Over and Under-Performances in Baserunning

Right now Eric Hosmer is the worst base runner of 2014 by a decent margin over Adam Dunn.  This makes very little sense, well not the Adam Dunn part, but Eric Hosmer is an athletic player and not your traditional base clogging oaf.  For his career, Hosmer’s Spd rating is 4.4, which says he is right at average for speed overall.  Last year he was 11 of 15 on stolen base attempts and the year before he stole 16 bags in 17 tries.  You expect that the best base runners are fast and the worst are slow, and generally that seems to be true.  When it is not true though, there is an interesting difference in the groups.

I went out to look for two groups.  The first was a group of really fast players who had bad years on the base paths.  The cut-offs for them were an Spd rating of 7 or higher, considered excellent speed, and a negative Bsr and were therefore a liability on the bases despite their speed.  For Spd below average is 4.0, so for the second group I looked for players below that who managed to have great base running years, anything above 5 Bsr.

The total sample went back through the 1980 season for batting title qualified players, which included 5049 player years.  The group of fast players who had bad base running looks like this:

Year Player
1993 Al Martin
2003 Alex Sanchez
1984 Bill Doran
1983 Brett Butler
1991 Dan Gladden
1996 Fernando Vina
1982 Garry Templeton
1990 Lance Johnson
2001 Luis Castillo
1994 Luis Polonia
1984 Rudy Law
1990 Sammy Sosa
1991 Steve Finley

There are a lot of good players in there, and one legitimate superstar in Sammy Sosa.  You will notice that none of them repeated the feat either.  Only once in their careers did they manage to have the combo of excellent speed with negative base running value.  Most of them were just not very good base runners consistently and happened to have an especially bad year to get on the list.  Luis Castillo and Lance Johnson were decent on the base paths most years and had a few really good seasons.  Rudy Law had a Bsr of 10.6 the year before, by far the best season of any of these players, so I don’t know what happened in 1984.

Now to the group of over achieving base runners.  It is a small and accomplished list:

Season Name
2003 Albert Pujols
2008 Joe Mauer
2009 Ryan Zimmerman
2009 Scott Rolen

Again, no players repeated the feat, but this time the caliber of player jumps up.  Albert Pujols is an all time great.  Scott Rolen is a likely Hall of Famer, and Joe Mauer will probably get there.  The only one that isn’t likely to get to Cooperstown is Ryan Zimmerman, but it isn’t inconceivable that he could get there if he can get healthy and put some good seasons up through his 30s.  Even when they were young, none of these guys were particularly fast though Rolen managed to get a Spd of 6.1 once.  For all of these guys you can Google and quickly find things about their great work ethic and/or leadership qualities, so maybe only the truly diligent can make up for their lack of speed by being hard working students of the game.

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Jon L.
Jon L.
2 years 3 months ago

Sammy Sosa is specifically not a legitimate superstar.

2 years 3 months ago

Brian, probably the biggest factor at play here is the fact that the UBR component of Bsr is only available since the 2002 season. This explains why all the “good” surprises are 2002 and later, and all the “bad” surprises are before 2002 (except for Alex Sanchez). Because the stolen-base attempt rate is a component of the speed score, all it would take is a manager who was a little steal crazy and you would get both an increase in the speed score as well as a decrease in the Bsr (from all the extra times caught stealing)

I do think you’ll still get interesting information if you limit the analysis to the 2002 and later seasons. Jeff Sullivan has actually broken down Hosmer’s key UBR plays this year, and I think Allen Craig’s from last year, to show that all it really takes is a few too many times thrown out at home to crush a guy’s UBR.

(note: Dale Sveum’s move to hitting coach should help the offense, all things being equal, because he will no longer be coaching third base!)