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Another reason why Adam Dunn should bat 5th

It's probably not a good idea to steal bases when Dunn is batting

Adam Dunn
Adam Dunn
Jamie Squire

The most obvious reason Adam Dunn should not bat in what has been his customary 3rd spot is, of course, that the only other left-handed hitter in the regular lineup is likely to be leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza. Almost regardless of who would bat 2nd, repeating the 2012 batting order positions for De Aza and Dunn would be an even greater invitation for an opposing team to match up their left-handed relievers since, well, now there really wouldn't be any reason to use them any other time.

But another (lesser) reason is De Aza's ability to steal bases. In his major league career, De Aza has been successful a 70% of the time (42 for 60), including 68% (26 for 38) in 2012.

When to steal

I'm sure almost any fan recognizes there are times when it's a really good idea to attempt to steal bases (Rickey Henderson with Dan Meyer batting - look it up, kids) and times when it's a really bad idea to attempt to steal bases (Paul Konerko, like, ever). The trick, of course, is recognizing where all the other situations fit on that spectrum.

Many analysts have fired up their spreadsheets and crunched the numbers while drinking Mountain Dew in their mother's basement on the night of their Senior Proms. The sheer number of variables - runner, pitcher, batter, catcher, score, outs, inning, other baserunners, who's on-deck, who's in the hole and on and on - makes this both a nightmare and a fascinating detour into game theory.

One intrepid analyst took his stab at it with the stated purpose of finding the break-even rates, solely for stealing second base, for each individual hitter based on all outcomes. If you want the gory details on how he came up with this, feel free to peruse this. It goes without saying that this isn't going to be a completely accurate study. But it probably approximates the reality for the majority of players, particularly those on the extreme ends.

I'm sure by now you've guessed who shows up as a batter for whom a basestealer must be very confident of success.

  • With no outs, Dunn is 8th in baseball with a necessary break-even point of 75.1%.
  • With one out, Dunn takes over the top spot with a break-even point of 76.6%.
  • With two outs, Dunn keeps his top spot (and widens his lead over the field) with a break-even point of 81.6%.
It doesn't take a baseball genius to see that De Aza's (or any other White Sox base stealer's) stolen base abilities are approaching the irrelevant when he's at the plate. The biggest reason for that is, of course, Dunn's home run power. But another major factor is that Dunn doesn't hit into that many double plays.

4th or 5th spot?

We already know that keeping De Aza and Dunn apart is important based solely on handedness. But one could debate whether the 4th or 5th spot is the more appropriate spot.

This study suggests another factor that favors the 5th spot for Dunn. In addition to keeping De Aza and Dunn well-apart, it also keeps him further apart from Alex Rios, who is expected to bat 3rd this season and who has good base-stealing ability (75% in his career and 79% in 2012), and puts him behind the guy who is one of the least likely in baseball to steal, Konerko.

Anecdotal evidence suggests Robin Ventura and his staff are aware of break-even points. The White Sox stolen base success rate in 2012 was 71.71% while one analyst's predicted break-even rate for the team was 70.5%. That suggests the White Sox were one of the few teams running at the optimal rate last season, as the league-wide success rate was a conservative 74% while the break-even rate was 66%.

Dunn batting 5th this season would give the best White Sox base stealers more opportunities to steal in situations where the value to the team is high. It's a little thing that only would make a difference at the margins. But the White Sox will need to exploit every advantage if they want to compete this season.