Measuring Offensive Efficiency

Runs Created was one the first sabermetric statistics I took it upon myself to learn about.  After all, it was one of the first statistics developed by Bill James himself.  I am also pretty sure RC is the formula written on a whiteboard in Moneyball (the most influential Brad Pitt movie I have ever seen).  Anyways, Runs Created is not discussed much because there are other, more sophisticated alternatives – wRC, wRC+, etc.  I still appreciate RC because of its simplicity, and it is can still be used as an effective tool for measuring the efficiency of offensive production.

That is precisely what I set out to do.  The question I sought to answer with this study is, “which teams were the most efficient in scoring runs?”  A pretty basic question — which I decided to complicate.  Using team statistics from last year, I calculated the Runs Created for each team’s offense.  The largest separation between Runs Created and actual runs scored came from the San Diego Padres, who scored 686 times, despite “creating” only 621.38 runs.

While ranking in 19th in total runs, the Padres were actually incredibly efficient. I discovered this after trying to develop a way to measure offensive efficiency.  To do so, I created the Runs Conversion Rate (RCR).  While relatively rudimentary, this ratio between runs scored and Runs Created provides, in my mind, a good measurement for the efficiency of offenses.

Run Conversion Rate = Runs Scored / Runs Created

The purpose of this, again, is to gauge the overall efficiency of offenses.  All I really did was give a fancy name to the margin of error of Runs Created.  However, what I sought to do was use this statistic in a different way — to examine which teams made the most of what they produced (efficiency), and which did not.  Think of this article as a new way of looking at an old statistic, not me trying “discover” a new stat.  Below is a table, sorted by runs scored (i.e. from most productive offenses to least productive).  Green values represent teams in the top 10 of a category, and red the bottom 10.

2016 Run Conversion Rates
TEAM Runs Created Runs Scored Run Conversion Rate
Red Sox 905.26 878 0.970
Rockies 856.84 845 0.986
Cubs 790.93 808 1.022
Cardinals 784.92 779 0.992
Indians 770.06 777 1.009
Mariners 769.39 768 0.998
Rangers 755.83 765 1.012
Nationals 752.18 763 1.014
Blue Jays 759.72 759 0.999
D-Backs 775.15 752 0.970
Tigers 791.98 750 0.947
Orioles 768.79 744 0.968
Pirates 724.74 729 1.006
Dodgers 709.32 725 1.022
Astros 727.58 724 0.995
Angels 700.20 717 1.024
Giants 725.10 715 0.986
Twins 742.03 690 0.930
Padres 621.38 686 1.104
White Sox 713.38 686 0.962
Reds 699.02 678 0.970
Royals 685.69 675 0.984
Rays 701.08 672 0.959
Brewers 694.02 671 0.967
Mets 707.39 671 0.949
Marlins 695.80 655 0.941
Athletics 655.47 653 0.996
Braves 671.35 649 0.967
Yankees 690.17 647 0.937
Phillies 617.22 610 0.988

After looking at the table, I noted a few observations to be made: teams ranked top 10 in scoring and top 10 RCR last year were, for the most part, the best teams in the league, the two highest-scoring teams did not score as many runs as they could have, and some teams capped out their production, albeit not a high level of scoring.

First, let’s look at the teams who ranked top 10 in scoring and top 10 in RCR in 2016: the World Champion Chicago Cubs, the American League Champion Cleveland Indians, the Seattle Mariners (second in AL West), the Texas Rangers (AL West Champs), the Washington Nationals (NL East Champs), and the Toronto Blue Jays (AL Wild Card).  All these teams were both productive and efficient.  Both are key indicators of good ball clubs.  They created an equal balance of the two, and, outside of the Mariners, played postseason baseball.

While the last paragraph was basically a no-brainer, this is where the study got interesting.  The Boston Red Sox scored 878 runs last year — short of their roughly 905 “created” runs.  According to their RCR, they were only 97% efficient.  So, what does this mean? The Red Sox, while more productive than anyone else, did not hit their ceiling.  They came close (RCR of 0.970), but still only ranked in the middle third of offensive efficiency.  What if the post-Ortiz Red Sox put up around the same numbers they did last year, but became more efficient in doing so?  In my opinion, the AL East should be scared.  Other teams falling into the top 10 scoring, middle 10 RCR category are the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Rockies certainly receive a boost in production because they played 81 games in Coors Field.  The Cardinals and Diamondbacks, like the Red Sox, scored often, but not as often as they could have.  So maybe their problem is not a low ceiling, but rather getting away from their floor troubles them.

Our third group of relatively important teams in this study are those who ranked in the middle 10 in scoring and top 10 in RCR: the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels, and the San Diego Padres.  Essentially, these offenses were middle of the road in terms of productivity, but scored as many runs as possible given their level of production.  The Angels, ranked in the bottom 10 in Runs Created by their offense in 2016, but were second in RCR, scoring 2.4% more runs than they “created.”  The only team ahead them were the lowly San Diego Padres, who turned in 10.4% more runs.  The Dodgers, who won 91 games in a comparatively weak NL West division, were middle-of-the-road in terms of offensive production, and came in third in terms of RCR.  These teams were ruthlessly efficient, milking the most out of what their offense provided.

I do not know what qualities are common in high-RCR teams.  Maybe a high average with runners in position, a low number of runners left on base, or maybe just plain luck.  That could be the topic of an entirely different study, perhaps.

To sum things up, a high RCR was a common denominator in the teams who saw great success in 2016, and I would like to think it is useful in measuring the efficiency of teams’ offenses.  It will be exciting to see who will rise in 2017 as the most potent offense.  For me, it will be just as exciting to see who is the most efficient.

 

FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com were instrumental in the production of this article.  Theodore Hooper is an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  He can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/theodore-hooper/ or on Twitter at @_superhooper_



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