Base Running Without a Bat

How far can a player go on base running alone? Probably not too far. Speed as a tool is obviously quite valuable, especially at an elite level, as it feeds both into the ability to provide value on the bases and in the field. Strictly in terms of offense, though, how good can a player be with a terrible bat and good base-running skills? Just for fun, here are five recent individual seasons with the biggest differential between base-running value and batting value.

To generate this list, I simply subtracted each player’s batting runs (park-adjusted wRAA) from his Base Running Runs (comprised of wSB and UBR). I added some restrictions. I wanted to include more than just base stealing, and we only have UBR, which measures stuff like taking the extra base and stuff like that, since 2002. So celebrations of seasons like Vince Coleman‘s amazing 1986 will have to wait for another time. I also wanted to avoid players simply getting on the list because they were roughly average base runners but horrific hitters. I therefore set the a minimum of 5 total base-running runs above average. Sorry, big fans of Neifi Perez‘s legendary 2002 performance.

With those parameters in mind, here are the top five seasons for differential between base-running runs and batting runs.

5. Juan Pierre, 2007, 30.3 run difference (-17.1 batting, 13.2 base running). Did anyone else remember that Grady Little managed the Dodgers for a couple of years before Joe Torre? It was a marvelous time, and the whole Ned Colletti/Bill Plaschke was sort of a golden age for certain blogs. The Dodgers’ five years and $44 million contract Pierre was itself a source of much merriment. While the deal with Pierre did not work out well for the Dodgers (to the surprise of very few), Pierre was not a total loss.

Pierre was actually decent in his first year in Los Angeles, despite hitting horribly (82 wRC+). His 2.4 Wins Above Replacement was not really reliant on fielding stats, either, which had him as about average. He stole bases like crazy, swiping 64 while only getting caught 15 times. Perhaps even more impressively was that of his 13.2 base-running runs, less than half came from those steals. The rest were from taking the extra base when the opportunity arose and stuff like that. Sure, the numbers were inflated by playing all 162 games and hitting first or second all year, but that is still pretty impressive. Although his 2010 season did not make this list, it was almost as impressive.

4. Julio Lugo, 2007, 32.6 run difference (-27.1 batting, 5.5 base running). Speaking of pore-2007 free agent signings gone south, here we have Lugo’s first season in Boston. At least Pierre got on base at at least a decent rate; Lugo could not even do that: .237/.294/.349. Lugo had a couple of decent seasons for Tampa Bay earlier in his career, but just completely fell off starting with this season. He just could not drive the ball anymore. In terms of base running alone, this is the least impressive season on this list. Lugo was a good base runner in 2007 (especially stealing — 33 thefts and only caught six times), but did not accumulate much value overall from it. There is no way a team could win the World Series with a player like this as their shortstop, right?

3. Scott Podsednik, 2004, 33.2 run difference (-22.1 batting, 11.2 base running). In 2003, 27-year-old outfielder Scott Podsednik came pretty much out of nowhere to have a very impressive season for the Brewers, hitting .314/.379/.443 (117 wRC+). In 2004, he was pretty much the same hitter, really, except that his BABIP, very high in 2003, fluctuated down to .275, and he had a disaster season at the plate, hitting .244/.313/.364 (76 wRC+). However, he kept himself pretty close to being an average player with excellent stealing, attempting 83 and only getting caught 13 times. Podsednik never hit as well as he did in 2003 again (although he was almost average in 2009 and 2010), and his fielding in left was not good enough to make up for it. Still, from 2003 to his run with the 2005 World Championship White Sox, Podsednik managed to be pretty useful because of his thieving abilities, even when he couldn’t hit a lick in 2004 and 2005.

2. Juan Pierre, 2002, 38.9 run difference (-28.8 batting, 10.2 base running). This guy again. Pierre actually did have a couple of truly good season with the Marlins right after this one. His one skill on offense — not striking out — served him well in seasons where the balls fell into play. But a player like Pierre just was not a great fit in Colorado, the team that originally drafted him in 1998. Sure, Colorado inflates everything, including hit rates on balls in play. Yes, Pierre could steal with the best of them. But in such a hitter-friendly run environment, steals just are not that much of a commodity. The Rockies learned their lesson, trading Pierre after 2002 (which worked out well for him) and never really bothering with a player like him again. Oh, wait…

1. Willy Taveras, 2008, 43.6 run difference (-31.3 batting, 12.3 base running). Yet another player people might remember best from the 2005 playoffs! I do remember a casual baseball fan specifically talking about how exciting Taveras was to watch that season. And while he could never, ever hit, if you take his fielding metrics seriously along with his base running, he was pretty valuable for the Astros in 2005 and 2006. The Astros traded him to the Rockies anyway, a team that missed Juan Pierre so badly they acquired a version of him without the contact skills. Taveras was okay-ish in 2007, but in 2008 his bat completely tanked. Unsurprisingly, it was because the ol’ BABIP monster reared its head. Random fluctuation aside, it takes a special player to hit .251/.308/.296 (54 wRC+) even in post-humidor Coors Field.

Despite it all, Taveras still ran the bases like a madman. He contributed a couple of runs taking the extra base, but it was the steals that stood out. He went 68-for-75 on steals, good for about 10 runs in wSB alone. That is even more impressive considering he only got 538 plate appearances with an on-base percentage barely over .300. He made the most of his opportunities. Still, it was a terrible year overall for Taveras, who somehow managed to go on and get more than 400 plate appearances for the Reds in 2009.




Print This Post



Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


16 Responses to “Base Running Without a Bat”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Nate says:

    It will be interesting to see if Ben Revere ends up having a season that would find itself on this list.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jay29 says:

      Yeah I’d think Revere has the best shot among active players right now. He’d have to have a bad BABIP like a couple of these guys and manage to stay in the lineup. But you’d think that, as teams gradually get smarter — and that thinking eventually bleeds into the dugout — it’ll be harder and harder for speed-only players to get enough plate appearances.

      Alcides Escobar is another, but he might be starting to improve as a hitter. In terms of minor leaguers, Billy Hamilton and Delino DeShields might have a good chance at it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. wahooo says:

    The other thing I remember about Taveras was that he had a remarkably high percentage of hits from bunts and had a high batting average on bunt attempts. If you took out the bunts, he would be much, much worse.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Al Dimond says:

      Players that bunt a lot with runners on may get a slight batting average boost (and OBP as well… OBP counts SF but not sac bunts) because if they beat the throw they’ll get a hit, but if they don’t they might get a sacrifice. Per b-r:

      On bunts, 22/44 (all singles) with 15 sacrifices
      In total, 120/479, 36 walks, 5 HBP, 3 SF, 142 TB = .251/.308/.296
      So without bunts, 98/435, 36 walks, 5 HBP, 3 SF, 120 TB = .225/.290/.276

      Bunts actually raised his slugging percentage. Also he’s a prestigious member of the OBP > SLG club.

      If you assume he was really going for hits on his sac bunts then his bunting line was .373/.373/.373, still much better than overall offense (still slugging better than when he swung away!), and he’d have 494 AB, for a total triple-slash of .243/.299/.287.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Al Dimond says:

        For Taveras’ career he’s 120/228 on bunts for a .526 average (no XBH but 3 RBI, as it happens). If you add his 52 sacrifices in, that’s 120/280, a .429 average. The naive suggestion is that he should have bunted even more, until defenses started employing such extreme anti-bunt strategies that he’d be better off swinging. That’s tempered by situational stuff and defense-reading, though it’s almost certain he should have at least bunted a little more, right?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. brendan says:

    was expecting to see rajai davis on this list. I remember him running wild while on the As a few years back.

    when I looked it up, he had ‘only’ 8.2 BsR in 2009, and hit decently that year .305/.360/.423 (.361 BABIP) for 5.6 batting runs, so not really close to making the list.

    he’s a lot closer last year with the jays: 6.9 BsR and -8.1 batting.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat says:

    The “somehow” Taveras got 400 PA’s for the Reds in ’09 has a name: Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Carl Allen says:

      Corey Patterson had a job…and Zack Cozart hit leadoff a significant portion of last season.

      Dusty Baker is basically a middle finger to SABER. Even when he finally gets it right with Choo, he plays in CF with a UZR/150 of -20something

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Carl Allen says:

        I forgot to mention Drew Stubbs because…well…it’s just too soon.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Josh M says:

        I love how Dusty Baker has the second most wins among active managers and is the go to punchline for anyone who has a clue about sabermetrics.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jay29 says:

          Obviously he’s doing something right. But it’s usually not lineup construction or offensive strategy. The reality is probably that he’s had a lot of talented teams that more than make up for the smallish effect these things can have on W-L record.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Chuck says:

          I wonder how successful the reds could have been in the late 00′s if not for thousands of PAs wasted with Patterson, Tavares, Stubbs, et all leadoffhitters

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Chuck says:

          Don’t forget the reds norris hopper tony womback adam rosales darnell mccdonald chris dickerson leadoff in the late 00s

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Lex Logan says:

    Dusty certainly deserves the blame for Patterson and Taveras (WJ obtained those players at his insistence) and for batting Cozart and Stubbs 1-2 last year, but making Choo the center non-fielder this year appears to be Walt Jockety’s idea. Choo is a one-season rental while waiting for Billy Hamilton. Baker seems as blown away by Choo’s OB magic as anybody; it will be interesting to see whether this will have any lasting effect on his management style once Choo departs for greener pastures. Assuming WJ doesn’t come to terms with Boras — the Reds could really use Choo in LF.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. OldDogScout says:

    If you guys were nearly as smart as you think you’d be mlb managers?

    Please consider for a moment that a guy like Dusty Baker might just know a thing or two your models just don’t capture.

    Confirmation bias appears to have blinded some on this site to less than “the objective search for meaning” in mlb performance.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *