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The Best Baserunners of 2008

Around here, we're big fans of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and the effort put forth by David Appelman, Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and others to make it available over at Fangraphs.  There is one significant piece of the puzzle missing, however, and that's baserunning.  I don't mean stolen bases, but rather the ability to take extra bases on hits and outs without being thrown out.

Fortunately, Dan Fox has done the work and baserunning data for the past two years is freely available over at Baseball Prospectus.  For as much frustration as we have with BPro, this data is fantastic.  You can find the baserunning report here.  There are five baserunning categories listed, plus the total:

  • SB/CS runs (EQSBR)
  • GB out advancement runs (EQGAR)
  • FB out advancement runs (EQAAR)
  • Hit advancement runs (EQHAR)
  • Passed ball, wild pitch, and balk advancement runs (EQOAR)

Not only do players receive credit for taking extra bases beyond what's expected and penalties for making outs, they're also penalized for not taking extra bases when the average major league baserunner would have been expected to do so.

2008 Leaders and Trailers

Since Fangraphs' implementation of wRAA already includes the effect of stolen bases and caught stealings, I'm going to remove that piece and only discuss the total of the other four categories.  Here are the 2008 leaders in non-SB baserunning:

Player Runs
Ian Kinsler 6.5
Jose Reyes 6.5
Ichiro Suzuki 6.4
Chone Figgins 6.4
Shane Victorino 5.7
Matt Holliday 5.5
Curtis Granderson 5.2
Nate McLouth 5.0
Mike Aviles 4.9
Joe Mauer 4.6

Most of those names don't surprise me, except for Matt Holliday and Nate McLouth.  If McLouth is such a speedy guy, maybe he just takes really poor routes to the ball in center field?  And look at Joe Mauer -- he just keeps adding value in lots of little ways.

We can also look at the other end of the spectrum, the brutes:

Player Runs
Bengie Molina -7.0
Prince Fielder -6.9
Dioner Navarro -6.0
Casey Kotchman -5.5
Mike Lowell -5.2
Carlos Pena -4.9
Rod Barajas -4.9
Joey Votto -4.4
Kevin Millar -4.1
Cesar Izturis -4.1

Seeing Prince Fielder and Bengie Molina atop the worst baserunners list is not a surprise, and the rest of the list is mostly made up of slow first basemen and catchers -- except for Cesar Izturis, that is, who must really not know what he's doing out there.  Although he did rate at +1.4 runs last year.

The Difference Between Steals and Baserunning

Speed is obviously an important factor both in stealing bases and running the bases.  But as there are other skills involved (reading the pitcher's move and getting a good jump for the former and the ability to track batted balls and judge fielders for the latter) players don't always have the same talent at doing each.  Here's a list of the baserunners who added more value with stolen bases relative to non-SB baserunning:

Player SB Skill
Bengie Molina 7.0
Prince Fielder 6.7
Cesar Izturis 6.2
Willy Taveras 6.0
Casey Kotchman 5.1
Jimmy Rollins 4.9
Rod Barajas 4.9
Mike Lowell 4.7
Carlos Pena 4.5
Michael Bourn 4.2

Actually, that table ends up being a mix of the sloths (who don't bother to ever steal bases or take extra bases) and speedy guys we might expect to provide more value on the basepaths (Willy Taveras, Jimmy Rollins, and Michael Bourne).

And here are the players who are much better at running the bases than stealing bases:

Player Non-SB Skill
Melvin Mora 7.2
Ryan Theriot 6.4
Bill Hall 5.5
Mike Aviles 5.3
Corey Hart 5.2
Nick Markakis 5.2
Joe Mauer 5.1
Chone Figgins 5.1
Miguel Tejada 4.9
Jay Bruce 4.8

Congratulations to Melvin Mora for winning the 2008 Larry Walker Award.

Team Totals

Again, these numbers do not include SB/CS runs.

Team Runs
MIN 16.1
NYN 14.4
TEX 10.4
LAN 8.2
MIL 7.3
ANA 7.3
ARI 5.1
COL 4.6
KCA 4.0
PHI 3.6
OAK 3.6
FLO 3.3
CHA 2.0
CLE 1.8
HOU 0.8
SDN -0.3
ATL -0.9
NYA -1.7
TOR -2.6
SLN -3.2
CIN -3.3
DET -3.9
PIT -6.4
SFN -6.7
SEA -7.8
TBA -8.0
BAL -8.6
WAS -8.7
BOS -9.7
CHN -9.9

Well, there's another explanation for why the Minnesota Twins outscored their OPS last year, in addition to hitting well with runners in scoring position.  Baserunning should be more of a repeatable skill than clutch hitting, although it's adding only about 1.5 wins.  Every little bit, though, right?

The Angels are an organization known for their baserunning and outperforming their apparents talent level, and while they rank in the top half of the league, +.7 wins isn't really the explanation we're all looking for.

For being a "doing the small things" team, the Rays sure weren't good on the base paths last year.  Balme Dioner Navarro, Carlos Pena, Willy Aybar, and the lack of any really good baserunners for that.

Finally, wiith the Red Sox and Cubs at the bottom of the list, it's evident baserunning isn't as critical to team success as other parts of the game.