Willy Taveras: Return of the King of Something

After the Marlins and the Blue Jays swung that gigantic trade some time back, I found myself researching something with regard to Emilio Bonifacio, since if there was one thing people wanted to read about after that trade, it was Emilio Bonifacio. My research led me somewhere, but it didn’t lead me where I wanted — it led me to Willy Taveras, and I couldn’t think of any reason to write a FanGraphs post about Willy Taveras. The guy hadn’t played in the majors since 2010. The guy didn’t play pro ball anywhere in 2012. Nothing was groundbreaking, and everything was abandoned.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out today the Royals had signed Taveras to a contract. It’s only a minor-league contract, but it comes with a spring-training invite, which means Willy Taveras might be back. He is, at least, back on the big-league radar. Here, now, is the rest of a post about Willy Taveras. Because to my knowledge, the Indians and Reds haven’t yet completed a Shin-Soo Choo pseudo-blockbuster.

The Taveras story is interesting, in that he didn’t play anywhere at 30. Fernando Perez is an example of a guy who just took a year off, but Taveras didn’t intend to take a year off. He just had his representation fall apart, so last offseason Taveras was left without an agent. When you’re Willy Taveras, and you don’t have an agent, people kind of forget about you, so Taveras went without employment. He trained, he’s now participating in winter ball, and he’s now under contract with Kansas City. Taveras is now going to give it another shot, and he says he can still run.

Which is good, because that’s just about Taveras’ entire skillset. He can make contact when he swings, and he can run. He can play some defense, because he can run. I can’t decide if Willy Taveras is a baseball player with running skills, or a professional runner with baseball skills. Probably more of the latter, and Taveras has, historically, taken things to the extreme.

We’ve referred before to the FanGraphs Era, which spans 2002-2012. It’s the era of batted-ball data, and plate-discipline data, and splits. Willy Taveras’ entire big-league career has fallen within the FanGraphs Era, as he debuted on September 6, 2004, replacing Carlos Beltran and striking out against John Riedling. Since 2002, as it happens, we have information about infield hits, and we have information about bunt hits, which are separate. I put them together while researching Bonifacio. That’s how I wound up at Taveras.

I was wondering about players who most frequently reached base without hitting the ball to the outfield. Via hits, I mean, not walks or hit-by-pitches. Or errors, even though I would’ve loved to include them. Taveras reached base 40 times on errors. Eight times, those were on bunts, and 29 times, those were on grounders. I can get this information individually, but it’s a real pain to gather in bulk.

I looked at all players with at least 500 plate appearances between 2002-2012. I added together their infield hits and their bunt hits, then I divided by plate appearances to get a rate. There were 827 total players in the sample, and here’s the top five:

According to our numbers, Taveras has 103 infield hits, and 130 bunt hits. Roughly once every 11 plate appearances, Taveras got a hit on a ball that didn’t leave the infield. Somewhat remarkably, those 130 bunt hits between 2004-2010 were more than were laid down by ten whole teams. Taveras had just about twice as many bunt hits as the Blue Jays over that span. This is not a critique of the Blue Jays, nor is it praise of Willy Taveras. It’s just an observation about Willy Taveras — a remark on his skillset.

Taveras at least used to be an extraordinary bunter. I don’t know if he still is — he hasn’t played regularly in the majors since 2009 — but he turned 46% of his bunts into hits, and some of those were deliberate sacrifices. His batting average on bunts was well north of .500, and Taveras, by the way, is right-handed. Here’s what that looks like, if you’ve forgotten what it looks like when a fast righty bunts:

That Taveras had so much success bunting suggests that he wasn’t bunting at an optimal rate. That he should’ve bunted more, and even though that would cost him in terms of batting average on bunts, the adjusted infield defense would be less able to turn his grounders into outs. Willy Taveras was one of the best bunters in the major leagues. Willy Taveras, it seems, was also not enough of a bunter.

So what? Well that’s a good question. I think it’s interesting enough that Willy Taveras comes out as the leader in something. Of course, he might be slower now, and if he does make the majors again, he could jeopardize his position atop the leaderboard. That’s a slim lead he’s got over Joey Gathright, and maybe Taveras isn’t what he used to be. Alternatively, maybe Taveras would bunt more, less confident in his ability to swing away, and, I don’t know. Right now, Willy Taveras stands as the FanGraphs Era king of hits in the infield. That could conceivably change, but so could anything.

You do wonder about Taveras’ offensive value. I mean, Taveras was always a bad hitter, by basic numbers and by linear-weights numbers. He owns a career 68 wRC+. Average is 100. 68 isn’t 100. 68 is two-thirds of 100. The linear-weights numbers assign a run value to singles, but infield singles and bunt singles are less valuable than outfield singles, because they don’t allow for baserunners to take extra bases. To some small degree, Taveras is probably an even worse hitter than he looks like. Runners don’t score from second on singles to the shortstop. I mean, Willy Taveras might, but most runners aren’t Willy Taveras.

If you’ve actually read all this, I think I appreciate it. Odds are Willy Taveras never sees the majors again, because it’s been a long time, and he hasn’t slugged .300 since 2007. Relatively speaking, he’s not a good player. Not that that’s stopping the Royals in right field, but that’s a whole other issue. You wouldn’t immediately think of devoting a whole lot of words in the year 2012 to Willy Taveras. But you’d be more willing to devote a lot of words to a league-leader, to someone who occupies a statistical extreme. Well wouldn’t you know it, but it turns out Willy Taveras counts. We’ll close with a dinger.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

25 Responses to “Willy Taveras: Return of the King of Something”

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  1. rotowizard says:

    At the very least it makes him an interesting situational guy off the bench for the upcoming season. Assuming Willy Taveras is still Willy Taveras.

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  2. TheHoustonian says:

    Wee Willy T. He was never good, but he was ALWAYS fun.

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  3. HMK says:

    will taveras, the next billy hunter!

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  4. wobatus says:

    Now that’s a good righty bunt.

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  5. He fast says:

    What if he were left handed and hit grounders to the left side? Can you imagine the extra infield hits? :)

    He’s fast, but FAR from a professional sprinter. A lot of guys in skill sports say that they are all that, but in professional track meets, they would be DESTROYED. Taveras is probably like a 10.5 at *best* for the 100 meter dash; the fastest HS guy in our medium-sized state destroyed the competition and was one of the fastest guys in college football–he ran 10.5. 11 seconds is actually very good for HS and enough to get a college scholarship. Olympians run at 10 or below….

    Denard Robinson is apparently one of the fastest guys in college football but he posted mediocre results when he ran for the University of Michigan track team.

    The one example that I know of a fast guy playing skill sports is RGIII; he almost set the HS record for the 300 meter (and 100 meters, I think) hurdles. He is FAST and if he progressed, he probably could make the olympics.

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    • James says:

      I’ve tried looking before for track times for the “speed” guys in baseball, without coming up with much. I’d be very interested in seeing where some of these guys rate.

      The fastest player in a skill sport that I know of is Jahvid Best. He won the 100 meter high school state meet in California in both his junior and senior years of high school (with sub 10.4 second times). As I recall, his personal best was top ten nationally among high school sprinters. He then had a fairly successful college football career at Cal. He wound up getting drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round, and on the occasions he has made it in to the open field while in the NFL, he’s managed to make everyone else on the field look slow (he did this with regularity in college, but that’s less impressive). Unfortunately, he hasn’t played in a year because of lingering concussion symptoms.

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      • He Fast says:

        Fast guys in skill (non-track) sports:

        1. RGIII

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Griffin_III#Track

        Track

        In track, Griffin broke state records for the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles. He ran the 110-meter hurdles in 13.55 seconds and the 300-meter hurdles in 35.33 seconds. The 300 hurdles time was 1/100th of a second short of tying the national high school record at the time. He was also a gold medalist in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles on the AAU track and field circuit. In 2007, as a junior, he was rated the No. 1 high school 400-meter intermediate hurdler in the country, and was tied at No. 1 for the 110-meter sprint hurdler in the nation. His personal best in the 110-meter hurdles, 13.46 sec, ranked fifth in the world among junior athletes,[6] while his personal best in the 400-meter hurdles, 49.56 sec, was World Junior Leading in 2007.[7] Also as a junior, Griffin received the Gatorade Texas Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year award,[5] and was named to USA Today?s 2007 All-USA Track and Field team.[8]

        2. Denard Robinson (Not that fast on the track–he wasn’t a big contributor for the U of M track team yet he is one of the fastest guys on the football field) “Studies have shown that that average reaction time by a human to a starter’s pistol is .25 seconds. ” Thus, his 4.32 is probably about 4.5 or so. (I think it’s only about 0.17 seconds for an average reaction time and not the 0.25 that the survey quotes)

        Robinson also competed in track for Deerfield Beach. In March 2009, he ran the 100 meters sprint in 10.44 seconds,[10] and finished third in the 100-meter dash at the 2008 Florida 4A Track & Field State Championships.[9] He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds.

        3. Deion Sanders.

        http://www.gridironstuds.com/blog/tag/deion-sanders/

        Sanders recorded a 10.21 100 meter mark while at Florida St.

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    • Pete says:

      The one example I know is former that former Florida Gator running back Jeff Demps who has a silver medal from the 2012 Olympic Games. He was quite an accomplished skill sports player (2,000+ yards rushing in his NCAA career). He is injured but is member of the New England Patriots.

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      • He Fast says:

        Andres Torres used to be fast, too. He’s the fastest MLB guy I know of. I would bet that Billy Hamilton wouldn’t be faster than Torres. A lot of people overestimate their abilities. Then when they look at the watch/clock… :(

        Andres Torres, former SF Giants outfielder, ran a 10.37 100m in HS. If there are guys in MLB with faster PRs I don’t know who, though Torres is 34 now so he’s not as fast as he used to be.

        Herb Washington was a world-class sprinter; I think that he had the 60 meter world record at the time he was signed by Oakland to be EXCLUSIVELY at pinch runner. He got picked off the first time he pinch ran. Also, he stole at like a 66% rate. Instincts>>speed in the majors.

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      • Jon L. says:

        They say Ron LeFlore had some speed. Find him in the middle of this article:
        http://www.fangraphs.com/community/index.php?author=9249

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      • Mark says:

        Bob Hayes won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 100 Meters. (10.06)
        He ran the semi-final heat in a wind assisted 9.91making him the first person to ever break the 10 second barrier.

        He went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. His speed was generally credited with the creation of the zone defense since nobody could cover the world’s fastest man 1 on 1.

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  6. Old School says:

    Billy Hamilton is better.

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  7. AA says:

    Doesn’t Taveras also have a ridiculously strong arm?

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  8. _Adam says:

    Of course, whatever utility a player of his particular skill-set has is wasted on the Royals — a team that already has Jarrod Dyson around to kill worms and run fast. The Omaha Storm Chasers could use an extra outfielder, though.

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  9. KCDaveInLA says:

    Willy Mays Hayes lives!

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  10. Cody says:

    I really enjoyed this read. Probably too much.

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  11. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I wonder: Could someone posting bunt values like Taveras did be quite valuable? If someone could lay down singles at a similiar rate as his bunts, that’d be valuable, yes? Or would it be too easy to counter someone who bunts more than they hit traditionally?

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  12. Ned Yost says:

    Of course he’s valuable, that’s why they signed him for me. Not much slug there, but if he can bunt and run that’s comparable. He might not get as many ABs as Yuni did last year, but he could be just as much of a difference maker for us.

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  13. That Guy says:

    Since he’s batting leadoff for the Royals this year, I expect him to bunt as much as is necessary to be “enough”.

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  14. gnomez says:

    I’m not sure if Perez meant to take a year off, either.

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  15. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Is he better than Frenchy??

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  16. Frank Robinson says:

    That was excellent, Jeff.

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  17. I’m still awaiting for the arrival of the full time bunter and I predict that whomever does it right will be the first .400 hitter in a long time. I would love for Tony Campana to assume the role. (Full time meaning, they show everytime, intending to bunt, and only swing when the infield plays way too far in, giving them an advantage seemingly.)

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  18. Sherman T. Potter says:

    This only obstructs Oscar Taveras’ path to becoming the all-time Taveras home-run leader a *little* bit. Maybe.

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