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How Do You Replace Davey Lopes?

Posted By Bill Baer On November 2, 2010 @ 7:26 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 38 Comments

The Phillies and first base coach Davey Lopes were unable to come to an agreement on a salary, meaning that the base running guru will not return to the team for the 2011 season. Jim Salisbury reports:

“We just had a difference of opinion on what I felt my worth was,” Lopes said by telephone. “That’s all. It was a really tough decision because I loved my time in Philadelphia, I loved working for [manager] Charlie Manuel, and I have the utmost respect for everyone in that organization.

Already expected to lose right fielder Jayson Werth to free agency, the departure of Lopes will sting the Phillies.

Just how big of an impact did Lopes have? I tried to come up with an answer in a 2010 season preview at The Hardball Times, posted at the end of March.

With first base coach Davey Lopes, the Phillies’ base runners have been historically great. In 2007, Lopes’ first year on the job, the Phillies stole bases at an 88 percent success rate, setting an all-time Major League record. In ’08 and ’09, their success rates were 84 percent and 81 percent, respectively. From 2007-09, the Phillies were the most efficient baseball team in terms of stealing bases.

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The team has also become more aggressive under Lopes. In the three years prior to his hiring, 2004-06, the Phillies were just in the top half to top one-third in the majors in terms of base-stealing aggressiveness (attempts to steal). With Lopes, from ’07-09, the Phillies have been in the top one-fourth to one-sixth.

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While it is obvious that Lopes has made his runners attempt to steal second more often, he has also done the same at third base. Phillies runners have become more aggressive trying to steal third base.

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It isn’t just blind aggression, either. From 2007-09, the Phillies successfully stole third base 85 percent, 89 percent, and 72 percent respectively, well above the 75 percent break-even point in two out of the three years.

Despite a rash of injuries this year, the Phillies still managed to place fourth in the National League in total steals with 108 (league average was 91) and continued to set the pace in efficiency with an 84 percent success rate.

It is commonly accepted that first and third base coaches are easily replaced, and for the most part they are. But Lopes was given a much larger-than-average amount of autonomy by Charlie Manuel, allowing him to leave his unique footprint on the team’s running game.

While in the Minor Leagues, Jimmy Rollins stole bases at a 76 percent rate. In his Major League career prior to Lopes, he stole bases at an 80 percent clip. Under Lopes, that success rate went all the way up to 88 percent. For Victorino, those rates were 72, 69, and 82 percent respectively (though, to be fair, the latter includes all of his time as a regular position player). For Utley, his success rates were 70, 82, and 92 percent. Jayson Werth‘s rates were, 81, 85, and 88 percent. In all cases, the Phillies’ four best base-stealers all improved under Lopes’ tutelage.

Sadly, there is no replacing the wisdom of Davey Lopes and the Phillies’ running game will suffer because of it.

If the disagreement in salary is over something relatively small like $50,000, the Phillies made a mistake in not relenting. Cutting Lopes loose over a relatively small amount of money is an error in judgment.


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