Running the Bases – Part 2

Yesterday we looked at team baserunning; now let’s take a gander at the individual leaders for the 2009 season. Again, this is taken from Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metrics (Hip-hip hooray for Dan Fox), sans the stolen bases, which are already figured in a player’s WAR total. These are the players who were the best at taking that extra base and not getting caught doing it.

Feel free to add these numbers in to a player’s total WAR to get a better picture of what these individuals were worth on the diamond.

Michael Bourn	   8
Chone Figgins	   7
Emilio Bonifacio   6
Cristian Guzman	   6
Dexter Fowler	   6
Chase Utley	   5
Ryan Zimmerman	   5
Rajai Davis	   5
Colby Rasmus	   5
Ichiro Suzuki	   5
Brandon Phillips   5

Baserunning matters, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot — at least not for the vast majority of players. Only 18 players contributed 4 or more runs, and only 13 players hurt their teams by 4 or more runs. Perhaps not surprisingly, we see a lot of speedsters on this list and…Ryan Zimmerman?

Bourn’s +8 lifts him up to the rarified air of 5 WAR, which is actually sort of mind-boggling when you think when you consider his awful 2008 season.

The Legend of Chone Figgins continues to grow. From 2007-2009, Figgins has been good for 19 runs of non-steals baserunning and 21 runs worth of fielding. It will be fascinating to see what sort of contract he gets on the free agent market.

Colby Rasmus may not have had the type of rookie campaign at the plate that was putting him in pre-season discussions for the NL ROY, but he was one of the best defensive fielders in the game (+9 UZR) and also added value with his legs. 2.8 WAR for a rookie is nothing to sneeze at; I humbly submit to you that Colby was a more deserving ROY than Chris Coghlan.

Oh, and is there anything Ichiro and Utley can’t do?

We’ll wrap this up tomorrow by throwing rocks at the biffs of the basepaths.

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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.

28 Responses to “Running the Bases – Part 2”

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  1. MikeS says:

    This is a variation on the question I asked yesterday.

    If Bill James says that talent is pyramidal, why does that only apply to hitting and pitching? Why does defense and baserunning cluster so much with so little difference between the top and bottom and so many players in the middle? Is it because these talents are not pyramidal? Or because we don’t truly know how to measure them? I fear this analysis is hampered by a lack of good metrics.

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    • Sky Kalkman says:

      My guess is that it’s because of what MLB selects for. Speed/baserunning/defensive skills are quite likely pyramidal among the population at large. But because the main skill in baseball (for non-pitchers) is hitting, players make the majors largely based on their hitting skill. The other skills help, but are mainly along for the ride.

      Also, for defense, things will probably look more pyramidal if you combine the position and fielding numbers. -5 runs at SS is more valuable than +5 runs in LF. For defensive value, comparing each player to their positional peers is only part of the analysis.

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      • Joe R says:

        I was thinking that, it’s like wondering why Olympic sprinters don’t follow a pyramid in bench pressing.

        Sure upper body strength is nice for a sprinter and can help (to a point, obviously, don’t want to bulk up too much), but overall, it’s secondary to everything else a sprinter does to better their abilities. Speed isn’t a defining skill for baseball players, except on the very, very extreme ends of the spectrum.

        Weird analogy, but makes sense at the same time.

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      • Choo says:

        You are correct. Adjusting for defensive value transforms the diamond into more of a pyramid. There is still a stalagtite of defensive suck at the bottom, but those are your typical DH-stuck-in-the-NL type mashers . . . and Vernon Wells.

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      • James says:

        Joe R has it exactly right. Players are selected (most of the time) for the most impactful two skills, hitting or pitching. Take Emilio Bonifacio, one of the best baserunners in the league. That’s nice, and got him some early Sportscenter highlights, but if that OBP doesn’t get far from .300, he won’t be on a baseball diamond for long.

        Beyond that, the simple level of impact allows for a pyramid. It is easy to see the difference between a 2.5 ERA (probably best or near best in the league), 3.5 ERA (good), 4.5 ERA (average-ish), 5.0+ ERA (bad) pitchers because there is a broad range. For baserunners the total spread is so narrow that no pyramid can develop.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Why would you say that baserunning is not pyramidal? I really dont have any other information to disagree, but since you’re commenting to this post, I assume it’s in response to the list above. It only lists the top 11, so we don’t know what the other results look like, but there’s one player at 8, one at 7, three at 6, and six at 5. That looks pyramidal to me.

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  2. Joe R says:

    Chone Figgins is going to get way too much or nowhere near enough. Either some bad NL GM will say “OMG SPEED” and lock him for like a 5 year contract, or they’ll say “.290 hitter with no power”.

    I love that he’s successful, though, he’s done a great job in parlaying his specialized skill set into a heck of a player. 14.1% walk rate with no IBB? Bravo.

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    • Michael says:

      I love Figgins’ game. He’s one of the few speedy slap hitters that has managed to make himself a respectable player by drawing walks to improve his offensive value and play great defense.

      Emilio Bonifacio, are you listening?

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      • Joe R says:

        I got the pleasure of watching Bonifacio play 3 times w/ Eckersley calling the game.

        It’s like he found a new thing to make fun of each time he stepped to the plate.

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    • Alireza says:

      Part of what helps Figgins is that he can and does hit the ball with authority. He isn’t really a slappy guy like his buddy Juan Pierre (perhaps Pierre’s best contribution to baseball was helping Figgins learn how to bat left-handed), rather he hits a lot of hard, low liners. Also, he has the power to pop one if a pitcher makes a mistake, so I think that helps him get a few extra balls out of the zone.

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  3. Sky Kalkman says:

    I’m feeling bad for totally ignoring Colby Rasmus this year.

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  4. Peter Jensen says:

    Some day we will have all the information to determine whether taking the extra base is due to the quality of the hit ball, the ability and arm of the outfielder fielding the hit ball, the stadium, whether the runner was going on the pitch, the speed of the batter, or actually some skill of the runner on base. Until we have this information and factor it in, all baserunning skill metrics should be suspect.

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    • Al Dimond says:

      This… under this metric baserunners get penalized for their teammates taking extra bases, and for teammates (like Ichiro, who may be slightly overrated by linear weights for this reason) that get lots of infield and bunt singles. On the other side of the spectrum, Zimmerman batted in front of Adam Dunn most of the time, which probably helped him.

      I have a similar issue with arm score for outfielders — it’s counted by comparing the lead runner to the hitter. With a runner on first you can very easily play a single into a double without allowing the lead runner any extra bases, and be rewarded for it. At least there you don’t consistently have the same hitter-runner combinations creating bias.

      Like you say, it’s a problem of categorizing hits as singles, doubles, etc. When we can really make sense of the timing of plays perhaps we can come up with something better. Until then, these ratings correspond pretty well to perceived skill (as do arm ratings). The differences are probably marginal for most players.

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  5. Casadilla says:

    As an O’s fan, I’m strangely looking forward to reading about all the “biffs” on our base paths. I propose titling the article “MelMo = SlowMo”.

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  6. JShipper says:

    Great plate discipline, good power, good defensive, one of the best baserunners….Is Chase Utley real?

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  7. Lyle Spencer says:

    I watched every game Figgins played this season and the past three seasons. He’s baseball’s equivalent of a gym rat. Loves everything about the game and plays every day with passion. He hits bullets, runs the bases with abandon and steals runs with his quickness and soft hands. He has a great arm that plays anywhere. He’ll enrich anybody who signs him. I see him staying at or near this level for another five years.

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    • Joe R says:

      Hey aren’t you the guy who wrote embarassingly over the top articles touting Bobby Abreu as an AL MVP candidate?

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      • ineedanap says:

        A guy has to make a living somehow. At least he gets to do it writing about baseball, even if homerism is one of the requirements.

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      • Joe R says:

        Just saying, on a team with Figgins, Morales, Hunter, and Aybar, Abreu was quite the interesting person to hitch the wagon to.

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  8. neuter_your_dogma says:

    “Oh, and is there anything Ichiro and Utley can’t do?”

    Yes, interviews.

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  9. hmm says:

    as BP might say, these are ‘theoretically’ useless.

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  10. Kampfer says:

    There are many things which Ichiro cannot do.

    I don’t know about Utley though.

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