Running the Bases – Part 1

Our expectation is that anyone who reads this site on a regular basis has been given a strong education in the ways of WAR. But there’s a missing facet that you should not forget when putting together a player’s total value of what he does on the diamond, and that is baserunning. Sky Kalkman has visited this subject a time or two, and since he’s ridden off into the sunset for the time being, and I’m recently riding back into the picture, I’ll just pick up where he left off and give you an update on 2009 non-stolen bases baserunning.

Baseball Prospectus has a remarkable metric measuring baserunning. Here at FanGraphs we already include stolen bases/caught stealing in a player’s wOBA, but any educated baseball fan knows that there is more to baserunning than just steals. There is the art of taking extra bases on ground balls, fly balls, hits while not getting caught doing it. God-given speed has its place, but it takes brains and instincts on knowing when to be the aggressor and when not to.

The numbers presented are EQBRR – EQSBR (total baserunning runs minus stolen base runs.)

First let’s take a look at the best baserunning teams of 2009.

Team        Runs
Rockies       14
Marlins       12
Cardinals     10
Angels         8
Athletics      8
Rays           8
Giants         7
Twins          6
Blue Jays      6
Diamdonbacks   3
Tigers         3
Dodgers        2
Astros         1
Mariners       1
Red Sox        0
Indians        0
Brewers        0
Padres         0
Reds          -1
Phillies      -1
Mets          -2
Nationals     -3
White Sox     -4
Cubs          -5
Yankees       -6
Rangers       -6
Royals        -7
Braves       -10
Pirates      -13
Orioles      -15

The Rockies, Marlins and Cardinals all helped themselves to the tune of a full win thanks to their heady base-running. That’s a feather in their caps. The Cardinals and Marlins do not steal a lot of bases, but they know when to be aggressive on the basepaths and wreak havoc on opposing teams. How the Cardinals can put up a full win of baserunning with Yadier Molina on their team is a feat within itself.

The Braves, Buccos and O’s on the other hand put together quite a comedy show on the basepaths.

The major take away here is that for the best and worst teams, the difference was just a +/- a win (roughly).

Next up, we’ll look at the individual leaders and laggards.

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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

19 Responses to “Running the Bases – Part 1”

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  1. Michael says:

    Interesting, good stuff Erik. I initially was quite surprised about the Marlins having done so well in the non-stealing department. Then I remembered that they had two very fast players in Hanley and Bonifacio contributing. I also believe Uggla did quite well in non-SB running.

    Then again, I believe Hermida ate a lot of value in that department. He is an awful baserunner.

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  2. KJOK says:

    Are these baserunning numbers park adjusted? I’m thinking the Rockies benefit from having such as large OF in taking extra bases.

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  3. Jeremiah says:

    Well, statistically the Braves might have given up only a game due to poor baserunning, but they lost at least one game that way near the end of the season. Matt Diaz was picked off third to end a game on the last day of September, when the Braves were within striking distance of the Rockies; the Braves didn’t win another game and dropped out of the race. At the time, though, they had the bases loaded with a one run deficit, and the heart of the order due up.

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  4. jerios55 says:

    Do they have individual players for this metric? Without knowing more, my vote is on Melvin Mora.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      “Baseball Prospectus has a remarkable metric measuring baserunning.”

      “Next up, we’ll look at the individual leaders and laggards.”

      Looks like Posada might have beaten Mora by just a hair. Though if you include SBs then Mora is the “winner”.

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  5. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Are the teams who scored well more “hit and run” inclined? Is there a way to find out?

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  6. Toffer Peak says:

    When, if ever, does FanGraphs plan to include this in their WAR calculations? For some players this could have quite an impact on their overall value and it’s bugged me that “we” ignore it here.

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    • Kincaid says:

      Baseball-Prospectus is probably not inclined to license its stats to FanGraphs, so probably when someone else takes the time to compile a comprehensive baserunning statistic (like MGL did for fielding), the methodology and results are checked and/or improved by the community, and that person lets FanGraphs publish it. In the meantime, we’ll just have to keep adjusting WAR for individual players on our own (which isn’t so bad, especially since there aren’t that many players it makes a huge difference for, and the ones most affected are easy to identify).

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    • Jeremiah says:

      I’ve also thought that a modified slugging percentage would be useful too. Guys like Willy Taveras (just an example) are oft criticized for their poor hitting abilities, and people point to the low slugging percentage. But if the guy reaches second base 60 times anyway, the low slugging isn’t quite as big of a deal. Something like:


      Not to replace slugging, but just another number to consider for fast guys.

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      • James says:

        The issue with such an adjustment is that the value of a double versus a single is not just the extra base but also run-driving capabilities that a single+SB doesn’t have.

        If you want to do this might as well just use Total Average.

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    • Joe R says:

      I’m assuming there’s a bit of subjectivity to it as well, like how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd on a ball to right center, etc.

      It’s a good stat, though.

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  7. MikeS says:

    It’s hard to believe that over 162 games base running is of such little importance. I am not sure if the representation of defense and speed in the sabremetric community are due to their unimportance or the difficulty measuring them. It seems to me that statistical analysis places the most importance on hitting, then pitching, then defense and lastly, speed. Conicidentally (or not), this is the same order they can be placed in for ease of measurement. Just look at the “Three true outcomes” which has almost religious significance in some circles. These outcomes are completely independent of defense and speed. I can’t help but wonder if this is a true analysis, or bias towards what is easiest to measure.

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    • Rob in CT says:

      I think individual players’ baserunning can have a solid impact on their production. But these are the team-wide numbers, so you get good baserunners cancelling out bad ones. Generally speaking, MLB teams don’t put slow-pitch softball teams on the field. Though I wonder how a team like, say, the 1999-2000 As (when they had Giambi… hell, both Giambis, and a bunch of other guys I recall with questionable baserunning skills).

      For instance, Jorge Posada is a dreadful baserunner, and so is Robbie Cano. But other Yankees are good ones (off the top of my head, I’d guess Jeter, Damon, ARod and, in limited duty, Gardner). So the team ends up only -6.

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      • Rob in CT says:

        Heh, I should have checked the numbers first. I was right about Posada (-8, nearly a full win), but wrong about Cano (positive by a fraction of a run, so basically average). Gardner led the team, and Damon was good too. Everybody else was close to average, with the other poor runner being Teixiera (-2.5).

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      • Joe R says:

        And the Red Sox are decidedly average almost across the board in baserunning outside of SB. Youkilis is solid at it, Ellsbury takes too many chances (still our best overall baserunner by far), and according to this, Nick Green was a very plus-baserunner (+2.65 runs in 208 non-stolen base opportunities).

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      • Rob in CT says:

        The 2000 Oakland As weren’t as bad as I thought. They were bad, though.

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  8. hmm says:

    I downloaded the data from the link provided and I cam up with -2 for the Phillies and -3.5 for the Padres. What am I missing here? Did you use different data?

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