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Baseball's Overlooked Edge: Speed
by: Bryan Leonard Sports
There's been a huge emphasis on power in baseball over the last decade. But home runs are down this season, likely because there is so much steroid testing now. And with teams lacking power like they used to, speed can be an extremely important, and often overlooked, aspect of winning baseball.
Speed isn't simply stolen bases, although that's one part of the equation. Speed is also the ability of a player to go from first to third, or turning a single into a double. And defense in the outfield. And speed is a huge asset, along with on base percentage, with respects to one of the rarest and most important facets of a successful team - a good leadoff hitter.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a terrific season two years ago, with the best record on the road, and again last season making the playoffs on the last day. Many looked at their pitching, which was a factor, but less credit was given to their speed, tops in the AL in stolen bases. When a team with speed plays on the road, they don't have to adjust their game to the size of the park. Small parks like Tampa, Fenway and Yankee Stadium may be easy to hit home runs in, but big parks like in Oakland and Washington are tough for hitters. However, if you have speed on the bases, none of that matters, as the bases are all the same distance from each other.
A few years ago I recall the NY Mets struggling badly as they got off to an embarrassing start despite a ton of money dished out for stars like Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. The Mets had Jose Reyes as a leadoff hitter. Despite a decent batting average, in his first 14 at bats to the year he had zero walks. The previous season, in 220 plate appearances for the Mets he had 5 walks! That's ridiculous. I don't care if this guy is faster than Vince Coleman and Willie McGee combined, his on base percentage was a joke and he didn't belong anywhere near the top of the order. You need to have guys get on base at the top of the order, more so than speed. A lack of on base capability will choke your offense. By contrast, a good on base percentage player WITH speed is the best of all leadoff hitters, such as Ichiru in his prime.
The Red Sox have won two World Series the last seven years with excellent speed/on base percentage leadoff hitters like Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury. They went after Carl Crawford with that in mind, as well, a disappointment so far, but a good leadoff batter is an extremely valuable part of the makeup of a team. Look at the Cubs, a team that has fizzled the last few years despite great pitching and powerful home run lineups. One season their leadoff batter was Corey Patterson, a guy with power, but lousy at getting on base.
Speed also enhances defense in the outfield, something that is often overlooked. A speedy outfielder will run down fly balls that might otherwise be hits, which decreases the amount of pitchers a hurler has to throw. A quick one, two, three inning versus a 39-pitch inning is a huge difference for a pitcher - not just one game, but the next few.
Defense and speed helps the starting and relief staff as well as the offense. Be careful wagering on teams with flawed leadoff hitters or a lack of speed/defense in the outfield, especially if they're a favorite playing in a big park. Speed can be a very important, and often overlooked, part of the makeup of a team.
Bryan Leonard Sports Past Articles
The Most Important Stats in NFL Handicapping
Everyone handicaps differently and there are many different ways to get to what we feel is the winner in an NFL match-up. Some have the ability to break ... read more
Baseball's Overlooked Edge: Speed
There's been a huge emphasis on power in baseball over the last decade. But home runs are down this season, likely because there is so much steroid testing ... read more
Bryan Leonard Sports Past Picks
New York Mets @ Atlanta Braves Tuesday June 18, 2013 7:10 pm
ATLANTA v. NY METSThe Atlanta Braves will get the league's first crack at Mets top prospect Zack Wheeler. It may be Paul Maholm that steals the show. Maholm is 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five home starts this year and is 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA overall. The Mets have the league's fourth-worst ... read more
Chicago White Sox @ Houston Astros Monday June 17, 2013 8:10 pm
HOUSTON v. CHICAGO WHITE SOXThe Astros send their ace to the mound on Monday as they attempt to finish off a four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox. Bud Norris will take on Jose Quintana in a pitching matchup that favors the Astros. Norris has thrown five consecutive quality starts ... read more
Chicago Cubs @ St. Louis Cardinals Monday June 17, 2013 7:05 pm
CHICAGO CUBS @ ST. LOUISTravis Wood and Shelby Miller square off in the series opener at Busch Stadium when the Cubs and Cardinals renew their storied rivalry. Wood is holding opposing batters to a .191 average this season, something that should benefit him when he takes on a Cardinals ... read more
Kansas City Royals @ Cleveland Indians Monday June 17, 2013 7:05 pm
KANSAS CITY @ CLEVELANDWe had a winner with the Royals on Sunday and we're going to go with them again on Monday night when they send James Shields to the mound to open up a three-game series against the Indians. Shields has been terrific this season with a 2.79 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. ... read more
Kansas City Royals @ Tampa Bay Rays Sunday June 16, 2013 1:40 pm
KANSAS CITY @ TAMPA BAYWade Davis will be pitching for the Royals with a chip on his shoulder on Sunday when he takes on Roberto Hernandez and the Rays. Davis was part of the Wil Myers trade this past offseason, so he'll be going up against his former team. That should benefit Davis, ... read more
Washington Nationals @ Cleveland Indians Saturday June 15, 2013 7:15 pm
CLEVELAND v. WASHINGTONThe Indians and Nationals continue their weekend interleague set with a battle between Scott Kazmir and Jordan Zimmermann. Kazmir should enjoy his matchup against the Nationals, who have posted a .584 OPS this season against southpaws with a .258 wOBA. Both ... read more
Chicago Cubs @ New York Mets Friday June 14, 2013 7:10 pm
CHICAGO CUBS @ NY METSEdwin Jackson had an epiphany in his last start. Instead of trying to pitch to his contract and stress over the start of his season, he decided that he was going to have fun. He threw a gem against the Pirates and he should be able to have fun again on Friday ... read more
Boston Red Sox @ Baltimore Orioles Friday June 14, 2013 7:05 pm
BOSTON @ BALTIMORERyan Dempster takes his horrible home run rate to a place where the ball loves to carry when he and the Red Sox continue their weekend four-game series with the Orioles. Dempster has allowed 14 home runs over 75.2 innings of work this season, which is a bad thing ... read more
Miami Heat @ San Antonio Spurs Thursday June 13, 2013 9:00 pm
Miami at San AntonioWe said all along that this would be a zigzag series with both veteran teams and plenty of playoff experience. We have been on the right side of both blowouts in games 2 & 3 after passing the opening contest. Now we come right back with the Miami Heat off ... read more
Houston Astros @ Seattle Mariners Wednesday June 12, 2013 10:10 pm
HOUSTON @ SEATTLEJordan Lyles takes a string of five consecutive outings with two or fewer runs allowed into Safeco Field to take on Jeremy Bonderman and the Mariners. Lyles has used his changeup more this season, which has led to weaker contact, especially from left handed hitters. ... read more