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Two Approaches to Scoring Runs

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Let’s look at each approach starting from league trends and ending with Diamondbacks who can make teamwork succeed.  

Eduardo Escobar hit a homer.
Eduardo Escobar hit a homer.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Teams can approach scoring runs in two ways. Homers or teamwork. Let’s look at each approach.

Homers.

Homers per Game. Let’s build an overview by looking at trends in the Majors. The first trend is homers per game. Homers per game increased by 14% in 2016. It appears the step up is permanent.

After the step up, the yearly changes in homers per game could be random. Perhaps we are seeing an upward trend. It’s too soon to know for certain. The yearly data are shown in the following chart.

Data from Baseball Reference.

Homers by Batted Ball Type (Fly Ball & Line Drive). Homers per fly ball increased from 10.6% to 13.7% in 2016. That step up increase may be permanent.

Homers per line drive steadily increased to 6.3% in 2015. After that, the rate steadily decreased until it spiked up in 2020. This season, with the deadened baseball it’s likely that homers per line drive will drop, perhaps back to 6.3%.

The trends are shown in the following chart.

Data from Baseball Savant.

Homers by the Diamondbacks. In general, the league trends apply to the Diamondbacks. Like the league, homers per fly ball may have peaked for the Diamondbacks. However, the Diamondbacks have often had a higher homers per line drive than the league, including in 2020. That homers per line drive comparison is a good sign for this season. The comparison of the Diamondbacks and the league is shown in the following chart.

Data from Baseball Savant.

In 2011, the Diamondbacks ranked 9th/10th for season homers. That was the last time they ranked in the top 10. Relying on homers to score runs is unlikely to get the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Another approach is needed.

“We need to be, I think, a little more adept one through nine at creating offense even on those days we’re not hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” — Mike Hazen from AZ Snake Pit article.

Teamwork.

The second way of scoring runs involves three basic skills: getting runners on base, advancing runners into scoring position, and scoring runners. Let’s label hitters with these skills as fire starters, fire builders, and grill masters. Let’s look at which Diamondbacks are best at these skills.

Fire Starters. In the last two seasons, with no runners on base, which Diamondbacks had the best On Base Percent (OBP)? The following table shows the players with the highest OBPs. Players with less than 20 PAs were excluded. Players who are not currently Diamondbacks were excluded.

2019 & 2020 Seasons. Data from Baseball Savant.

Pavin Smith’s OBP of .440 was ranked first by a large margin. Nevertheless, if we look at xOBP, we see that Pavin Smith and Kole Calhoun were highest with xOBPs of .391 and .390. The other top-5 fire starters were Ketel Marte, Tim Locastro, and Christian Walker.

Fire Builders. In the last two seasons, with runners on base, which Diamondbacks had the best On Base Percent (OBP)? The same exclusions were applied.

2019 & 2020 Seasons. Data from Baseball Savant.

David Peralta’s OBP of .383 was ranked first. Nevertheless, Josh VanMeter’s xOBP of .412 was the highest xOBP. The other top-5 fire builders were Ketel Marte, Tim Locastro, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Tim Locastro, who was a top-5 fire starter and fire builder, demonstrated base stealing prowess (17 successful steals in 17 attempts in 2019 and 4 for 4 in 2020) which adds to his skill as a fire builder.

Grill Masters. In the last two seasons, which Diamondbacks had the most RBIs with Men On Base (MOB)? And how did they do when the MOB were in scoring position, RISP?

2019 & 2020 Seasons. Data from Baseball Reference.

Eduardo Escobar, who is hitting very well in spring training games, has 119 RBIs with MOB, which ranked number one. The other top-5 Grill Masters were Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Ahmed, Christian Walker, and Ketel Marte. Kole Calhoun, known for his power hitting, ranked as number 6 Grill Master.

Ketel Marte is a top-5 batter for all three skills (fire starter, fire builder, and grill master). These skills are confirmed by his statistics for all PAs. Two examples are hits per PA (.299 in 2019 and .267 in 2020) and wOBA (.405 in 2019 and .316 in 2020).

Temporary Impact of knee issues.

Kole Calhoun and Nick Ahmed are recovering from knee issues. I was happy to see Nick Ahmed was back in a spring training game. Their impact on scoring runs is huge.

  • In the last two seasons, Kole Calhoun ranked 5th as a fire starter, ranked sixth as a fire builder, and ranked sixth as a grill Master. In the shortened 2020 season, Kole Calhoun raked with 32 RBIs with men on base.
  • In addition, Kole Calhoun scored runs by homers.
  • “In 2020, Kole Calhoun’s 11.8% barrels was a career high. FanGraphs’ depth chart projection is for him to lead the team in homers per PA. Very likely, he will lead the team in homers and perhaps OPS, too.” Makakilo in AZ Snake Pit article
  • Nick Ahmed ranked third as a Grill Master. In 2019, Nick Ahmed had 46 RBIs with RISP.

Summary.

The Diamondbacks are above league average in homers per line drive. This season, scoring runs by teamwork will be more important. The Diamondbacks have the right players (fire starters, fire builders, and grill masters) to succeed. This season, I look forward to seeing that success.