On Running, With Mike Trout and Jesus Montero

Prior to the 2012 regular season, Mike Trout and Jesus Montero would’ve been considered leading contenders for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Both Trout and Montero were top prospects, and Trout was staring at some regular outfield playing time while Montero was looking to catch and hit designatedly in Seattle. Trout eventually won the award, turning in an all-time great season. Montero did not win the award, and his season, while not disastrous, was closer to being a disaster than to being magnificent. Trout didn’t beat out Montero because of his baserunning — he beat out Montero because of everything — but, my goodness, the baserunning. The differences in baserunning.

Baserunning is sort of WAR’s forgotten component. For position players, obviously, everybody’s aware of offense, and everybody’s aware of defensive position. The big controversy surrounds the defensive measurement, and UZR is why some people don’t pick up what WAR is putting down. WAR also includes baserunning, and most people don’t talk about it. It’s just there, making a small difference, or no difference. How important could baserunning be?

Absolutely, baserunning is limited in spread. Last year, there were 143 qualified position players. Baserunning values are shown on the FanGraphs leaderboards and player pages. Evened out to BsR per 600 plate appearances, 117 of those players finished between -5 and +5 runs contributed. With such little spread, it makes sense why baserunning gets so little attention. But there are extremes, and they’re worth looking at. By BsR/600, last year’s most valuable baserunner was Mike Trout. By BsR/600, last year’s least valuable baserunner was Jesus Montero. By BsR/600, the difference between Trout and Montero would’ve been about two wins.

Trout shows up at +11.3 runs per 600 plate appearances, three runs higher than anyone else. Montero shows up at -7.3, for a separation of 18.6 runs. Let’s put this in terms of hitting per 600 plate appearances. By hitting value, in 2012, Cody Ross shows up at +10.8 runs. Ben Revere shows up at -7.1. Most of the time, baserunning doesn’t make a big difference. Some of the time, baserunning can make an enormous difference.

Which can sometimes be hard to wrap your head around. I think one of the reasons a lot of people are underrating Michael Bourn right now is because a lot of his value comes from his baserunning. A lot of sluggers lose value on the bases, but that lost value isn’t as obvious as the value gained from going deep. Baserunning is generally a quiet part of the game, but to help show how it can matter, I thought it would be fun to put Trout and Montero’s baserunning side by side. We see their calculated baserunning values. Where did those values come from? What does this all mean in terms of bases gained?

We’ll begin with representative .gifs:

Those Trout .gifs came just pitches apart in the same half-inning. The Montero .gif doesn’t make any sense. I don’t understand how Jesus Montero gets picked off. Jesus Montero got picked off! Let’s get into more detail.

The most obvious component of baserunning value is stolen-base attempts. Some people think of them as being one and the same. Those people forget about the rest of the things one can do on the bases. Last season, Montero stole zero bases, and was caught stealing twice. He’s not a burner. Trout stole 49 bases, and was caught stealing five times. He was 43/47 stealing second, and 6/7 stealing third. Somehow he never stole home, which Bryce Harper did, so it should go without saying that Bryce Harper > Mike Trout.

But now we can advance beyond base-stealing. Not counting pick-offs and caught-steals, Montero made six outs on the bases, while Trout made twice as many. That’s bad, for Trout! But there’s so much more. Let’s put this in list form.

Advances from 1st to 3rd on singles:

  • Montero: 3 times, out of 22 opportunities
  • Trout: 28 times, out of 45 opportunities

Advances from 1st to home on doubles:

  • Montero: once, out of four opportunities
  • Trout: seven times, out of 11 opportunities

Advances from 2nd to home on singles:

  • Montero: four times, out of 11 opportunities
  • Trout: 20 times, out of 29 opportunities

Montero was thrown out at home twice trying to score from second on singles. Trout was never thrown out advancing on a hit. If you prefer a very rough measure, Jesus Montero scored 21% of the time that he reached base. Trout scored 44% of the time that he reached base. That has a lot to do with the hitters coming up in the order, but that also has a lot to do with legs. Trout was easier to drive in, because Trout has the ability to move himself.

Look at those Trout .gifs above. On July 5, in the bottom of the sixth, Trout reached on a walk. A few pitches later, he stole second, and a few pitches after that, he stole third. On a throwing error, he came home. Trout wasn’t 100% responsible for that run, but he basically created it himself. Several times over the course of the year did Trout help the Angels to manufacture a run by moving up or taking the extra base. Jesus Montero’s running was such that the Mariners have asked him to work out with a running coach this offseason. Jesus Montero is a 23-year-old, high-level, professional athlete, and he doesn’t know how to run right. It cost his team in 2012, and it’ll probably continue to cost his teams over the rest of his career.

There usually isn’t anything surprising about the list of best and worst baserunners. You know who’s fast, you know who’s slow, and typically that’s the driving factor. The fast guys often have to be fast, because they don’t hit the crap out of the ball. The slow guys often don’t have to be fast, because they hit the crap out of the ball. Baserunning is only a small part of total value. But it is a part, and sometimes it can make an enormous difference. Plenty of things separated Mike Trout’s performance from Jesus Montero’s performance in 2012, but the baserunning separation was not insignificant. Given a more detailed idea of how those extra bases are taken or not taken, maybe you’ll think more about baserunning next time you find yourself messing with WAR. There are a lot of opportunities to gain on the basepaths, and those little opportunities add up, as they do.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

29 Responses to “On Running, With Mike Trout and Jesus Montero”

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  1. Steve says:

    “Loaves and Fishes” – The story of Jesus and Trout.

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  2. Erik says:

    “Not counting pick-offs and caught-steals, Montero made six outs on the bases, while Trout made twice as many.”

    “Trout was never thrown out advancing on a hit.”

    I feel like I’m missing something very obvious; how did Trout make those twelve outs on the basepaths without being picked off, caught stealing, or being thrown out advancing on a hit? Was a ball batted to a fielder who tagged him out twelve times?

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I’m not certain! I’m going off the numbers available at Baseball-Reference. Outs on flyball advances, outs on WB/PB advances, outs on line drives, etc. I’d like a breakdown, but I don’t have one to offer, myself.

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      • Evan says:

        This stat also includes outs made when the batter is tagged out trying to turn a 1B into a 2B, a 2B into a 3B or a 3B into a HR.

        This can include situations where the batter/coach choose to give the defense an easy out to discourage it from attempting to throw out a runner at home.

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    • Nik says:

      Advancing on a hit as in advancing first to third, or second to home. He obviously was forced out at second coming from first at times.

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      • tomemos says:

        Going from first to second… I thought of that too, but do they really count a Fielder’s Choice as “thrown out on the bases” against a player? And if that’s what we’re talking about, how could Montero only have six of them? That seems really low.

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    • Shawn says:

      Not every hit ball counts as a hit.

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  3. gourmand says:

    isn’t baserunning considerably dependent on who’s hitting behind you?

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    • James says:

      I’d like to hear the explanation of how that contributed to Montero’s pickoff above.

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    • Tom says:

      This is one problem with the stats – baserunning is very contextual and BSR pretty much removes it. I have no doubt that Trout is obviously a much better baserunner, I’m just not sure about the quantification of it.

      1st to home (as an example) – significant 3rd base coach impact, 0 out (more cautious in general) vs 1 out vs 2 out. Arm of the OF’r, location of the double (as far as I know BSR pretty much only considers which fielder fielded the ball), type of ball hit (obvious hit vs sinking line drive or long flyball that might be caught),score of the game, inning, park, on deck hitter, even the pitcher on the mound.

      Over large enough samples these factors may tend to even out and resemble the average distribution a player is being compared to, but when you have 10-20 events in some case and that many different variables, I’m curious as to what the standard error (or standard deviation) of this model is.

      Even things like failed hit and runs can impact this stat and that is mainly manager and batter dependent.

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      • Baltar says:

        These variations pale compared to the variations in whether the player gets a hit or not, a 2B instead of a 1B, etc. Yet that’s not a reason to question wOBA.

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  4. Corey says:

    As a Mariners fan, forced to endure Montero’s baserunning all year I kind of resent you making me think about that again in December!

    On a more serious note, what’s with Ben Revere? I admit I don’t watch many twins games, but I thought Revere was a good baserunner, the guy stole 40 bases with over a 75% success rate.

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    • Corey says:

      Oh! I misread it, it was a comparison of baserunning value to hitting value, saying that Montero’s baserunning is about about as detrimental as Revere’s hitting! Got it!

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  5. Ruki Motomiya says:

    It took me a while to realize Trout was safe on the second gif. Optical illusions!

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  6. Hurtlockertwo says:

    According to latest version of Bill James handbook, Trout was the best baserunner in baseball last year. Followed by, Bourne, Everth Cabrera, Jarrod Dyson, Desmond Jennings, Jimmie Rollins, Angel Pagan, Tony Campana.

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  7. Justin Smoaked Cheese says:

    Wow I thought this would be an article about K Morales former Trout teammate and now Montero’s teammate. See ya Vargas

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  8. k says:

    Mike Trout is a much more skilled base runner than Jesus Montero. Wow. Breaking news folks.

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  9. Synovia says:

    Seems like 2 strange clips to play for Trout, in both cases the primary factor was a bad throw. You could say that Trout’s speed forced the bad throw, but I’m sure there are plenty of good plays where he just beats the throw.

    That being said, there’s mention of a spread between -5r/600 and +5r/600 and that not being a big deal.

    I disagree with that strongly. Even within that -5->+5 span, there’s room to pick up a ton of runs with a 9 man lineup and your utility guys. Even gaining 3 runs per guy by being cognizant of this is an increase of 3 wins or so, and worth $16.5M.

    Its like talking about lineups and people saying they don’t make a diffference. 25 free runs over a full season is a HUGE deal.

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  10. Will H. says:

    Hey Jeff, I’ve really liked your stuff since coming on, this included. You might also want to think about what happens to WAR when you switch from a linear weights-based calculation for the wSB component and use WPA instead. Before shouting me down as not realizing that WPA is just a story-telling stat, consider how base-stealing attempts (and the choices to put yourself in a better position to do so, and how that can influence POs and BKs) are very much more about a player making a choice in a known leverage environment. So while it makes no sense to use WPA instead of LW in batting situations, I can see where it does in terms of wSB situations rather than LW.

    So, with Trout, if you put all his SB, DI and BK by WPA in the plus column, then subtract all CS and PO (again by WPA) you get 5.5 runs, in stead of wSB’s 7.0. Of course that is a very small absolute difference, but a difference nonetheless. Conversely, say you take Crisp and, instead of calculating his wSB components by LW and use WPA instead, he becomes Trout’s equal in basestealing despite having 15 fewer SB.

    As for the worst at wSB, Francouer and DeJesus are tied at -2.5. But when you adjust using WPA (including DI, PO and BK) Francouer is considerably worse at -4 and DeJesus improves fractionally to -2, but the end result is a new difference of 2 full runs. Very small, yes, but it’s there, and I think there is an argument for using WPA instead of LW to ascertain the value of base-stealing (and base-stealing related events, such as POs and DI) components in WAR.


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  11. Bavarian Yankee says:

    In September 2011 I thought there can’t be slower baserunners than Jorge Posada. Then the Yankees called up Jesus Montero and he proved me wrong. Jez, my grandmother can’t be any slower than Montero.

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  12. Mark says:

    What a stupid waste of an article… You are comparing base running to one of the fastest cf to a slow DH. Why waste your time? Nobody is comparing Montero to Trout!

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  13. dan says:

    And it was Montero that gunned down Trout to deny him his 50th SB on the last day of the season. Also…Olivo caught him twice(?!)

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  14. Benjamin Swinchoski says:

    Mike Trout is better than Jesus Montero… wow, you’re really stretching it. MT-49 SB, JM-0 SB

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  15. Detroit Michael says:

    Now that we are able to measure baserunning other than SB and CS fairly well, is it possible that we are double-counting these contributions? Might they already be measured indirectly in older runs created formulas?

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  16. Mike says:

    No mention of how Montero gunned down trout in the last game of the season preventing him from reaching 50 stolen bases?

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