Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Playing Smart With Small Ball

Editor's Note: With the impending coaching change at Cal State Fullerton, a topic that has resurfaced is the Titans' historical "small ball" approach. Beginning with Augie Garrido and then through George Horton and the just-departed Dave Serrano, Fullerton teams have generally adopted a style that involves much sacrifice bunting and aggressive baserunning.

Over the past few seasons, that style has become both predictable and reckless. But some small ball devotees refuse to see that the Titans' offensive approach need to adapt to the times. This does not mean abandoning the small ball approach entirely, but rather install an attack that's more diversified and less predictable.

The following is a statistical analysis provided by CSFBaseball contributor CSF, a former Titan who played from 1999-2003. A complete spreadsheet of the statistical information is also here via this link. We thank Cal State Fullerton SIDs Mel Franks and Mike Greenlee for making this available to us.


Growing up a lot in the program, you do learn to appreciate a lot of the skills, like bunting. Doing them well can apply a tremendous amount of pressure on a team. Particularly when the offense can be as talented and diverse as we were most of the years I was in school. There were guys with power, lots of guys with speed, guys that were magnets for hit by pitches, guys that hit for very high averages, guys that had patience and guys that could do all kinds of bunts. Having all the weapons is incredibly beneficial. I want that to remain in place.

Like everyone is saying, it was the predictability and overuse that always gets to me. Sacrifice bunting is just one of the tools in the bag. It's not the most important tool. Use everything, use them all randomly. That's what I want. Complete diversity.

I'm going to go back to 2003 because I thought that was the year that we best personified diversity in the offense. That wasn't a great hitting team. It had a bunch of very good hitters, who had talents at a lot of different skills. No huge power threat, but Costa, Dorn, Boyer all had decent power. No unbelievable speed guys, but Costa, Turner, Boyer and Smyres were all fast enough and good baserunners. A lot of guys that could hit for a high average - Pilittere, Costa, Suzuki, Dorn and Prettyman were all over .340 AVG.

That team, which averaged 7.9 runs per game, only had 49 sac bunts on the season. In the 8 years since that team, nobody has scored more runs per game. Every team has sac bunted a lot more often. Other teams have had higher AVG, OBP and SLG. Others have stolen more bases. That team just did all of it. And they gave up a lot less outs per game then the more recent offenses. That's what I want to see again.

I found a better way to demonstrate all this stuff, take averages over a time frame that I think show the difference. The 2002-03 seasons demonstrate the type of offense I'd like to see in terms of acceptable bunting amounts and pickoffs (and I'm very surprised 2002 is in that cut, I thought we stunk that season). Here's a comparison of the average year during the 2002-03 seasons against the average Serrano year, 2008-2011:

(Click to enlarge)

In general, we are talking about virtually identical talent in terms of offensive capabilities. The batting average and on-base percentage are exactly the same. The H, 3B, BB and HBP are basically the same.

The Serrano years have a slight slugging advantage due to a few more home runs, where the 02-03 years hit doubles a little more. The Serrano years also have a slight edge at SB and stolen base percentage.

So you'd think with all other stuff being equal that the years with more stolen bases and home runs would clearly score more runs. That makes sense at least. As we've seen previously, that's not the case.

The 2002-03 years score 1/2 run more per game. That's actually a fairly noticeable difference this time around. Why? Once again, it's giving up outs. The Serrano years have far more sac bunts, pickoffs and caught stealing on the season. It averages out to about 1 extra out per game given up - and over 2 full outs per game - during the Serrano years.

When you spread all of this over an entire season, the Serrano years give away a little over 2 full games worth of outs compared to the 2002-03 offenses. Maybe showing it in a big number like that changes everything. It's a total of about 19 innings more each year being given away in the Serrano years than in 2002-03.

I've had this conversation tons of times. Maybe not with those exact numbers, but with the overall philosophy. People who have been raised to live by the sac bunt refuse to believe that baseball has evolved in any way.

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