Baserunning is pretty much the red-headed stepchild of baseball analysis. We care a lot about hitting. We care a lot about pitching. Most people given a courtesy nod to defense, even if they basically ignore it. But no one talks about baserunning aside from stolen base totals, or maybe stolen base efficiency.
But there is so much more going on on the bases that we could be talking about. Going first to third, scoring on singles, not making outs you don’t have to make. All of these are critical aspects of baserunning that we don’t talk about, but very easily could. In the text of this post I’ll be introducing some statistics (which are very simple) and discussing them in the context of the 2013 Tigers to date (July 30th).
Let’s start by digging deeper on stolen bases. Stolen bases add value to the team, about 1/4 of the value added by a single. But getting caught is costly, and is about twice as costly as stealing a base is beneficial because the value of moving up a base is not as important as not making an extra out. In other words, you need to steal at about a 70% rate or better in order to be adding value to your team overall.
Presented above are the number of runs each Tiger has added via SB and CS. As you can see, nobody is doing much of anything. The Tigers best basestealer isn’t even up to a full run (10 runs = 1 win) of value and the worst basestealer costs about the same. The Tigers don’t steal a lot of bases, but they don’t get caught a ton either. All told they are a -3.7 wSB, which means their basestealing exploits has cost the team about one-third of a win. Not very significant.
Now let’s take a look at UBR, which is simply the same formula for all other baserunning activities. This includes the value of going first to third and the cost of getting thrown out trying to stretch something. I’m going to talk about some pieces of this in a moment, but first let me give you the overall numbers.
Here we have a chance to see more overall value impact. It will not surprise you to learn that Austin Jackson is the Tigers best runner and that he has been worth half a win to the team simply on the bases (this does not include stealing). Kelly ranks well in this department and despite being slow, Cabrera’s solid instincts help him add value here as well. Dirks is a bit surprising because he’s the team’s best basestealer, but it looks like he doesn’t help much with the ball in play. Overall, the team has a -1.9 UBR, which is just a tick below average. Adding wSB and UBR together, the Tigers have cost themselves something like half a win this season with their baserunning (25th in MLB). You’re not happy about that, but given their collection of lumbering sluggers, it’s nice to see they aren’t giving runs back on the bases they are earning with the bat.
So now that we have an idea about the Tigers overall baserunning value, what are some other things we can track. Let’s start with outs made on the bases. The table below is sorted by total outs, but includes where each out was made. These are outs made when the runner was not forced, so it would include something like getting thrown out at the plate trying to score from second, but not getting forced out in the middle of a double play:
You’ll notice the Tigers have made 32 outs on the bases while the average team has made 33. Essentially, the Tigers know their limitations like with stolen bases. This is not a club blessed with speed, but they know not to push it and don’t run into an inordinate amount of outs. It’s important to recognize that the base coaches are partially responsible for this, so don’t look at Fielder’s 3 outs at home and put it all on him. This isn’t a perfectly individual situation and it’s important to consider the context of every action and game situations. It would just be way too difficult for me to show you the percentage of time Fielder scored on singles from second versus the times he stopped at 3B versus the times he got thrown out in a simple table.
Now let’s look at the Tigers’ Extra Bases Taken Percentage. This is how often a player takes an extra base when the opportunity presents itself. Note that this is how often they go from first to third when the opportunity comes up not how often the make it when they try for it.
League average is 40% and the Tigers as a unit take 35%. Some Tigers do this very well and some do it quite poorly. It’s important to think about the last two stats together. The Tigers make an average number of outs and take a slightly below average number of extra bases. This is a team that knows what it can and can’t do and doesn’t run into a lot of outs relative to the rest of the league. Remember our lesson from the stolen bases section. Not making outs is more important than moving up a base.
You can break these stats down further to each base situation. I’ll just give you one to demonstrate. Let’s try for how many times each Tiger has scored from second base on a single:
It’s important to think about all of these numbers in the context of opportunity and situations, but they are valuable to know. Baserunning doesn’t swing entire seasons dramatically (usually 1-2 wins over an entire season), but it does matter and could easily be talked about more often. In just a few short minutes I’ve given you some other ways to think about baserunning. Stolen bases are important, but they can be measured a bit more accurately too. Additionally, there are stats readily available at sites like Baseball Reference that can tell you more about baserunning value such as XBT% and Outs on the Bases.
As always, there is a lot of information out there and I think you’ll enjoy your baseball watching experience a lot more if you know just a little bit more. Baserunning is about more than raw speed and there are ways to measure which players add value on the bases beyond the stolen base. The 2013 Tigers aren’t the poster children, but they seem to know their game is more about swinging that motoring.
The big focus of last season’s trade with the Marlins was Anibal Sanchez, and rightfully so. He was the best player in the deal and had the biggest impact on the Tigers down the stretch. They re-signed him for a lot of money and before the injury, he was having a Cy Young type season. But the Tigers also got Omar Infante back from the Marlins, and Omar Infante has made one of the more interesting transformations in baseball since we last knew him as a Tiger.
Infante came to the major leagues very young, at age 20, and from 2002 to 2008 only played about one solid major league season. Here are his WAR totals for those seasons, understanding that his PA varied.
Infante had a reasonably good season in 2004 (2.0 WAR is generally considered starter level), but in every other season he either performed near replacement level or didn’t get enough at bats to provide much value because he wasn’t playing well. Omar looked poised for a career as a backup or up and down guy despite making it to the show so young. Then something funny happened. Here are his WAR numbers for 2009-2013:
Infante went from borderline AAA player to solid major league regular. He peaked in 2004 in the first group and slowly lost playing time as his production dropped. But he rebuilt his value in 2009 as a backup and became a full on regular every year since and has added more than 2.0 WAR in each of the last four seasons. Here it is in graphical form, keep in mind that 2013 is only half over:
He’s becoming more and more valuable each season. That’s pretty clear and it’s not so crazy to see it given that he is essentially doing it during the peak years of baseball performance (27-31), but it is a big out of the ordinary how exactly Infante is doing it.
Let’s look at his offensive production over time using wRC+ which compares a player to a league average hitter (100). I’ve dropped out his first season because he only played about 20 games:
So Infante has become a better hitter, but he hasn’t really become that much better over the last few seasons compare to the previous ones. By 2008, he was locked into a 90-110 wRC+ pocket. That number has fluctuated but he also achieved it in 2004 and 2006. He’s become a more consistent offensive performer but he isn’t a great hitter and has had two below average seasons during his recent breakout. He’s a better hitter than he used to be, but that isn’t what’s really driving his transformation.
Infante has become a solid major leaguer over the last few seasons because he’s become a complete baseball player. The offense has stabilize, but it’s his glove and baserunning that have pushed him over the top. Check this out. Here are Infante’s defensive and baserunning numbers from his career. NOTE: I’ve dropped 2002 because of how few games he played and I have extrapolated his 2013 numbers so that you can see how much better he is playing this season. To be clear, the 2013 numbers are projections because these are not rate stats:
Infante has become a much better defender and a noticeably better baserunner over the last three seasons and it’s helping him become one of the more valuable second basemen in the game. He’s currently on pace for a 4-5 WAR season, and even if that won’t keep up completely, he looks poised to turn in his best season yet. He’s doing it with defense and baserunning which are parts of a player’s game that are supposed to peak early. You’re supposed to become a better hitter as time goes on and you’re supposed to watch your other skills fade early.
Infante won’t hear of that. He’s becoming a good all-around player as he ages, which is making him very valuable. Here are the runs above replacement from his defense and baserunnining added together over his career. Remember, 10 runs equals 1 WAR:
But here are his run values on offense:
Yes his offense is getting better, but the value is coming from turning himself into a good defender and baserunner. Replacement level and positional adjustments are added to these to get WAR, but you can see clearly that Infante is taking an unusual path toward mid career success.
He’s getting better in the field and on the bases and it’s working for him and the Tigers.