Another look at leadoff options for the 2014 Mets

Earlier today, Scott Ferguson wrote an article championing Eric Young as one of the best options around to be the Mets’ leadoff hitter in 2014. In the article he came up with a stat – Scoring Position Percentage – that showed Young to be among the best in the game at getting himself in scoring position or scoring himself on a homer. It was a really good piece because it went against the conventional wisdom of Young being a poor leadoff guy because of his lackluster OBP.

Young scored well in the metric because of his league-leading SB total. In 2013, Young swiped 46 bases. It’s reasonable to think that he would steal even more next year if he’s the team’s leadoff hitter because he ran more often once he joined the Mets plus he would end up with more playing time in 2014 as a full-time starter beginning on Opening Day. A 60-SB season is very realistic if Young leads off and plays 140 or more games in 2014.

So, the question is: Does Young’s outstanding SB ability make up for his poor OBP?

There’s a couple of ways to look at this question. First, let’s look at fast guys with poor OBP. If we set our parameters as leadoff hitters only with an OBP of below .331 with 40 or more SB and compare that to leadoff hitters with 10 or fewer SB and OBP of .350 and above, what do we find?

The hi-steals/low OBP group has just three players who scored over 100 runs in a year while the lo-steals/hi OBP have 54 seasons of 100 or more runs scored. Jack Tobin scored 132 runs in 1921 when he had a .396 OBP and 7 SB. Pete Rose had 130 runs in 1976 when he had a .404 OBP and 9 SB. Meanwhile, the best runs scored total for the hi-SB/low-OBP group was the 112 scored by Lou Brock in 1967 when he swiped 52 bases and had a .329 OBP.

Now, let’s look at it from a team perspective. In 2013, the Reds had the highest OBP from their leadoff hitter and they finished third in overall runs scored. The Mets had the highest SB total from their leadoff hitter and they finished 11th in runs scored. The teams with the worst OBP from their leadoff spot were the Mets and Marlins and they finished 11th and 15th, respectively, in runs scored. The Cardinals had the fewest SB from their leadoff spot and finished second in the league in runs scored, thanks in no small part to being second in OBP from the leadoff spot.

Of course, there are other factors at work here. It’s hard for Eric Young to score runs if the hitters behind him aren’t doing their jobs. So there has to be a way to isolate a player from his teammates and figure out ways to quantify what a specific play is worth. Another challenge is that not all events are created equally. A single with the bases loaded and two outs in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning is worth more than a single to lead off the game.

Linear weights does both of these things for us. As Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Bleed Cubbie Blue wrote:

“It takes a weighted average of the value of each event over all the game states. The weighted average allows the game states that occur more often to count more often in the average. This is necessary because, for example, the game state ‘nobody on, nobody out’ will occur much more often than the game state ‘bases loaded, 2 out.’ The former state is guaranteed to occur at least 17 times a game; any game in which the latter game state occurs 17 times would be long remembered for its excitement.”

Also, linear weights are incorporated into wOBA and you can find the values of all events that go into it at this FG page. You can see that the value of a single in 2013 was .888, the value of a double was 1.271, the value of a triple was 1.616 and the value of a HR was 2.101 this past year. The value of a SB is .200 and the cost of a CS is .384. In 2013 a CS on average was nearly twice as damaging as a SB was helpful.

A double is better than a single and a SB and nothing can beat the value, on average, of a HR.

Shin-Soo ChooIn 2013 Young had a .288 wOBA compared to a .344 mark for Jacoby Ellsbury, a .347 rate for Dexter Fowler and a .393 wOBA for Shin-Soo Choo.

Still, some people might think that while average rates are all well and good that they cannot possibly accurately account for the specific situations faced by a batter/runner in any given season. That’s certainly true. It’s possible that a player might have a disproportionate amount of his chances (or even successes) in high-leverage situations.

And for that we can turn to WPA. As you know, WPA stands for Win Probability Added which measures how individual players affect their team’s win expectancy on a per-play basis. A lot of people do not like WPA because it is a backwards-looking stat. It tells you what happened, not what’s likely to happen in the future. But that’s okay. If a player came through in high-leverage situations, WPA will tell you that, which makes it perfect for what we want now. Here’s how the guys we looked at in wOBA did in WPA:

Fowler – 2.13
Ellsbury – 2.25
Choo – 5.45
Young – (-0.46)

For MLB regulars, here’s a quick breakdown on season-long WPA scores:

Rating WPA
Excellent +6.0
Great +3.0
Above Average +2.0
Average +1.0
Below Average 0.0
Poor -1.0
Awful -3.0

The bottom line is that while Young is an exciting player his overall contribution to winning falls far short of other potential options the Mets could acquire for the the OF/leadoff spot. It was a good trade getting him for Collin McHugh during the 2013 season. Hopefully Sandy Alderson can further help the club by getting a superior player to replace Young in the lineup for the 2014 season.

17 comments for “Another look at leadoff options for the 2014 Mets

  1. steevy
    October 31, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Sabrmetrics sorted it all out decades ago,getting on base is the most important skill for the lead off batter.

    • October 31, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      And for those who the mere mention of the word Sabrmetrics makes their skin crawl, we can go back to the old baseball wisdom of – You can’t steal first base.

  2. Jim OMalley
    October 31, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I say let’s sign Fowler Ellsbury and Choo just to be safe.

  3. Sean Flattery
    October 31, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Fowler is an intriguing possiblilty. I assume a starter would have to be given up to get him though.

    • Herb
      October 31, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      Does the disparity between Fowler’s home vs. away splits bother you? His career OBP away from hitter’s paradise Coors Field is a respectable .333, quite close to the .331 threshhold mentioned in the article, wbut he is nowhere close to the 40 SB target mentioned. I wonder how that affects his sabremetrics. I am troubled that he is a relativerly weak hitter, batting .241 with an OPS of .694 away from Coors. In 2013, a down year for Fowler, he only hit .214 away from Coors, although his ability to draw walks keept his OBP at .343.

      Despite Fowler’s higher OBP, it appears to me that due to Young’s superior ability to steal, he got himself into scoring position more often, and despite the fact that Fowler had a stronger lineup hitting behind him, Young outscored him when you extrapolate to an equal number of plate appearances.

      • October 31, 2013 at 11:58 pm

        No – I think it’s been pretty well established that there’s a “Coors Field Hangover” that affects Rockies hitters in season when they go from the mile-high to sea level on road trips.

        In his last full season with the Rockies, Larry Walker had an .898 OPS with a 1.021/.766 home/road split and then in his final year and a half in the majors, he had a .905 OPS with the Cardinals.

        Fowler’s not my first choice for an offseason pickup but if the price is right, I’m in favor of it. I wouldn’t trade any of the SP in the majors for him.

      • Sean Flattery
        November 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

        Good points! Fowler’s year last year would concern me, but he’s been really consistent his whole career;almost uncanny how similar his year to year production is albeit not on an all-star level or anything. He does draw alot of walks which gives him a leg up on Young, however steals less bases.

        The Coors Field factor is always a consideration, however, he is the type of player who could thrive at Citi Field too. He’s not Reyes, but I’m sure he’s capable of hitting triples here like he did there. I like them both!!

  4. Metsense
    October 31, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    Both articles were a wealth of information generating some very good commentary. Kudos to both authors. Brian summed up my thoughts with “Hopefully Sandy Alderson can further help the club by getting a superior player to replace Young in the lineup for the 2014 season” while Scott shined a positive light on the situation if Sandy can’t.

  5. November 1, 2013 at 12:00 am

    I may be wrong but didn’t Young have Murphy bat second the entire season? So he had a good patient hitter who could allow him the opportunity to advance and get himself into scoring position. Can’t blame Young for the Davis/Duda duo for not driving him home. The question is what happens to Young if the Mets do sign Ellsbury or Choo?

    • November 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

      Pete – that’s the whole point of wOBA — not to punish a player for what his teammates did. It uses MLB averages to assign the values of the Linear Weights. Someone like Choo doesn’t get a higher wOBA and Young a lower wOBA because of their respective teammates.

  6. November 1, 2013 at 12:12 am

    Thanks Brian for clearing that up. Understand what your trying to show with those stats. So I’ll ask you a question. What happens to Young if the Mets are able to sign Choo or Ellsbury?

    • November 1, 2013 at 1:03 am

      Not to cop out on you but the answer to that is – depends.

      If they don’t bring in another OF he could still be a starter in the other corner. And if they do bring in two OF but trade Murphy he could be at 2B.

      I think the best scenario is that he’s on the bench.

  7. November 1, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Another option could be to use him like teams use Michael Young. He can play second base and an occasional start in the outfield as your fourth outfielder.

  8. Helloboy
    November 1, 2013 at 8:00 am

    I see EY as a leadoff guy no matter what. Even with Choo, i would keep EY leadoff and Choo 2nd. If he was moved to 2nd base and Murphy Traded for, Let’s say Jose Bautista, I would still lead him off. Really, the only way I am not leading off EY is if he is not starting anywhere. I doubt that likely as He is the best option to take over for second if Murphy is traded and he would be the second outfield spot to be replaced. I see more scenerios of him starting than not. I only see 1 FA signing at all in the field. The others will be trades (and Murphy will probably be involved). As result, i think we have to live with this one. Plus, people in the front office love him.

  9. November 1, 2013 at 11:44 am

    You’re forgetting that Flores will continue to improve and could very well beat out EY for second base.

  10. Yazzy
    November 3, 2013 at 8:24 am

    I really like Eric Young, Jr but he is not a full time player but can be used very efficiently as lets say a 60% -to-70% time as a player at various positions. He has never hit that well as a full timer, and that is not going to change. The Mets need to sign Nelson Cruz for right field, and let Young, Jr. , and possibly Grady Sizemore share left field or sign David Murphy to play left field full time, and have Young, Jr be the fourth outfielder. Now I don’t know if he would work at shortstop but that is a position we really need someone and EYJ could be it. The guy does have plenty of speed and range so why not give him a go? We need to keep Daniel Murphy at second because he can hit, and has become an okay defensive player at second base. Wilmer Flores should man first, second and third base. He can share the first base position with either Duda, Davis and Satin but I prefer we trade both Davis and Duda and see what potentially decent position playing prospects we can get for them. We need to sign a left starter so I’d like to get Scott Kazmir, John Lannan or Chris Capuano, and for a righty starter I’d sign either Matsuzaka, Arroyo or Nolasco. We need to bring back either Latroy Hawkins, Scott Rice, Carlos Torres or German Gonzalez to help Bobby Parnell, Vic Black and Josh Edgin with bullpen duties.

  11. November 4, 2013 at 1:50 am

    Yazzy where to begin. Why do we need to sign a lefty pitcher? What if the team finds a right handed pitcher that solves their problems? Are you going to shell out 4-5 million dollars for a pitcher who has seen his best days behind him? The team can improve itself with so many potential upgrades available this off season why not try to apply whatever limited funds that are available to signing at least one impact free agent for the outfield? Grady Sizemore? He hasn’t played in 2 years after having microsurgery on his knee and you want him playing in the cavernous Citifield outfield? You want to move Flores again to a new position? Traditionally first base is a power position. He’s not a power hitter just yet and you’re asking him to start all over again playing a new unfamiliar position. Not realistic. The team has run out of time for experiments. I don’t see Young playing shortstop. David Murphy? Are you going to go to Citi next year and watch all these players you have requested the Mets to sign? I don’t think you’ll see any of the players on your wish list here next season. But then again who knows?

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