What goes around comes around: guys who scored most often when getting on base

I posted this list in the comments to an earlier thread, but it really seems to deserve its own post.

Here are the players since 1901 who scored the highest percentage of time once reaching base (including reaching on error) with a minimum of 4000 career plate appearances.

1	Red Rolfe	48.8%
2	Jack Smith	47.2%
3	Pepper Martin	46.9%
4	Earle Combs	46.5%
5	Tommy Leach	45.3%
6	Joe DiMaggio	45.2%
7	C Granderson	45.2%
8	Ian Kinsler	44.4%
9	Lou Gehrig	44.2%
10	Hughie Critz	44.0%
11	Ray Chapman	44.0%
12	Tom Goodwin	43.7%
13	Babe Ruth	43.7%
14	Tommy Henrich	43.7%
15	C Gehringer	43.5%
16	Chuck Klein	43.4%
17	Kenny Lofton	43.3%
18	Earl Averill	43.3%
19	Alex Rodriguez	43.0%
20	Fred Clarke	42.9%
21	Donie Bush	42.8%
22	Vince Coleman	42.7%
23	F Lindstrom	42.7%
24	Kiki Cuyler	42.6%
25	Bobby  Bonds	42.6%
26	Bill Cissell	42.6%
27	Jimmie Foxx	42.6%
28	Pete Fox	42.5%
29	Jimmy Rollins	42.5%
30	Ron Gant	42.5%

This is quite an eclectic group, huh?

The research was sparked by reader kds noticing that Kenny Lofton had a very high percentage, and indeed he clocks in at #17. Some other leadoff-type speedsters make it too, with Bobby Bonds, Vince Coleman, Tom Goodwin(!), Jimmy Rollins, and others. Then there are other guys with a lot of home runs–obviously that’s an automatic 1-for-1 in terms of scoring when reaching base–Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Foxx, etc.

I’m sure there’s a lot more we can glean from this…have at it.


What goes around comes around: guys who scored most often when getting on base — 50 Comments

  1. Note that a player can be credited for a Run Scored (goes into the numerator of the ratio you are calculating) without necessarily being credited for a Time On Base (your denominator). That happens when a hitter ends up safe at first on a fielder’s choice play that results in an out at another base, and then later comes around to score. For example, Ian Kinsler in this game got credit for one Run Scored, but no Times on Base: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK200909210.shtml

    • That’s true, and of course it’s also true that a guy can get erased from base by an FC and then miss out on a run scored if the next batter homers. It would seem that leadoff guys get the least benefit of the pathway you point out, though, since they most often bat with nobody on base (at the start of the game and, in the NL, following the pitcher.) No vulturing of a run scored there.

    • I guess your larger point bears repeating, as it’s quite important. This list is simply career runs scored divided by time on base (including ROE). In no way have I measured what happened on specific outcomes of times on base. I didn’t explain that expressly in the original post and wouldn’t want anybody to misunderstand the data. Thanks.

  2. Hmm, I guess we have some threshold of times on base right? Because otherwise, I think the leader is Herb Washington, who I am pretty sure has an unbeatable % of infinity.

    • Vince Coleman seems like an outlier on my comment, though… 1980s Cardinals were good but not offensive juggernauts by any means. Tom Goodwin also.

      So this captures the first two, and also super speedy guys with marginal OBA ability. Definitely makes the mix more interesting.

      • Although the ’80s Cards weren’t offensive juggernauts overall, they were increbibly effective at scoring 1 run at a time and getting that crucial first run in the game. Bill James discusses in length here how stolen bases often are effective at scoring one run but can limit big innings:

        “…If a batter attempts to steal second and is successful, he increases his own chance of scoring a run, but does almost nothing to increase the chance that any other player will score. If he attempts to steal and is thrown out, however, this decreases not only his own chance of scoring but that of every player who will bat in the inning. There is a big, big difference in your chance of scoring a run if you reach first base with no one out or if you reach with one out.

        So the runner, in attempting to steal, is doing something to decrease the other players’ chance of scoring, and nothing to increase it. Thus the effect of the stolen base attempt, like the sacrifice bunt, is to increase the chance of scoring one run, but to decrease the chance of scoring several runs in an inning…”

        Here’s the full excerpt from James’ ’88 Abstract:


  3. Andy , you’ve hit a nerve with me; I have long contended that the ability to score runs is the central skill in offensive baseball, ever since Earl Weaver told me so in 1970 ,and in evaluating players I probably look at the R column more than almost any other commenter on this site. If you subtract HR from both the numerator and denominator of your stat, you get something close to BRefs RS% not the same , but close — and over a long career, I think it can be used with care to get some idea of “base running skill” which is not the same as base stealing or even speed. Some guys, once they have reached base think their job is over and don’t get the most out of the last part of the trip. Baserunning stats capture some of this , by counting events and it’s good enough for the vast majority of players; but baserunning is a learned skill, and intelligent players will advance on more fielder’s choices than (player’s name deleted) To pick a negative example; Paul Konerko is credited with only minus 30 base running runs by Bref – I think this is a vast understatement . Paulie tries hard, but he’s slowww , and he’s had some nagging injuries of late, so he almost never scores unless he jacks it or gets to trot in front of someone else who does – to invert bstar @13, when he fails to advance, not only does he not score, he reduces the chances of others scoring.
    Everyone please understand that I admire Konerko, who is a fine player, but just happens to have a lopsided skill set that allows me to illustrate my point. On the opposite side K Lofton in your list above was IMHO better than his WAR would suggest because his baserunning is under appreciated .
    I know it is received wisdom in the saber community that the old baseball men overvalued speed and it accounts for less than they thought – I’m not disputing that , but maybe we’ve fallen off the other side of the horse, just a little.

      • JA, that article has always been one of my favourites, purely for the immortal lines identifying the culprits as “his teammates” and “himself”.

    • Also, BryanM — FWIW, B-R’s rating of -30 runs for Konerko’s baserunning does make him 7th-worst ever (data measured since around 1970, I think). And his combination of -68 runs for GIDPs+baserunning is the absolute worst.

      That certainly doesn’t prove that they’re capturing his full cost, but it suggests they’re on the right track.

      P.S. Per game, the all-time worst in Rbaser — by a wide margin — is Prince Fielder, at -4.3 runs per 162 games. Next-worst is -3.6.

      • the threat of speed puts pressure on the defense, as atl pointed out, but I was mostly struck by another aspect watching Paul Molitor 20 years ago- on a BIP , he was always 2 steps further down the line than you would have expected , leading to more advances on outs, fewer DP (helping the WAR of guys batting behind him) and more runs….. We could say that Whitey Herzog had a point as the theme of this thread…

      • John, I am sure that bref has the stats directionally right; Prince is another example , I just suspect the distribution is compressed , so the guys on both extremes get more (or less) credit than they deserve. Additionally, the effect is more pronounced as the players age; Just as Tom Seaver found a different way to be effective at 36 than he was at 26, older players who once had plus speed use skill to minimize basepath outs, while at the other end, old Catchers, God bless em, get slower and slower – they have no BR stats, since they never attempt a steal, and their GIDP doesn’t go up much since they bat down where there are few base runners. Anyway, I might be right, I might be wrong but it would be interesting to just multiply BR runs by (say) 1.5 positive and negative and see if it moves anyone’s WAR much .. don’t know how to do it tho.

    • While this is as eclectic a group as I’ve seen in a while, the comment about the sabr community believing old baseball men overvalued speed struck a chord.
      I don’t think the stats guys fully know how, nor does the data exist in some manner, to fully account for the impact of speed.
      Stealing bases or taking the extra base can be captured.
      It’s other manners where speed stresses the pitcher and defense that are hard to measure: extra throws to hold a runner distracting the pitcher;
      pitchers changing their delivery slightly to hurry the throw to the plate; catchers positioning themselves slightly differently so they are in position to make the throw to 2b (or 3b); the double-play ball that becomes a fielder’s choice; the error caused by a fielder hurrying a throw; That’s an incomplete list off the top of my head.
      While the offensive game has evolved over the years along with improved equipment (gloves), the impact of speed on the game I think is indisputable. Measuring it is difficult!

      • I agree completely.

        Also, to continue a discussion from last week, consider ops+, a now-standard sabermetric measuring tool. Using ops+, a player who hits a double is “more valuable” than the player who walks and steals second. The walk and steal cannot Drive In a run, no. But consider the immeasurable differences in the following scenarios involving the First Batter of the Game:

        1. Double on the first pitch, or…

        2. 8 pitch walk, then three throws over to 1st trying to hold that runner, and then the runner steals 2nd.

        In the first case, the pitcher has a bad 10 seconds, shrugs it off, and proceeds.
        In the 2nd case, he’s having a bad day, and the entire strategy and psychology of the game have changed.

          • Voomo – Einstein said “not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted”. As wonderful as a stat like WAR is, there are certain things that it just can’t capture and probably never will. There are psychological effects as you mentioned (the difference between having Kenny Lofton on first and having Paul Konerko on first for example) as well as physical effects (for example, WAR treats all strikeouts the same but a three pitch strikeout is obviously much less tiring than a 10 pitch strikeout).

        • … meanwhile, the batter takes a strike or two to let the speedster steal, and finds himself behind in the count.

          I’m not dismissing the hidden benefits of speed. But there are also hidden costs.

          • And there’s also the times when the announcer says that the batter swung “to protect the runner”. I never understood that concept. Does it mean that the batter is swinging with the intent to miss completely, but his swing is supposed to somehow mess with the catcher? What is going on when that happens? Is the team trying to steal a base or not?

  4. (Semi-)Relevant Factoids:

    I wasn’t too familiar with Tommy Leach before seeing his name on this list. Turns out he is one of two players to have four seasons with a) 10 doubles, and b) more triples than doubles; the other isn’t hard to guess. Only four players have even done this once in the live-ball era.

    Leach is one of 12 players meeting the criteria here (4000 PA since 1901) having at least 8 percent of his hits as triples. Two others, Combs and Clarke, are also on this list. Combs is the only of the 12 to be a primarily live-ball era player.

    I can imagine that Granderson would’ve been high on this list before becoming The New and Improved Steve Balboni, considering that he was an XBH machine with wheels and a good supporting cast in Detroit, but his R/TOB percentage has actually gotten even higher over the last two seasons. Then again, not many guys get to hit 40+ HR while spending a lot of time batting second…

  5. Taking it to a seasonal level;
    Pepper Martin…1935…61.7%
    Al Simmons……1930…60.6%
    Tommy Leach…..1909…57.0%
    Joe DiMaggio….1936…56.4%
    Mark Koenig…..1927…55.9%
    Jack Smith……1922…55.4%
    Jack Smith……1924…55.2%

  6. Andy:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing this stat laid out by decade—that is, the top, oh, five, let’s say, for the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, etc. The list as it stands points mainly to power hitters and speedy lead-off guys from higher scoring eras. What was going on otherwise? Like in the Fifties and Sixties?

    • Here’s a list of the number of players with a R/TOB ratio of more than 40% by decade (3000 PA min.):


      • This goes to my point about high-offense eras… the 1930s, 1990s, and 2000s stick out glaringly. And the lead-footed 1950s and pitching-dominated 1960s fall in line.

        Surprised at the 1980s though with all the speed merchants.

        • It looks to me as if the major factor may be average runs scored per game. In every year from 1921 to 1940 and 1993 to 2009 teams averaged above 4.5 runs per game, whereas only three years from 1952 to 1992 showed that level of scoring. Somebody had to score those runs.

          As for your comment on the lead-footed 1950s, I have to disagree. The stolen base was simply not a priority strategy during that era. If it had been, Mantle—timed, I believe, as the fastest runner of the era—would have tripled his SB totals. The true lead-foot era, it seems to me, is ongoing, with overweight sluggers bogging down the middle of many lineups. Their presence is masked by their contrary numbers who go for the stolen base regardless, and a general predisposition to steal in preference to hit-and-run. Does anyone hit-and-run anymore?

          There’s more to be said, but I’m out of time.

          • Yes, you’re correct in that there were certainly many fast players in the 1950s but I was alluding to a complete lack of the SB as a weapon. It does seem very few teams hit-and-run nowadays, but given the contact rates of hitters in the modern game, can you blame anyone?

  7. Hughie Critz
    73 ops+
    38 HR
    97 SB

    Scored 93 runs for the 1930 Giants with an ops+ of 58, 32 XBH, and 7 SB
    .265 .296 .357 .652

    The Giants scored 958 runs, and Critz was their Leadoff Hitter !

    In the 2, 3, 4, 5 spots were:

    .327 .361 .482 .843

    .379 .425 .575 .999

    .401 .452 .619 1.071

    .349 .458 .578 1.036

    • Looking at some box scores for that season, I am baffled by McGraw’s apparent disdain for the leadoff spot. I think using Leach as the main leadoff guy instead of Jackson early in the year is questionable, but within reason. Also using Doc Marshall there is silly, and then dropping Jackson to seventh after picking up Critz is simply inexplicable.

      • Very odd. Critz easily had the lowest OBP of any Giants and he bats leadoff the entire year? This is odd to me because I’ve sited John McGraw numerous times as a old-schooler who understood the importance of OBP due to his monsterous .466 career OBP as a player and his teams always being near the top in that category as a manager.

        I guess McGraw expected Critz to be better based on him being 2nd, 4th and 17th in the MVP vote in three of the previous four years.

    • Or Donie Bush in 1911.

      126 runs scored with 1 HR, 24 XBH and a 75 OPS+. It was Bush’s 3rd straight season leading the AL in walks (he would do so 4 straight years and 5 out of 6).

      Bush is the first of only 28 players since 1901 with 10 or more seasons of 80+ runs and 70+ walks. Of those 28 players, these are the ones who compiled OPS+ under 100 in any of those 80 Run, 70 BB seasons.

      Rk Yrs From To Age
      1 Donie Bush 7 1911 1920 23-32 Ind. Seasons
      2 Pee Wee Reese 2 1942 1950 23-31 Ind. Seasons
      3 Rickey Henderson 1 1998 1998 39-39 Ind. Seasons
      Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
      Generated 1/17/2013.
      • Bush scored 126 runs in 1911 mainly because both Cobb and Crawford had fantastic years – the best slugging %’s of their careers; Jim Delahanty also had a very good yeaer.

  8. A common old-school notion seems to be that the 2nd baseman is the leadoff guy, period.
    Look at Ralph Houk.
    Rookie Manager in 1961
    He did pretty well, won 109 games.

    The ops+ of his starting 8:


    That’s Bobby Richardson at the top.
    And his line of
    .261 .295 .316 .610
    25 xbh
    was enhanced by a running game of
    9 SB
    7 CS

    Can’t argue with 109 wins, I suppose.
    Though Houk did shift gears and moved Richardson to the 2-hole for the rest of his career a month into the ’62 season.

    • Besides Mantle, that team couldn’t run. 28 SB and 18 CS. In terms of OBP, there really weren’t any other choices for the one and two hole (Richardson and Kubek). Except for Mantle, Maris and Elston Howard the entire team was around .300 OBP so Houk batted the HR hitters 3-8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *