Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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The Art of Run Contributions: How Tim Locastro Beat the System

Photo Credit: Baseball Savant

Everyone loves to hear a good success story. Someone who beats the system, odds, and criticisms of their peers. Baseball fans alike fondly reminisce upon some of the best ones: Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey breaking the color barrier, Billy Beane’s use of unconventional stats, and players overcoming adversity to have great success at the big stage.

Well, Tim Locastro’s success story isn’t as glamorous or significant as those examples. He isn’t a great player by any definition of the word; last season, he posted a .250/.357/.340 slash line, 91 wRC+, .314 wOBA, and 0.9 fWAR in 250 PA. His expected stats weren’t strengths either, with a .301 xwOBA and .292 xwOBAcon. However, the real art of Locastro’s story isn’t how good he’s been, it’s how he’s been able to be that good.

Most baseball fans will correctly tell you that it’s impossible to be a good hitter without good contact, on-base talent, or slugging ability. That’s not to say that Locastro is a good hitter, he’s quite a poor one. Despite this, how he maintained a .314 wOBA is puzzling, especially when you consider that the non-pitcher league average is .320.

Let’s break this down a bit more. Locastro’s contact tool really isn’t impressive. His batting average is slightly below league average, with a difference of six points. To get a lot more advanced, we can look at his standard deviation of launch angle. Alex Chamberlain, who dissected the stat tremendously, concluded that it could explain a batter’s hit tool. The lower the number (or “tighter” the launch angle), the better the tool. Locastro’s stdLA ranked 10th worst out of every player with a 100 batted ball event minimum (31.7). As this information implies, his contact is quite poor.

So then, how good’s Locastro’s slugging ability? Well, to sugarcoat it, it’s not something that’ll stick with you. To begin, his ISO and SLG% fare very poorly, at .090 and .340, respectively. When looking deeper, they get worse. His xwOBAcon sits at .292, as aforementioned, and his xSLG% at an abysmal .305. His Brls/PA% is also extremely poor, at 0.8%. Like his contact, his slugging ability is very poor.

Well, maybe his on-base ability is good? As aforementioned, his OBP sits at .357, a mark that puts him two points above Cubs slugger Willson Contreras and one point below Mets slugger Pete Alonso. We have a winner! But, you might be asking: how is his wOBA so low when his OBP is so high? After all, Contreras had a .368 wOBA while Alonso had a .384 whereas Locastro’s was .314. The answer is quite simple: difference in run contributions.

Contreras and Alonso are known for their abilities to hit the ball well. Both of them sported impressive ISOs at .261 and .323, respectively and, the more bases the hit, the more runs it will, on average, lead to. If you visited the wOBA page, you may have noticed that it uses constants to measure the run contribution each outcome. Unintentional walks sit the lowest, at .690, while home runs sit the highest, at 1.940. They gradually increase as the bases do, as one would expect.

Digressing back into OBP, the question may now be: how is his OBP so high in general? It’s a very fair question, as only 15 of his 250 PA were extra base hits, his BB% was a poor 5.6, and K% a closer-to-average 17.6. Well, as some of you may know, the answer is right here. Locastro is the master at getting hit by pitches. With a minimum of 250 PA, Locastro’s HBP% led the league at 8.8. Add that to his BB%, and the result ranks higher than the likes of Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon, Astros outfielder George Springer, and Reds first baseman Joey Votto. While walking at that rate is based on more of a skill, Locastro has found a way to contribute more of a run impact with poor plate discipline.

Locastro does this because he’s a master at crowding the plate. To quantify this, I took the percentage of pitches that right-handed hitters saw in gameday zones 11 and 13. These are the parts of the plate that are out of the zone and are inside for righties, given that gameday zones are from the catcher’s perspective.

With a minimum of 750 pitches, the results put Locastro’s pitch percentage at 19.6, ranking him 89th and putting him in the 64th percentile. While above average, it’s not as mind-boggling as his league-leading 8.8 HBP% with a 250 PA minimum. What can be concluded from this is that his HBP% didn’t come due to a high frequency, but rather Locastro’s ability to crowd the plate. This should, in theory, give Locastro a better ability to maintain his HBP%, as he controls the main factor.

Locastro getting hit by pitches more than walking may be a good strategy as well, albeit to a small extent. Revisiting the wOBA constants, a hit by pitch has a higher run contribution than an unintentional walk. In 2019, specifically, hit by pitches led by 29 points (.690 to .719).

To think about that in a bigger picture, I want you to imagine that Locastro never got hit by a pitch, but instead his BB% was increased to the sum of his HBP% and BB% with his 250 PA. That would result in, on average, 24.84 runs for Locastro. However, the run contribution of his HBP% and his BB% results in 25.478 runs. That’s a difference of 0.638 runs. It’s not very large, but it rounds up to a single run, and that definitely makes an impact.

That’s not it though. Locastro also takes advantage of his tremendous speed. To begin, Locastro has the best sprint speed in the MLB with a minimum of 10 opportunities at 30.8 feet per second. That’s 4.8 inches more than second place, Trea Turner, who’s at 30.4. 4.8 inches may not seem like a lot, but that difference is huge in this context. Speed score, while being outdated, has Locastro at 8.5. That’s well above excellent and ranks fourth in baseball with a minimum of 250 PA. His ultimate base running, which takes into account your base running talent outside of stolen bases, ranks around above-average at 1.0.

All of this factors into Locastro’s ability to steal bases. To begin, let’s establish the run contributions of stolen bases and being caught stolen. One reason why they have become less frequent over time is because of the risk that comes with it. A lot more factors go into stealing than a player’s speed, including but not limited to their jump, the windup speed of the pitcher, and the arm of the catcher. Not only are they random, but being caught stolen brings a larger run contribution by -0.235 (0.200 from a stolen base to -0.435 being caught stealing). That’s pretty significant when you factor in its randomness.

The best way to show Locastro’s ability to swipe bags would be Locastro’s wSB. Essentially, this measures the runs that a player contributes from stolen bases compared to the league average. Locastro ranks 7th in this stat, at 3.2 runs, with a 250 PA minimum. This shows that he is indeed effective in swiping bags, especially when factoring in his UBR and sprint speed.

To become a bit simpler, when looking at every player to steal at least 17 SB (Locastro’s amount), the average amount of players to be caught stealing is six (including Locastro). Locastro is the only player out of 28 to not be caught stealing once. Outside of Locastro, the minimum is two, held by Christian Yelich. When finding the difference between stolen bases and times caught stealing, Locastro fits at 17. However, when comparing him with players having at least 17 SB, his PA count is 319.875 lower than the average of everyone above him. That’s a lot of PA, and, should Locastro catch up to that average, his difference would become 38.7515, effectively leading the MLB.

It’s never easy to think outside of the box like Locastro has. Success stories are always fantastic, but it’s even more intriguing to see someone do something unconventional like Locastro. It’s what made the story of Moneyball so appealing not just to baseball fans, but to film enthusiasts alike. I’m not saying that we’ll get an Aaron Sorkin screenplay for the Tim Locastro story (I’m not not saying it though), but it’s a fun story nonetheless. As Locastro plays next season, it’ll be interesting to see how he applies his unique talents, hopefully for better.

Slash line, wRC+, wOBA, fWAR, PA, sdLA, XBH, BB%, K%, SB, CS, run contributions, speed score, UBR, and wSB are found on FanGraphs.

xwOBA, xwOBAcon, HBP%, pitches, pitch percentage of gameday zones 11 and 13 for righties, and sprint speed are found on Baseball Savant.


Steven Pappas

Hello! My name is Steven Pappas, and I'm a high school junior. I love to analyze and write about baseball data as a huge Chicago Cubs fan and lifelong follower of the sport. I use large databases such as Baseball Savant, basic coding knowledge in RStudio, and my inquisitive mindset to always scour the infinite data available. I really enjoy watching and following basketball and am a Chicago Bulls fan, actively going to their games at the United Center. I love the study of filmmaking, and it's a passion that I've begun to explore as a career opportunity. My favorite works come from the minds of Stanley Kubrick, Yorgos Lanthimos, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Coen brothers, and Wes Anderson. As a deft and passionate writer, I use my proficiency to create works from baseball data, for films, and my ideas in the form of short stories and little nuggets. I'm also a libertarian socialist in training and an active Greek Orthodox Christian.