Even if you have the sense of ownership of him that comes when you angrily campaign for someone to be promoted, such as many a blogger did with him in 2011, he’s been the source of annoyance throughout the season. With six times caught stealing, five times picked off and nine more generalized outs on the bases, De Aza’s been tagged out after reaching base safely 20 times this year. That’s the most in baseball.
Heading into Wednesday, of the 21,684 times American League hitters had reached base, they had thrown out on the basepaths 1,123 times. That’s 5.2% of the time. De Aza has been thrown out 11.8% of the time he’s reached, which is terrifying sounding since it’s almost double the average rate, but his baserunning incompetence accounts for 11 outs above what the average guy would do. I don’t want to minimize that total, since 11 outs on base have a lot more impact on run production than just 11 outs, but it’s important to be specific what we’re talking about here. This is a sliver of a win.
What’s disturbing or interesting, is that De Aza still needs to get caught on the bases four more times to equal his total from last year, a season where the concept of him being a lazy or foolish or inattentive baserunner wasn’t theorized about. What did garner notice last season is that De Aza, while possibly the fastest runner on the team, was not much of a basestealer. Half of his outs on the bases were accounted for in his 12 times caught stealing, as part of his 68% steal rate. He has perfectly replicated his success rate from last season, but with exactly half as many attempts.
We’re more forgiving for caught stealing incidents from a player because it’s an element of the game where it’s easy to see the manager’s control. Whether a player is given a specific sign to steal, or has a consistent green light, the manager has the ability to call it all to an end. De Aza only having 19 attempts in mid-August after 38 attempts last season certainly makes it seem like he was intentionally de-emphasized. Now that he’s well over 300 games played in a White Sox uniform and has posted a percentage in the high-60′s every year, well short of the break-even point where stolen base attempts are beneficial, the White Sox could take a substantial chunk out of De Aza’s out totals by just ceasing to send him at all.
Since the White Sox have enjoyed or are continuing to enjoy successful, efficient stolen base seasons from Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez–two guys over 30 who struggled to post efficient rates when they were younger–they are unlikely to just give up on De Aza as a base thief, especially since Rios is gone, Ramirez’s future is murky and they clearly value basestealing as a crucial part of a varied offense.
In fact, I’ll go against tradition here and not assign De Aza’s baserunning failures to the organization at large. Since even if we remove his caught stealing incidents and the possibility of Joe McEwing‘s reliably aggressive sends (only one of his outs is at the plate), we still have 13 outs that are all on Alejandro because, well, he’s aggressive.
De Aza’s taking the extra base (as in, going from first to third on a single, scoring from second on a single, etc.) 46% of the time, and 50% for his career, well-above the league average of 40%. Because of this, FanGraphs’ Ultimate Baserunning stat still has him as adding more than a run with his legs (1.2) over the course of the year, which is why can’t simply take the outs on the bases out of his on-base average and demand him to make up for what he owes.
But it also doesn’t absolve him. As much as De Aza should be aggressively seeking to provide value with his speed and UBR reveals he is bringing more to the table than he’s taking off, it also insinuates that he’s adding less value than Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt. Someone as fast as him should do more. UBR has Ramirez and Rios combining for almost 10 runs added already. It’s reasonable to hold him to a similar standard.
Having entered into this exercise, which I envisioned as the first blurb of a notes post, intending to instruct everyone just how much outrage they should direct toward De Aza, I would conclude with “annoyance.” It’s a problem that could seemingly be fixed by recalibrating the approach of a veteran baseball player who has coped with a variety of adjustments over the course of his career. However, to have this frustration drastically change the perception of De Aza as a solid-average player is taking it too far.
The White Sox are bad, they get on base rarely. When they blow one of their few chances to knock in a run through baserunning miscalculations, it feels like they just took the anecdote to the plague and pitched it into the lake. The important thing to remember, though, is that the antidote wasn’t going to work and we were always going to die.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan
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