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Bases Produced and a Consideration of the 2016 AL/NL MVPs

Bases Produced is the keystone stat in a paradigm for baseball statistics that I have been developing, off and on, for the past 18 years.* Bases Produced measures a player’s overall offensive productivity by counting, quite simply, the number of times that player enables either himself or a teammate to advance to the next base. Each time this happens, a player is considered to have “produced a base.” Counting these events is important because producing bases is quite literally the only way that a baseball player can contribute to the scoring of runs by his team. When a player scores a run, after all, he has done nothing more than advance to all four bases in succession.

The Bases Produced system assigns credit for the production of these bases in a way that is based on traditional baseball statistics, but is also an expansion thereof. This expansion enables most traditional numbers to be tied together into a unified whole, evaluated in terms of Bases Produced, rather than remaining the haphazard collection of unrelated counts that they have always seemed to be.

How does it work? To calculate Bases Produced (BP), I first unify all of a player’s productive batting stats into one sub-total called “Batting Bases Produced” (BBP). This counts each base the player reaches on his own base hits, walks, or times hit by pitch:

BBP = 1 * 1B + 2 * 2B + 3 * 3B + 4 * HR + BB + HBP

A player’s success at producing BBP may be contextualized by dividing his BBP by his total number of “Batting Base Production Chances” (BBPC). This total includes all of a player’s plate appearances (PA), except for those times when a player has attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt (SHA) — where his primary goal is ostensibly to produce bases for his teammates, rather than himself — and also his catcher’s interferences (CI), where the defense literally takes away his ability to put the ball in play.

BBPC = PA – SHA – CI

The ratio of BBP to BBPC then becomes a player’s “Batting Base Production Average” (BBPAVG):

BBPAVG = BBP / BBPC

Secondly, a player may produce bases for himself as a runner, by either stealing bases (SB), advancing on fielder’s indifference (FI), or “gaining” bases (BG). “Gaining Bases” is the term I use for a player who advances a base when the defense attempts to make a play on a runner somewhere else on the basepaths. For example, if a runner tries to score from second on a single, the batter may advance to second when the defense tries to throw out the runner at the plate. In this case, the batter/runner “gains” second base.

Taken altogether, the bases a player produces for himself as a runner are then called “Running Bases Produced” (RBP):

RBP = SB + FI + BG

Lastly, an offensive player can produce bases for teammates who are already on base by either drawing walks, getting hit by a pitch, or by putting the ball in play. Collectively, these bases are known as “Team Bases Produced” (TBP). The number of times a batter enables a teammate to reach home (TBP4) can be intuitively understood as the number of RBIs he has produced for his teammates, without including any that he has produced for himself. Overall, Team Bases Produced expands this concept by including the number of times a player enables his teammates to advance to second (TBP2) or third (TBP3), as well:

TBP = TBP2 + TBP3 + TBP4

While of course the batter depends on the presence — and subsequent baserunning actions — of a teammate on base to produce these bases, I assign the credit for producing them solely to the batter, without whose actions the runner(s) would not be able to advance on the play. The presence of the runners on base, however, is important to recognize when trying to evaluate how successful a batter is at producing team bases; each runner on base therefore counts as one “Team Base Production Chance” (TBPC) for a batter. (Note: When a batter draws an intentional walk, I do not count TBPC for runners whom the batter cannot force ahead to the next base.)

A batter’s Team Base Production Average (TBPAVG) then becomes, generally (and simply):

TBPAVG = TBP/TBPC

Overall, a player’s total Bases Produced (BP) is simply the sum of his Batting Bases Produced, Running Bases Produced and Team Bases Produced:

BP = BBP + RBP + TBP

This number may also be evaluated in terms of the player’s total number of chances to produce bases (BPC), including his Plate Appearances, Team Base Production Chances, and the number of times he enters the game as a pinch runner (PRS):

BPC = PA + PRS + TBPC

Rounding out this approach, I calculate a general measure of “Base Production Average” as the ratio of Bases Produced to Base Production Chances:

BPAVG = BP / BPC

On my website, www.basesproduced.com, I fill in the blanks of this general paradigm with similar breakdowns for “Outs Produced” and “Bases Run” (= bases a player reaches, but does not necessarily produce); interested readers may follow the link to learn all of the gruesome details for themselves. On the same website, I also calculate and update the BP stats for the current MLB season on a daily basis. You are welcome to check it out to follow along and see how they play out in real life.

While the Bases Produced paradigm may not enjoy all of the mathematical sophistication that goes into many modern sabermetric measures of offensive performance, it does have the advantage of reflecting straightforward facts and events that take place in every baseball game that any fan can quickly recognize and easily count for themselves (with or without a smartphone!). A grand slam home run, for instance, counts as 10 BP: 4 for the batter, 3 for the runner at first, 2 for the runner at second, and 1 for the runner at third. 10 Bases Produced is also a pretty good standard for an excellent game of baseball: I’ll mention in passing that there were just 7 performances of 10 BP or greater in last night’s (9/16) slate of 15 MLB games, with 14 BP topping the list (by three different players).

On basesproduced.com, I have also tabulated the same stats, using data from retrosheet.org, going back to the 1922 season. For those who are curious, the highest single-season BP total in history is 1005, by Lou Gehrig in 1927, while the highest BPAVG of all time is Barry Bonds’ .885, in 2004. There are still many bases produced statistics left to be calculated from the very olden days of baseball, however, before any of these numbers might be considered “records.”

Although Bases Produced is not, strictly speaking, a system that was designed to determine who ought to be the “Most Valuable Player” in any given season (whatever you might interpret that to mean), it is fun to use as another data point in the never-ending discussions about who most deserves the MVP award each year. So let’s consider what the system can show us about the best players in the American and National Leagues in 2016.

The AL MVP race has generally been described this season as a five-man horse race between David Ortiz, Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson and Mookie Betts. The Base Production Average numbers back that perception up, as all five of those players sit on top of the current AL BPAVG leaderboard, as of September 16th:

Player                             BPAVG      BBPAVG     TBPAVG

1. David Ortiz               .709            .673              .760

2. Mike Trout               .649            .628              .613

3. Jose Altuve              .645             .590             .652

4. Josh Donaldson      .644             .630             .651

5. Mookie Betts            .605             .564             .607

Although these numbers should ideally be normalized to account for the influence of hitter-friendly venues like Fenway Park, Ortiz is still enjoying his best season there ever (his previous season high BPAVG was .697, in 2007), and he’s well ahead of his career BPAVG of .620, too. As far as base-production statistics are concerned, David Ortiz is unambiguously the 2016 AL MVP.

Over in the National League, I have heard many people talk about the great year that Kris Bryant is having, but his performance fails to even register in the NL’s top five base producers, by average:

Player                             BPAVG      BBPAVG     TBPAVG

1. Daniel Murphy         .665            .619              .718

2. Anthony Rizzo         .634            .607              .659

3. Joey Votto                .619             .602             .617

4. Nolan Arenado        .617             .607             .624

5. Freddie Freeman    .612             .612              .597

(9. Kris Bryant             .601             .618             .541)

Daniel Murphy of the Nationals has clearly had the standout year, instead. And it is worth noting that Bryant’s teammate, Anthony Rizzo, is actually doing considerably better than Bryant in overall BPAVG. The big difference amongst these three players can largely be attributed to Bryant’s mediocre TBPAVG, which is near the National League median of .529 (Aledmys Diaz). That difference can, in turn, be attributed to a combination of Bryant’s high strikeout percentage (.219) and very low ground-out percentage (.113). The one outcome of a plate appearance that never produces bases for teammates is a strikeout, and ground outs tend to be about three times as team-productive as fly outs, in those situations where a batter hasn’t succeeded in producing a base for himself. Bryant’s current numbers place him squarely on the wrong side of both of these team-base-production tendencies.

While Kris Bryant has had a great baserunning season this year…these numbers give reason to question any suggestion that he might have been the best player in the league this season — or even, for that matter, the best player on his own team. But at least it is manifestly clear that Joe Maddon has Bryant and Rizzo in the correct order in the Cubs’ lineup. :-)

*While I am not as up on the current literature in baseball statistical analysis as I should be, I do know that others have developed similar statistical measures independently of me, including at least Gary Hardegree, Alfredo Nasiff Fors, and someone named EvanJ on this forum. If there are other similar thinkers out there, then I apologize for my ignorance of their work.