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Roberto Kelly is an excellent third-base coach

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This is not a contrarian post, promise! The numbers suggest that Roberto Kelly is actually quite good at getting runners home, and he does it without getting them thrown out.

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Sunday, Giants third-base coach Roberto Kelly didn’t send Buster Posey on a two-out single to center field. Ben Revere got to the ball quickly, but he also throws like one of the kids chasing down balls during the Home Run Derby. The throw sailed wide, it was clear that Posey would have scored, and the Giants lost, 1-0. It was a low point in a second half filled with low points.

On Monday, Kelly sent Brandon Crawford on a two-out single to center field. The difference this time was that a) Giancarlo Stanton has a good arm and b) he was close enough to smell Dee Gordon’s cologne. The throw beat Crawford by 20 feet, and it almost cost the Giants the game.

That is a bad 1-2 punch of third-base coaching. It is so very noticeable. It’s a job candidate belching in the middle of both the first and second interviews. It’s hard to shake, and you’re pretty sure it tells you everything you need to know.

Does it, though? Can we really use anecdotal evidence, especially when it’s raw and emotional, to evaluate a third-base coach? Seems like a bad idea, at least without a little supporting evidence. So whisper in your best David Attenborough voice and come along with me as we search for that evidence.

Kelly doesn’t get too many runners thrown out on the bases, that’s clear. The Giants have had nine runners thrown out at home this year -- the fourth-lowest total in the National League. They had just nine runners thrown out at all last year, too, which was good for the lowest mark in baseball.

A human stop sign, though, can be even worse than a wild, windmillin’ third-base coach. There has to be a happy medium in the middle. You want your third-base coach to be fearless, but not reckless. Prudent, but not timid. There’s no perfect way to evaluate a coach using numbers, but runners scoring from second on a single and from first on a double are the best measures we have. They’re the only objective measures we have.

These numbers suggest that not only is Kelly not a bad third-base coach, but that he might even be one of the very best. He’s at least average, and that’s being pretty conservative.

You’re skeptical! I’m a little surprised, too. I was hoping to find support for my thesis of "Roberto Kelly isn’t really that bad, everyone." I found something much different with the help of Baseball-Reference.

Runners scoring from first on a double, 2015-2016
Giants - 74 (2nd out of 15)
League average - 60

Part of the problem is that it’s hard to separate the team from the coach. The Giants have generally been a team filled with average-to-above-average runners. The only player with below-average speed in the lineup is usually Buster Posey, and it’s not like the other teams are countering with 30-steal catchers.

That written, the Giants score more runners from first on doubles than almost any other National League team, and they also have fewer runners thrown out at home.

Runners scoring from second on a single, 2015-2016
Giants - 196 (2nd out of 15)
League average - 169

The same caveats from above apply. I don’t think we realize how easy it is to take Joe Panik’s baserunning for granted. He could be a sloth; he’s not. He’s quite adept. Same goes for Brandon Belt (relative to his position) and Brandon Crawford.

That written, the Giants score more runners from second on singles than almost any other National League team, and they also have fewer runners thrown out at home.

Ah, but you’re a clever one! You realize these are just raw numbers that don’t tell us how many opportunities the Giants have had in these situations. We need percentages.

Percentage of runners scoring from first on a double, 2015-2016
Giants - 46 percent (6th out of 15)
League average - 45 percent

Kelly grades out average according to this metric. It turns out the Giants have had a lot of runners on first when a double has been hit. I wouldn't have guessed that, either.

Percentage of runners scoring from second on a single, 2015-2016
Giants - 60 percent (t-5th out of 15)
League average - 59 percent

Again, closer to average. But you also have to remember the part from earlier, where Kelly doesn’t get runners thrown out as often as other third-base coaches. Add it all up, and I don’t see the argument that Kelly is even below-average. If you’re making it, all you have is anecdotal evidence. You've culled that evidence by watching one team way more than any of the other teams, and you have an emotional investment in the outcomes. That's a bad way to form an opinion.

All of the evidence suggests that Kelly is probably above-average, right in that sweet spot we were talking about. Fearless, but not reckless. Prudent, but not timid. He has the benefit of an athletic team, but he doesn’t have a true speedster to help pad his numbers, either.

Here, you can futz with the raw numbers.


On first for 2B Runs from first on 2B On second for 1B Runs from second on 1B % of runners scoring from first on 2B % of runners scoring from second on 1B
SDP 130 67 286 185 .52 .65
CHC 148 63 291 182 .43 .63
LAD 135 48 270 166 .36 .61
COL 130 65 295 181 .50 .61
MIL 130 58 279 167 .45 .60
SFG 162 74 329 196 .46 .60
PIT 144 56 333 197 .39 .59
LgAvg 134 60 286 169 .45 .59
PHI 111 44 249 146 .40 .59
STL 156 65 290 170 .42 .59
ATL 126 52 290 170 .41 .59
MIA 132 63 319 185 .48 .58
ARI 120 61 279 160 .51 .57
NYM 118 53 261 148 .45 .57
WSN 142 75 282 155 .53 .55
CIN 130 49 243 130 .38 .53

It looks like Giants fans who complain about their third-base coach are being typical baseball fans. Don’t feel bad! Every fan base does it. It’s just that the Giants have a little less evidence to support the idea that Kelly is incompetent.

Maybe we all just miss Tim Flannery, which is a reasonable reaction. In the meantime, though, it looks like Roberto Kelly is pretty good at his job. If you disagree with that, the burden of proof is on you.

In conclusion: