The limits (or not) of the numbers

Doug Glanville on leadoff men and the limits of the numbers:

    The other week, my former manager, the current Red Sox skipper Terry Francona, was discussing his leadoff hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury. Francona has been fielding a lot of questions about Ellsbury's ability to get on base -- typical where the top guy in the order is concerned. Ellsbury is more aggressive at the plate than what is considered ideal, meaning that he likes to swing the bat and is less likely to work the count to reach base by a walk. It is said that a leadoff hitter should go "deep in the count,” make the pitcher throw a lot of pitches and, by any means necessary, get at least to first base. The benchmark of leadoff excellence is to get on base 40 percent of the time.

    I respect the power of numbers, but I know their shortcomings. Yes, 40 percent is a great on-base percentage, but there are ways you can get on base without statistically being "on base.” There's a fielder's choice, which you can force with your speed (or maybe the infielders didn't quite make a clean play); or you can reach by error, and errors often result from the pressure you put on the infield by running well. So you may have gotten on base a few more times than the stats show, and with that comes more potential for scoring runs.

Well, numbers do have their shortcomings, but that often depends upon which numbers you choose to look.
Fielder's choice? That's a number, if anyone cares enough to look it up. Reached on error? You can look that one up, too. Elsewhere in his essay, Glanville writes about the fast runner's ability to disrupt the pitcher and the defense. Those things may be measured, too. They might not be easy for you or me to find. But they're out there somewhere, just waiting for the curious fellow with 10th-grade programming skills.

Doug Glanville finished his career with a .315 on-base percentage. If someone can take all those numbers out there and turn Glanville into a truly effective leadoff man, I would absolutely love to see that.