Run Element Ratio
Run element ratio divides the parts of secondary average into that which is valuable early in the inning, valuable for scoring runs (walks and stolen bases) and that which is valuable late in the inning, or valuable for driving in runs (power). The formula is (SB+BB)/(TB-H). If a player is over 1.00, then generally speaking you want him up early in the inning. If he is under 1.00, then he is more valuable later in the inning. Vince Coleman's career run element ratio is 4.4, meaning that he has little use except as a leadoff man; Don Mattingly's is .38, meaning that he is much more valuable later in the inning.
With the foregoing in mind, I thought it would be interesting to examine the run element ratio leaders and laggards for the 2006 season.
1. Joey Gathright 3.05 2. Jason Kendall 2.46 3. Willy Taveras 2.09 4. Dave Roberts 2.00 5. Brad Ausmus 2.00 6. Scott Podsednik 1.96 7. Felipe Lopez 1.89 8. Luis Castillo 1.88 9. Chone Figgins 1.77 10. Bobby Abreu 1.71 11. Nick Punto 1.68 12. Ryan Freel 1.62 13. Kenny Lofton 1.60 14. Brady Clark 1.53 15. Omar Vizquel 1.48 16. David Eckstein 1.46 17. Ichiro Suzuki 1.45 18. Brian Giles 1.40 19. Jamey Carroll 1.38 20. Craig Counsell 1.35
The number one mission for any leadoff hitter is to get on base. As James points out in another essay (entitled "The Lineup") in the same Abstract, "The largest determination of how many runs are likely to be scored in an inning is whether or not the lead-off man reaches base. If the lead-off man reaches base, the number of runs that will probably be scored in an inning is about three times as high as if the lead-off man is put out."
Players with high OBP and high run element ratios are ideal leadoff hitters, especially if they also run the bases well. Brad Ausmus, for example, doesn't have a high OBP (.308) and isn't as fast as he was earlier in his career. Therefore, he is an outlier and would not be a good fit at the top of a lineup.
In the Cory Snyder comments, James lists the players with the lowest run element ratios. Well-known names include Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jim Rice, Harold Baines, Will Clark, and Joe Carter. "These are all players who are much better at finishing trouble than at starting it."
1. Miguel Olivo .145 2. Juan Uribe .147 3. Jeff Francoeur .195 4. Johnny Estrada .220 5. Joe Crede .231 6. Shea Hillenbrand .239 7. Bengie Molina .253 8. Robinson Cano .261 9. Kenji Johjima .284 10. Pedro Feliz .306 11. Craig Monroe .317 12. A.J. Pierzynski .319 13. Aramis Ramirez .325 14. Ben Broussard .333 15. Juan Rivera .344 16. Angel Berroa .362 17. Matt Holliday .363 18. Ty Wigginton .364 19. Rich Aurilia .385 20. Jacque Jones .386
James concedes that "there are two types of players who are awkward to position properly in the an offense. Those are 1) players who have no speed but still have high run element ratios, like Mike Scioscia and Mike LaValliere; and 2) players who have extremely low run element ratios. A player like Scioscia is difficult to position offensively because he is much more valuable early in the inning than late in the inning, but managers are reluctant to use him early in the inning because of his lack of speed."
As it relates to lineup construction, James counters the conventional wisdom that was popular back then and, for the most part, today.
One of the things that I have found, just in the last year, is that one problem in the design of an offense is the use of players with extremely low run element ratios in the four and five spots, who often lead off the second inning, leading to extremely few runs scored in the second inning. If you look at the list above, you'll see that many of these players, who are the least suited in baseball to lead off an inning, usually bat in the spot where they often lead off the second inning. I think you should try to avoid that.
James says Andre Dawson (whose run element ratio was .246) "wasn't anything like the Most Valuable Player in the National League. If you drive in runs but don't do anything to carry on the offense, that's going to show up in the RBI count of the next two or three players." Later on, James points out, "An RBI man helps the offense in one way but hurts it in the other; a player who sets the table helps the offense in both ways. That is why the St. Louis Cardinal offense works so well - an offense of eight leadoff men, or eight guys with high run element ratios, is a perfectly workable offense, because so long as people keep getting on base, runs are going to keep scoring. But an offense that strings together several people with low run element ratios is not workable."
The Detroit Tigers may have been a bit one-dimensional last year. And I don't mean pitching. I'm talking about the type of offensive players. The lineup was filled with low run element ratios in basically every spot.
Craig Monroe .317 Magglio Ordonez .434 Brandon Inge .439 Ivan Rodriguez .453 Chris Shelton .486 Placido Polanco .563 Curtis Granderson .698 Sean Casey .717 Carlos Guillen .843
The Tigers were third in the AL in HR but second-to-last in BB. The team was 12th in OBP, 11th in SB, and last in SB%. Sure, DET was fifth in runs scored but perhaps the club could have been even more productive by changing out a "run producer" for a set-the-table type offensive player.
There is more than one way to skin a cat or score runs to be more specific. Walks are always good, but they are generally more valuable at the beginning rather than later in an inning. Hits, on the other hand, are usually worth more with runners on than with nobody on base. Having the proper balance and knowing when to emphasize one over the other are two ways of getting the most out of a team's offense.
[Update: The Run Element Ratios for all players with at least 400 plate appearances are listed in the comments below.]