Even though managers and color commentators alike expend considerable effort in singing the praises of baserunning, research shows us that, generally speaking, runs (and, thus, wins) gained from effective baserunning pale in comparison to the contributions, respectively, of batting, pitching and fielding.
Or, rather, that’s usually the case.
Were it not for their attentive (and sometimes merely lucky) baserunning Tuesday night, it’s unlikely the Texas Rangers would find themselves en route to the American League Championship Series for the first time in the history of the organization.
Yes, the Rangers beat the Rays 5-1 in Game 5 of their ALDS largely on the strength of their legs. How much did they produce on the basepaths? Well, with the help of win probability added (WPA), we can get a sense of that very thing.
Let’s look at the first three runs — all a product of taking an extra base of some kind. In each instance, we look not only at the WPA of the play itself, but also what the play’s WPA would have been had the baserunner in question not taken the extra base. This way we’re also able to find, thirdly, the contribution of the baserunning in terms of WPA.
Note that each of the following three plays either occurred with two outs or involved the making of the second out. Furthermore, each was directly followed by a third out, meaning each play’s relative importance is, in fact, magnified.
Play No. 1
Situation: Josh Hamilton batting, Elvis Andrus on second base, one out, 0-0 tie
Play: On a 3-2 count, Hamilton hits a ground ball to Carlos Pena, and Andrus is off to third base on contact. David Price runs to cover first, where he takes the flip from Pena, and turns around to find that Andrus is on his way home. Price’s throw home is too late to catch Andrus.
WPA: +4.1 percent
WPA with Andrus stopping at third base: -3.5 percent
Baserunning adds: +7.6 percent
Play No. 2
Situation: Ian Kinsler batting, Nelson Cruz on second base, two out, 1-1 tie
Play: With Kinsler batting — and moments after hitting a double when he very well could have made it to third base — Cruz attempts a steal of third. Tampa catcher Kelly Shoppach misses third baseman Evan Longoria badly on the second-base side of the bag, and the ball goes into left field. Cruz runs home to put Texas up 2-1.
WPA: +9.9 percent
WPA with Cruz safe at third: +0.5 percent
WPA with Cruz thrown out: -4.1 percent
Baserunning adds: +9.9 percent (compared with Cruz on second base), +9.4 percent (compared with Cruz on third base), +14.0 percent (compared with Cruz getting thrown out at third base)
Play No. 3
Situation: Ian Kinsler batting, Nelson Cruz on first base, Vladimir Guerrero on second, one out, 2-1 Texas
Play: Kinsler hits a grounder to Carlos Pena. Pena throws to shortstop Jason Bartlett, thus forcing Cruz. Bartlett attempts, but is unable, to complete the double play. Guerrero, meanwhile, has progressed around third base and is headed home. Pena throws to catcher Kelly Shoppach, but Guerrero slides in safely, putting the Rangers up 3-1, and putting their overall win expectancy at about 75 percent.
WPA: +5.7 percent
WPA with Guerrero stopping at third base: -4.3 percent
Baserunning adds: +10.0 percent
All in all, what we find here is that the Rangers gained approximately +27.5 percent from just these three plays. Because a team starts — generically, at least — with about a 50 percent chance of winning, we can say that their baserunning helped them get halfway to their victory.
Of course, none of this is to ignore the dominance of Cliff Lee. With his nine-inning, 11-strikeout performance, Lee was worth +47.7 percent all by himself. However, Lee’s excellence is almost old news by now. Teams winning games so decidedly with their baserunning — that’s a story.
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