Taking a Dip in the LOBster Tank

Despite his efforts, Joey Votto couldn't keep the Reds from the bottom of the LOBster tank. (via Patrick Reddick)

Despite his efforts, Joey Votto couldn’t keep the Reds off the LOBster tank floor. (via Patrick Reddick)

Listen to any ball game anywhere, anytime, and at the end of the inning, the announcer will inform you of the runs, hits, errors and runners left on base. That final stat is important enough to tally inning by inning and at the end of the game, and to dutifully record in your scorecard… but why? Why do we bother to count runners left on base?

Well, runners left on base represent wasted potential. So keeping in mind that T.S. Eliot once wrote a poem called “The Waste Land,” let’s call runners left on base LOBsters as a reference to his famed line “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (which, admittedly, appears not in The Waste Land but in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock).

High-falutin’ literary references aside, common sense dictates that every runner stranded represents a run not scored. So minimizing LOBsters is important. But if we employ reductio ad absurdum reasoning, we can look at a team victimized by a perfect game and say, ah, no one left on base! Well done, lads!

At the other extreme, a team leaving 19 runners on base – a tad worse than two per inning – is lamentable. Or is it? That was the grand total the Rangers left on base in a game at Baltimore on Aug. 22, 2007. But the Rangers scored 30 runs that day… so who cares how many LOBsters they had?

Clearly it’s a matter of context. The number of LOBsters tallied at the end of the game is meaningful only when considered in relation to how many runs a team scores. We know how many runs a team scores per inning, per game, per series, or per season, and we know how many LOBsters accumulate per inning, per game, per series, or per season. It would be far more helpful if we had some sort of statistic that combined runs and LOBsters in some meaningful fashion.

It isn’t hard to come up with such a statistic. For whatever reason, it isn’t done, even though it doesn’t take much in the way of computational skills. It’s no more difficult than figuring a batting average.

For example, in the National League in 2015, there were 9,996 runs scored and 16,587 LOBsters. But we need to subtract home runs from total runs. After all, a batter hitting a home run scores a run, but in the act of “touching ‘em all,” he is never “on base” and does not qualify as a LOBster.

So subtracting the 2,275 NL home runs hit in 2015 from the total of NL runs, we come up with 7,721. Adding this number to the 16,587 LOBsters, we come up with 24,308 as the number of base runners or potential runs. Divide 7,721 by 24,308, we get a percentage of .318. So that is the percentage of NL base runners who came around to score in 2015. Let’s call it PRR (potential run realization) because the world doesn’t have enough acronyms.

Now let’s take a team-by-team look at the 2015 NL stats and see who had the best PRR. First, let’s look at the teams ranked in terms of runs scored in 2015:

Team Runs Scored
Rockies 737
Diamondbacks 720
Nationals 703
Pirates 697
Giants 696
Cubs 689
Mets 683
Dodgers 667
Brewers 655
Padres 650
Cardinals 647
Reds 640
Phillies 626
Marlins 613
Braves 573
League Avg. 666

And here are the NL teams ranked in terms of LOBsters:

Team LOBsters
Pirates 1,166
Cubs 1,165
Diamondbacks 1,153
Cardinals 1,152
Reds 1,148
Braves 1,145
Giants 1,130
Dodgers 1,121
Nationals 1,114
Mets 1,098
Phillies 1,066
Marlins 1,059
Padres 1,028
Brewers 1,026
Rockies 1,016
League Avg 1,106

So far we are just tallying, not computing. But remember, we need to subtract each team’s home runs from the total runs.

Team Runs Home Runs Base Runners Scored
Diamondbacks 720 154 566
Giants 696 136 560
Pirates 697 140 557
Rockies 737 186 551
Nationals 703 177 526
Cubs 689 171 518
Cardinals 647 137 510
Brewers 655 145 510
Mets 683 177 506
Padres 650 148 502
Marlins 613 120 497
Phillies 626 130 496
Dodgers 667 187 480
Braves 573 100 473
Reds 640 167 473
League Avg 666 152 515

Now we need to add base runners scored to LOBsters to get the total number of runners/potential runs:

Team Runners/Potential Runs
Pirates 1,723
Diamondbacks 1,719
Giants 1,690
Cubs 1,683
Cardinals 1,662
Nationals 1,640
Reds 1,621
Braves 1,618
Mets 1,604
Dodgers 1,601
Rockies 1,567
Phillies 1,562
Marlins  1556
Brewers 1,536
Padres 1,530
League Avg. 1,621

So now we can compute the percentage of base runners who actually cross home plate, or PRR.

Team PRR
Rockies 0.352
Brewers 0.332
Giants 0.331
Diamondbacks 0.329
Padres 0.328
Pirates 0.323
Nationals 0.321
Marlins 0.319
Phillies 0.318
Mets 0.315
Cubs 0.308
Cardinals 0.307
Dodgers 0.300
Braves 0.292
Reds 0.292
League Avg 0.318

Since the Rockies led the league in runs scored and fewest LOBsters, they automatically led the NL in PRR. They are .20 above the second-place Brewers. Unfortunately, the Rockies’ pitching staff allowed 844 runs, 107 more than the team scored. That was good enough for a 68-94 record and last place in the NL West.

So leading the league in PRR is hardly a free pass to the postseason. The Brewers, by the way, also finished at 68-94. Outstanding PRR didn’t do much to help their bottom line either.

Notice also that the Pirates led the league in LOBsters, which might seem undesirable at first blush. But the Pirates also led the league in runners/potential runs, so that mitigates any stigma. Indeed, the Pirates rank sixth out of 15 in PRR.

The most striking thing about the above is how far above the pack the Rockies are. The 14 teams below them vary only between .332 and .292. This may not seem so significant, but it is not terribly different from the spread of batting averages from top to bottom (Giants at .267 to Padres at .243) or OBP (Padres at .300 to Dodgers at .326) in 2015.

To be sure, the only two teams that scored below .300 in scoring efficiency had dismal seasons (Reds – 64-98; Braves – 67-95). Rounding out the “second division,” the Dodgers, third from the bottom, won the NL West at 92-70. The Cardinals, one notch above them, won the NL Central with a 100-62 record. Then come the Cubs, a playoff team, and the Mets, the NL East leaders at 90-72. The Phillies have a higher PRR than any of these teams, yet they finished 2015 with the worst record (63-99) in the league.

Well, the Dodgers, Cardinals, Cubs and Mets had good team ERAs (3.44, 2,94, 3.36, 3.43). The Phillies were at 4.69. And the Rockies, despite their lusty .352 PRR, had a 5.04 ERA, the worst in the league.

Given the DH rule, it is not surprising that the average number of runs scored per team is higher in the American League (710 versus 666 in the NL) and the average number of LOBsters is lower (1,078 versus 1,106). Consequently, PRR trends higher in the AL, as shown below.

Team PRR
Blue Jays 0.384
Twins 0.352
Royals 0.352
Red Sox 0.340
Rangers 0.339
Orioles 0.334
Athletics 0.332
Tigers 0.326
Astros 0.325
Yankees 0.324
Angels 0.324
Indians 0.315
White Sox 0.313
Rays 0.307
Mariners 0.298
League Avg 0.331

The Blue Jays are way in front, which is not surprising, given the fact that they scored 891 runs, way ahead of the second-place Yankees with 764.

Seattle was the only American League team with a PRR below .300. Since seafaring men are partial to seafood, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mariners lead the league in percentage of LOBsters (.702, the flip side of their .298 PRR). The Yankees and the Astros, who met in the Wild Card game, were the only two postseason teams below the league average.

Also interesting to note is that the Twins, who did not make the postseason, are in a tie with the World Champion Royals. Would we conclude that the Royals’ pitching was better? Well, yes, but it wasn’t a chasm of a difference (3.73 v. 4.07). More revealing is the fact that the Twins simply didn’t get many men on base. Their total of 993 LOBsters was second lowest, just three more than the Orioles’ total.

Given that the Royals had 1,497 hits to the Twins’ 1,349, they obviously had a lot more base runners. So given the same percentage, the Royals were bound to score more runs (724 to 696). The Royals left more men on base than the Twins, but it was hardly a disaster, as their total of 1,079 was just one run above the league average.

So counting LOBsters alone doesn’t count for much. The tally must be seen in context to be meaningful. I’m not sure if PRR clarifies or muddies the issue – but you don’t have to be a math major to figure it out.

No degree in marine biology needed either!

Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 54 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.
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8 years ago

Enjoyed your article! Particularly the jokes about LOBster, one of my favorite foods.

This seems like a very similar concept to what the book, Baseball Forecaster (put out by Ron Shandler and the people of Baseball HQ), has as one of their metrics for pitchers, Strand Rate, which equals (hits + BB – ER) / (hits + BB – HR). It is the flip side to your article, where your article focused on the LOB from the team’s hitter’s view, strand rate is from the pitcher’s view.

David Horwich
8 years ago

The Rangers left 8 runners on base in their 30-3 win over the Orioles, not 19.

8 years ago

Wouldn’t you want to include double plays, caught stealing and other runners thrown out into the equation? (But you don’t want to double count the strike-em-out-throw-em-outs, etc.) I think the first commenter’s strand rate formula for offense with the addition of HBP and errors, and change ER to runs, would do this.

8 years ago

This is primarily park factors + variance + a little defense. (Is there any year the Rockies did *not* lead the league in pct. of runners scoring?) It might be interesting of you tried to adjust for these things and determine what amount, if any, of it is skill.

Luis Venitucci
8 years ago

In one of the early Bill James’ almanacs, he did a similar study and noted that the team with the most LOB is often the team with the most runs scored simply as a result of more men reaching base..