Revisting ’03: Speed Kills


Continuing our Revisiting ’03 series, today we look at one of the most interesting factors of that 2003 team, a factor that the Marlins’ brass often says it attempts to emulate in their recent team designs. That’s right, today we’re looking at speed.

Now, I’m not a huge proponent of speed as an important aspect of a game plan. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want the team to have good baserunners or that speed isn’t useful, but too often there is an emphasis on speed as if it could replace traditional things such as “not making outs” or “hitting the ball harder.” Nevertheless, there was a strong emphasis on it that year, in part because we had a dual tandem of speedsters at the top of the lineup, in the form of Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo.

Back then, I glorified stolen bases as a part of the ideal of “small-ball.” I was a big fan of manufacturing runs, mostly because the Marlins had not had a big time, drive-’em-in slugger in the middle of the lineup that would guarantee you those runs. Instead, I thought the team should emphasize sacrificing runners over, hit-and-runs, and of course stolen bases, which were the epitome of small-ball tactics. Hey, you can get an extra base for free, right? I thought as long as you steal more bases than you’re caught stealing, you’re a net positive to your team.

Of course, that’s entirely wrong.

I learned eventually that stealing bases required more to break even than simply stealing more than you were caught. A stolen base is worth a little less than fifth of a run, while an out is worth a little more than that in the negative sense. Of course, you have to count that a caught stealing situation has involves more than just a mere out, but rather also takes a player that was on base off the base. You have to count the fact that not only is it an out, but it removes a baserunner, which usually doubles the value of caught stealing. Sure enough, being caught stealing is usually worth something like 1.8 times the value of a normal out.

That brings us to our speedy duo of Pierre and Castillo. Pierre stole 65 bases and was caught 20 times, while Castillo had a down season in terms of bag stealing, swiping 21 bases but being caught 19 times. At the time I thought Castillo’s numbers were anomalous, but I figured since he was still stealing more bases than not, he was still in the clear. Well, to evaluate this I used Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR). EqBRR breaks down running into multiple categories, one of which was base stealing. Pierre’s large stolen base count would lend itself being presumed as valuable, but Pierre was worth only 1.7 runs above average in terms of base stealing, when you include pickoffs as also caught stealing. Castillo fared far worse, registering a ridiculous 5.6 runs below average on the basepaths. Using just these two values below, you would think the Marlins’ speedsters were hurting themselves with their speed!

Of course, baserunning isn’t always just stolen bases, and base advancement on other situations also counts. EqBRR counts advancements on fly balls, grounders, and other events that can lead to base advancement. In these two categories, the Marlins’ duo fared much better. Pierre garnered 2.7 runs above average on ground advancements (moving up on ground balls with less two outs on no other runners present), and was positive in most other events, totaling 5.2 runs above average on the basepaths. Castillo had to make up for his stealing and did so on hits, totaling 4.2 runs on hit advancement (taking extra bases on team hits while on the bases, i.e. advancement from first to third on a single or from first to home on a double). All in all, the two fastest players on the team totaled 3.3 runs above average.

Who else on the team was a decent baserunner? Would you believe me if I said Derrek Lee? You probably would, actually, if you watched that team play. I was surprised when I watched Lee at first, because D-Lee seemed like a guy furthest from the “speedy runner” tag (well, not as far as Mike Redmond, but you get the point). But Lee was smart on the basepaths and, while Lee did not fair terribly well in base stealing (-0.37 runs by EqBRR), he made up for it by advancing on team hits as well, accumulating 1.9 runs on hit advancement that year. Overall, Lee was worth 2.6 runs on baserunning, to add on to his impressive hitting that season (more on that perhaps later in the year).

How was the team in baserunning overall? Surprisingly enough, even with the Juan Pierres of the world on our side, the 2003 Marlins were mostly average in terms of baserunning. The team as a whole collected 1.6 baserunning runs above average. For that, you can thank Juan Encarnacion (-5.4 runs) and Alex Gonzalez (-3.6 runs) along with Castillo and Redmond, who both totaled -1.9 runs. As for base stealing in particular, the Marlins were an awful 11.5 runs below average. So while the team appeared to put emphasis on running in 2003, it doesn’t appear as if it made a big difference in the grand scheme of things; the Marlins were likely something like 25 runs above average in hitting, and those extra runs may not have amounted to much over the course of the season.