The Upside to the Detroit Tigers’ Men Left On Base Problem


April 7, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) at bat against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers are currently leading all of baseball in men left on base. For the season, the Tigers have left an average of nine men on per game. That’s more than two base runners per game more than the current MLB median of 6.8, and more than three and a half runners more than the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with the fewest men left on base.

The LOB problem has been a source of frustration for Tigers fans for a number of years, but it has been a major problem recently. In just the last three games versus the Angels they left 30 men on base – including a whopping 13 in the series finale – an extra inning game in which even one extra timely run would have made all the difference.

So it certainly has been frustrating to watch run scoring opportunities be squandered, but the good news is that leaving men on base isn’t necessarily a sign of a bad offense. In fact, leaving men on base appears to correlate positively with runs scored.

Here’s a graph of MLB runs scored per game data plotted against men left on base per game from the last four years:

Leaving men on base certainly doesn’t cause more runs to be scored, but I think it’s easy to see the related skill that causes these to trend together: getting on base in the first place. Teams that get a lot of men on base tend to leave a lot of men on base, but they also tend to score a lot of runs.

Teams that don’t get men on base don’t score a lot of runs, and teams that don’t get men on base don’t leave men on base. The opposite is also true. Teams that get a ton of guys on tend to leave a ton of guys on, but they also tend to push a lot of those guys across the plate over the course of the year.

Few things are more frustrating in a small string of games than leaving tons of guys on base – and the Tigers have certainly done that recently – but the positive side is that they’ve been getting on base a lot. The Tigers are still sixth in baseball (third in the AL) in OBP – so they’re getting runners on – but their run scoring has ground to a halt. The good news is, though, that unless you believe the Tigers will continue to be the worst extra-base hitting team in the AL* (they’re 29th in MLB in ISO), they’re going to start knocking a good number of these runners in.

*They won’t.