Earlier today I was around the house, cursing the walls, the faucet, and the air circulation for this god damn "spring forward". I hate spring forward. Spring forward sucks. Spring forward is the Dane Cook of intercontinental timepiece readjustment conventions.
Anyway, as I am wont to do when I'm sitting on my ass, I found myself thinking about the Mariners. More specifically, I found myself thinking about Yuniesky Betancourt. For all his limitations, he's one of the most exciting players we've had in a long long time. "Why is that?" I asked myself. I answered, "because he's always energetic, he's always making flashy plays, and he's always thinking about taking the extra base."
That last bit piqued my interest. He is a pretty ambitious baserunner, isn't he? I started getting curious about what kind of impact that had on his numbers. especially when combined with his impressive footspeed. So - naturally - with nothing better to do, I went to the video.
What I was looking for was how often Yuni turned a single into a double or a double into a triple by using his speed and aggressive baserunning. Now obviously there's some subjectivity that comes into play when you're doing this - it's not clear exactly where the tipping point is between a BIP being a single or a double - but if you grant me your trust, here's what I came up with:
Total doubles: 38
Standard doubles: 27
Speed doubles: 11
Total triples: 2
Standard triples: 0
Speed triples: 2 (to be expected; triples are hit almost exclusively by guys with quick feet)
By my count, Yuni hit 11 "should-be" singles that he turned into doubles, and two "should-be" doubles that he turned into triples. Put another way, Yuni grabbed 13 more bases than what I think you'd expect of a guy with average speed.
But speed doesn't only come into play with extra-base hits, right? What about infield singles? For this I didn't need to look at the video - just Fangraphs. The average Infield Hit Percentage (infield hits/groundballs) last year was 5.9%. Yuni's was 10.0%. Assuming that's because of his superior speed, then that's another nine bases he earned from his feet.
Put it all together and you've got Yuni's footspeed being good for roughly 22 bases over the average in 2007 (I'm looking strictly at balls in play and ignoring steal attempts). That's a gain of ~5-8 runs. Now, there'll be times that this comes back to bite him - he could get thrown out at second if he gets too aggressive - but I don't recall that happening last year. Yuni seems to be pretty good about picking his spots.
What do those ~5-8 runs look like if you take them out of his 2007 batting line?
2007 Yuni, actual: .289/.308/.418
2007 Yuni, average speed: .272/.292/.377
If you take last year's Yuni and give him the same balls in play but league-average speed, he turns into Deivi Cruz. That's...that's pretty substantial is what that is.
Now, there's both an optimistic and a pessimistic way of thinking about this. If you're an optimist, you'll see this as an example of a player maximizing his skills, and you'll look forward to Yuni perhaps being even more aggressive in 2008. If you're a pessimist, you'll see this as evidence that Yuni's 38 doubles weren't so much a sign of developing power as they were a sign of simply running more aggressively.
Both views have merit. No, Yuni wasn't hitting a ton more wallbangers last year - he doesn't have much power, and he never will. But he was taking a pedestrian ball-in-play profile and using a physical gift to turn it into a decent one. That's an attribute, and one for which Yuni should be commended. Steals be damned, Yuni's a hell of a baserunner, and his success at pickings spots to be aggressive has in large part kept him afloat.
There are a lot of players out there who I'd never want to start taking matters into their own hands on the basepaths. But once he puts a ball in play, Yuni should get the permanent green light. The man knows what he's doing.