Over the past few months (months, only because I am lazy!), I have been conversing with Derek Johannsen with regard to his thoughts on the Royals’ Terrance Gore. Derek was routed my way as a result of a handful of articles I wrote over the course of 2016 on the subject of Gore.
As some of you might remember, I was an advocate of Gore being part of the Royals’ 25 man roster for the bulk of last season. The reasoning behind my way of thinking was that on a team with a fairly set lineup and a manager who dearly loves a set line-up, a bench player with Gore’s skill-set (despite his very obvious and very many limitations) might actually provide more value than a more traditional reserve.
In analyzing my approach, I generally defaulted to what I believed would be Ned Yost’s likely usage of Gore and, in my after the season look, at actual situations where the use of Gore might have had an impact on changing a loss to a win.
As you will see, Derek has gone outside the box in using Gore. To be honest, there are parts of his reasoning that my quasi-traditional baseball brain is not quite willing to accept, but it is an interesting analysis. I invite you to let your mind consider a unique approach to using a pure pinch-runner that, while extremely unlikely to ever be seen in real life, is still interesting.
I’ll drop back in at the end of Derek’s analysis (in italics) to offer a few sage and, sadly, rambling comments. Now, onto Derek’s thoughts.
Terrance Gore is fast. Water is wet. This is not news. Terrance Gore cannot hit major league pitching. This is also not news. He is the quintessential one tool major league player. In his brief major league career, he is 19 of 21 (90% – only thrown out twice, both by the Indians Roberto Perez) in SB in the regular season and 4 of 5 in the postseason (only out in 2015 Division Series game 4 when he was pushed off third base). Including the postseason, he steals bases at a rate of 88.5%. His stolen bases come at times when everyone watching knows that he is going to steal. On a team that has to maximize every roster slot, I began to wonder what value, if used aggressively, Gore could bring to the Royals over the course of 162 games if he was only used as a pinch runner in opportune situations, in nearly every game.
The Royals budgetary constraints are clearly going to impact their ability to make additions to the roster and they need to maximize the value of every one of those twenty-five slots. One thing that Ned Yost doesn’t do with any regularity is pinch hit. He used the least pinch hitters in baseball last year. However, he will pinch run. Thus, the Gore strategy is, at least on paper, plausible.
For context purposes this idea will build upon previously well-analyzed and constructed calculations by people far smarter than me.
This entire theory rests upon Ned Yost using Gore in a stolen base situation in nearly every game. I’ve calculated it at 150 games as there will certainly be specific circumstances where it is impossible to pinch run or no runners get on base. Furthermore, this requires that Gore be used for any hitter that reaches in any situation that calls for it. For this theory, I postulate that he could be used in the 6th inning or later in every game. Using him as a pinch runner before that doesn’t make strategic sense because he would have to hit at least once or you’d be burning two of your bench slots too early in the game. He is a weapon on the bench who is a better baserunner and base stealer than anyone else. Failing to use him is, in essence, leaving a weapon on the bench that instantly increases your chance of scoring runs, which is what the Royals need to do more in 2017.
In 2016 the Royals were 23rd in runs scored. They scored 675 runs, an average of 4.17 runs per game. Below is a chart showing how a small, but not insignificant, increase in runs would change the Royals standing in the runs scored column.
|Total Runs||+/-||MLB Rank||Avg. Runs/Game|
As you can see, the difference between the 23rd ranked offense in runs scored and getting to the top half of MLB in a tie for 14th with the Dodgers is 50 runs. Realistically, do I believe that using Terrance Gore strategically could, in and of itself, create 50 more runs in 2017? No, but I don’t think that 30 runs is out of the question. If Gore could effectively create 30 runs, he would help take the Royals from 4.17 runs/game to 4.35 runs per game, almost an increase of .2 runs per game. This isn’t adding Miguel Cabrera, but rather incrementally increasing the offensive output of the team by strategically employing a weapon that is on your bench in the most effective manner.
As a sidenote, having a player like Whit Merrifield on your team as well becomes invaluable because of his ability to play so many different positions that it would allow Ned to use Gore as aggressively as laid out herein.
Now, how does Gore make the Royals 30 runs better?
If Gore is used solely as a pinch runner in 150 games he should be able to be utilized in positions where he is inserted at 1st base with no runners in front of him. This is key. His whole purpose it to steal bases so he must be utilized in this manner. As noted above, Gore has an 88% success rate on stolen bases, thus I am using that as the benchmark. For historical context, in 1988 Ricky Henderson stole 93 bases and was caught 13 times for a success rate of 88%. Beyond that, in 1988 Baseball Reference indicates that Henderson had 239 stolen base opportunities (i.e. an open base in front of him). With Gore, putting him at 1st or 2nd base, in any inning, when a runner reaches is key. His ability to steal 2nd or 3rd has to be utilized or this doesn’t work.
If Gore is given 150 stolen base opportunities by being inserted as a pinch runner 150 times and steals bases at an 88% success rate he would steal 132 bases. For his career, 20% of Gore’s steals have been of third base. If he continued that rate and stole 3rd base 20% of the time after stealing 2nd base it would increase his total to 155 SB (132 SB of 2nd + 23 SB of 3rd where Gore attempts a steal of 3rd 20% of the time and is successful 88% of those attempts). Thus, in this scenario he would steal 155 bases over the course of a season by playing no more than a half inning in 150 games. That is all fine and good, but how does that get translated into runs or WAR?
For that, we turn to the expected runs table. David Nichols created the Expected Runs table and showed how different scenarios produced different odds of scoring and an expected amount of runs to be scored in each scenario. His table can be found here:
The bolding in the below chart is mine.
|Outs||Runners||Expected||Prob > 0||Count||Total Runs||Shutout|
In the above you can see that in a 0 out, runner on first scenario, the batting team has an expectation of scoring 0.88 runs that inning. Starting from there let’s assume that Ned inserts Gore, at some point during the game, in that situation and he steals second base. Now, with a runner on 2nd and no one out the expected runs go up to 1.13. Thus, Gore’s stolen base has increased the run expectation by .25 runs. It has further increased the odds of scoring that run from 43.5% to 63.3%, about a 20% increase. Similar calculations can be made for stealing 3rd base with no out, stealing 2nd 2ith 1 out etc. The below chart summarizes what the Expected Runs Table shows.
|Outs||Base Occupied||Expected Runs||Difference in Expected Runs by stealing a base||Probability > 0 of scoring at least a run|
Obviously, if Ned is inserting Gore at 1st to pinch run it might be 0 outs, 1 out, or 2 outs. Based on the above the increase in the chance to score is highest if done with 0 outs, but because game situations will dictate his usage, I am going to average out the expected run differentials so that he would theoretically be used equally in 0, 1 and 2 out scenarios.
The difference in expected runs from moving from first to second by stealing 2nd are .25 (0 outs), .17 (1 out) and .10 (2 outs). Add up the three numbers and you get .52. Divide that by 3 (averaging out the expected usage by the number of outs) and you get an average of an additional .173 runs expected by stealing second base, regardless of the number of outs.
If we do the same calculations for stealing 3rd base it works out to an average of an additional .186 runs expected, regardless of the number of outs.
Now, based on those calculations we can take the average increased runs expected by stealing and multiply it by the estimate number of stolen bases we calculated above.
Thus, if Gore can steal 2nd base 132 times we multiple that by .173 and conclude that Gore would create an additional 22.88 runs out of those 132 steals of 2nd base.
Similarly, if he stole 3rd base 23 times we multiply that by .186 and conclude his steals of 3rd base would create an additional 4.29 runs over the course of the season.
Add those two numbers up and Gore’s stolen bases create an additional 27 runs over the course of the season.
If Gore created an additional 27 runs over the course of the season he would move the Royals above 700 runs for the 2016 season and significantly closer to a middle of the pack offense.
Of course, this doesn’t account for how many additional runs are created by his merely being on the bases because pitchers have a tendency to throw over more and pay extra attention to him, but I don’t know how to calculate that… additionally, I acknowledge that there are assumptions about the usage, especially how Ned would use him, but the point is that the Royals have a weapon available that, if utilized right, could be an instant and fairly significant increase in runs expected by doing nothing more than utilizing him in nearly every game.
Derek quite obviously put a ton of work into the above. I will be very honest and the first time I read through it, I struggled to get past the notion of using a pinch-runner in 150 games per year. Anything even remotely on that scale of usage requires using Gore when the Royals are up 5-2 and down 0-7. It means using Gore to run for even those guys we think of as ‘fast’.
Not factored into the above is the idea that some runners that Gore would replace would themselves steal a base or score a run. Without question, Gore will steal more and score more. Even in his limitied usage we have all seen that happen, but is it really 27 runs more? Is 20 runs more realistic or is it even less?
Of course, the big mental stumbling block in a game very much resistant to change is the usage itself. The only occurrence that approaches Derek’s scenario is that of Oakland’s Herb Washington, who pinch-ran 92 times in 1974. Only nine of those appearances came prior to the sixth inning and Washington, who was truthfully not near the base stealer Gore is. Herb was caught stealing 16 times in 45 attempts and still scored 29 runs. So……
It is a bit of a shame that the idea of teams carrying 26 man rosters did not make it to fruition because I think Gore on the team for entire year would have been a no-brainer, but that is not the case. Like last year, we might see the speedster on the roster early in the season and, of course, in September, but I doubt that the time will come when we have the chance to put Derek’s theory (or even my more modest usage ideas) into play.
Ok, this is Derek again, a few thoughts on what Clark had to say above. I think he is right, and the odds of Gore ever being used this aggressively are remote at best. But, what if he did generated 20 runs instead of 27? You could argue that you’re getting starter value out of a half inning of use. That seems to have significant value to a team that needs all the offensive help it can get. In addition, with Dyson now gone, is there a player on the roster who you wouldn’t run Gore for in the lineup? (Cain, Orlando?)
Lastly, isn’t the proposed use of Gore similar to Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller? Take your best weapon (off the bench or out of the bullpen) and use him in a spot where he provides the most value, regardless of inning? Francona uses Miller in the 6th, 7th, 8th etc. all depending on where he will get the greatest and most valuable use out of his best reliever. If using Gore to pinch run in the 6th is the best place and time to try and generate a run, how is that any different? Certainly, there are times where Francona uses Miller in the 6th or 7th because of situation with runners on base, matchups or what part of the lineup is coming up – all in the name of preventing runs from scoring. By doing so, he exposes himself to the possibility that later in the game, in the 8th or 9th, he won’t have Miller available for a similar, or higher leverage, situation. However, isn’t the general consensus at this point that using Miller in that manner is getting the most value out of his innings? I don’t see using Gore in this manner any differently. There is certainly a chance that a lesser hitter might come up later in the game in a key spot, but you might have already generated an additional run(s) at that point so it might not matter. If early usage of Miller is to prevent runs, then the early usage of Gore is to create runs. Miller’s usage was very recently considered out of the box, but it has gained traction. While I acknowledge that my proposal on Gore is outside of the box, perhaps there is value in considering the same.