I don’t know who is responsible for the Tigers baserunning, specifically, but it needs to change. Maybe this should be directed at Ausmus or Dave Clark or some mishmash of coaches and players. Regardless of who should be reading this, the message is clear: Stop running into outs on the bases.
Let’s start with some basic fundamentals. The advantage gained by taking an extra base is smaller than the cost of being thrown out on the bases. When talking about stolen bases, this is very easy to explain. Stealing a base, on average, will add about 0.2 runs to your team’s total. Getting thrown out while stealing will cost your team about 0.4 runs on average. The intuition is quite simple. If you stay on first base, you might still advance to second base or the batter might drive you home from first anyway. If you are thrown out on the bases, that isn’t happening and your team has lost a precious out. Getting closer to home is not worth making an out unless you can do it twice as often as you are caught.
To be a neutral basestealer, you need to succeed at least 66% of the time (in today’s run environment). If you cannot steal with that success rate, you need to stop running or run only in situations in which you have a very high probability of success (against a slow pitcher or poor throwing catcher, for example.)
The Tigers have been bad in this regard this season. FanGraphs has a stat called wSB, which is the value of your stolen bases (All those .2) minus the value of your cost stealings (all thouse -.4) compared to league average. Zero is average and every ten runs above or below that number is about equal to one extra win. How are the Tigers doing in this regard?
Poorly. They’re 26th in baseball in wSB with a -2.7. In other words, they are cost themselves runs by how often they try (and fail) to steal bases. Rajai Davis as a +1.7 all on his own, so the rest of the team is actually at -4.4! The full listing is here, but nine Tigers have been worth -0.3 or worse!
Cabrera, Suarez, Avila, and Worth are a combined 0 for 6. Castellanos, Hunter, and both Martinezes are a combined 7 for 14. Eight Tigers are a combined 8 for 20 in stolen base attempts. Kelly is 3 for 4, Romine is 4 for 5, Jackson and Kinsler are 8 for 11, and Davis is 21 for 27. For some reason, the Tigers are letting their bad baserunners run wild. It needs to stop. You’re giving away outs for no reason. It’s not like Davis is being a little too aggressive and things will even out. Alex Avila shouldn’t even be running with two outs and a full count (I jest)! There’s a difference between being “aggressive” in the sense that you’re taking advantage of opportunities to advance and being reckless. With respect to steals the Tigers are being reckless and it’s cost them a chance at big innings on multiple occasions.
But baserunning isn’t just stolen bases. FanGraphs has a stat called UBR which creates the same type of run values for all sorts of other baserunning moments such as going first to third on a single, taking an extra base on a double, etc. They rank 22nd in baseball in UBR with a -2.4.
Now some of this is lack of ability to take extra bases, which isn’t their fault. Being slow and never taking a risk will cost you in this measure because you’re compared to league average, but that’s not really the Tigers’ problem. The average team takes the extra base 41% of the time and the Tigers do it 36% of the time. Not horrible, but not good.
Ah, but the Tigers aren’t just sitting on a base and not going for it. They’re trying to take extra bases and it’s a disaster. The Tigers have made 33 outs on the bases this year (5th in baseball) excluding stolen bases and pickoffs. These are outs while trying to advance during a play. (Track them here!)
They’ve been out at first 8 times, second 9 times, third 6 times, and home 10 times. That’s 33 times the Tigers have tried to advance an additional base and ended up making an out compared to about 67 times where they’ve been successful. That’s not the worst ratio in the league, but it is also not very good.
Some of them are unavoidable. A great throw can ruin a good decision, but last night the backup catcher was gunned down at the plate by 30 feet. Making an out on the bases, especially at home, is costing you runs and the Tigers aren’t good enough at it to make the risks worth the reward.
They’re a bad stolen base club and a bad overall running club. Taken together (wSB and UBR), the Tigers are the 27th ranked baserunning team in baseball. Remember those early season stories about how much the Tigers speed was going to improve the team? Remember how Dombrowski was so smart to make the team more versatile? All nonsense. Good baserunning is valuable, but the Tigers didn’t build a good baserunning club. They have a a couple of guys who can run the bases well and for whatever reason, they’ve allowed the rest of the team to follow their lead. This is bad. I don’t fault Dombrowski for adding Davis and Kinsler, I fault the players and coaches for letting Castellanos and Martinez try to extra bases.
The Tigers have basically negated the only thing Davis does well by letting everyone else try to do it too. They need to stop. The Tigers will score runs with doubles and homers. It’s who they are. Adding an element of speed is great, but recklessly starting Avila for no apparent reason is beyond comprehension.