not, Davis is still a player able to contribute to the greater Blue Jays good with a skill set quite uncommon in that dressing room.

Image courtesy of Vitascope and excellent idea courtesy of Red Sox Beacon. Numbers courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.


  1. 7% above league average is better for an outfielder than it is for a first baseman. Also OPS+ of 107 doesn't mean 7% above average. OPS+ is OBP+ + SLG+ - 100. Yes, it's insane.

  2. Of course. Exactly the same reason spouting the OPS of a speedy outfielder isn't exactly fair.


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