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Deconstructing Dancy

Third-base coach Bill Dancy (R)
shares wisdom with Pat Burrell

Baseball, we all grew up hearing, is a game of inches. The margin of a strike zone, a fielder's vertical leap that either does or doesn't conclude with the ball in the glove, the fractional difference when bat meets pitch that separates a monster home run from a just-got-under-it pop-up.

And then there's baserunning. With the Phillies, it's sometimes less a game of inches than a game of feet--as in "he was out by 10 feet." Since the 2005 season began, the Phils' baron of base-path blunders has been third-base coach Bill Dancy. And though many of us have anecdotal memories of this or that game when Dancy's poor judgment cost the club a run here or there, to my knowledge the damage he's done had never been quantified until this recent Baseball Prospectus article put a value on baserunning aggression. New BP author Dan Fox created a metric he calls Incremental Runs that a team adds through successfully taking extra bases (scoring from second on a single, first on a double, etc). He also uses a rate stat, Incremental Run Percentage, that allows comparisons between teams where a measure of 1.00 indicates that a team scored as many runs as would be expected given their opportunities.

Guess which major league club had the lowest measures for both IR and IRP in 2005?

To determine how much improvement is possible it follows that there are two related concepts to look at. First, by examining the distribution of IR across all teams, what you consistently find (at least going back to 2000) is that the difference between the best and worst teams in IR is roughly 30 runs in a given season, centered on 0. For example, in 2005 the best baserunning team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, gained 13.08 runs; the Phillies were the worst at -15.85 runs. The spread for that season was 28.92 runs.

Emphasis mine. If you accept that ten runs equals a victory, the Phils' baserunning blunders cost the club 1.6 wins last season. Not only was the club worst in baseball on this, the next-worst team was Boston, nearly four runs better at -12.09. The third worst club was Florida, with an IR figure of -8.94. The fifth worst, San Diego, came in at -5.95... nearly ten runs, or a whole win, ahead of the Phils. If you graphed this on a bell curve, the Phillies would be nearly off the page.

Fox includes in his chart an additional metric, Out Advancing (OA). This is, obviously enough, a straight numerical measure of how many times the team had a runner thrown out trying to take an extra base. Here too, the Phils were worst in the bigs, with a stomach-turning 18 OAs. (Can't you almost hear Scott Graham saying: "Here's the throw--and Bell is... OUT AT HOME!") Again, the Phils are far, far worse than their nearest competitor for this dubious distinction: the Padres, with 13 OAs.

It's pretty well established at this point that the Phillies as an organization are loyal to a fault. As his bio states, Dancy "[h]as managed, coached or been a coordinator in the Phillies' minor league system for all but two of the last 27 years." He played in the system for six seasons, between 1973 and 1978. His track record as a minor-league manager is actually quite good: three of his clubs won league championships and Baseball America twice rated him the best managerial prospect in the Florida State League (1992-93). For all I know, Dancy is also the world's nicest guy and a man of principle who would walk into a burning house to save your puppy.

None of this, however, changes the fact that he's a terrible, terrible third base coach. The numbers now clearly show what our eyes have been telling us for more than a year now.