Let’s Talk Base Running

We have heard about the Phillies’ punchless offense ad nauseam over the past couple months. It’s been tough dealing with the losses of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz while Raul Ibanez has been slumping all season. Due to the surfeit of injuries, the Phillies have had to utilize the light bats of Juan Castro (who was recently released by the organization), Wilson Valdez, Paul Hoover, Dane Sardinha, Cody Ransom, and Greg Dobbs. And, of course, you have read all about Jayson Werth‘s offensive shortcomings this season.

The one thing conspicuously absent from the Phillies’ offense this year — besides any measure of stability — is base running aggressiveness. They tried to get back into the swing of things, attempting seven total stolen bases between July 17 and 18 against the Chicago Cubs. Still, the Phillies rank 13th out of 16 National League teams in total stolen bases (48) and stolen base attempts (58). However, on account of being thrown out the least (10), they lead in stolen base percentage (83%).

Team SB CS SBA SB%
PHI 48 10 58 83%
NYM 86 21 107 80%
FLA 57 16 73 78%
ARI 57 19 76 75%
MIL 50 17 67 75%
LgAvg 56 22 78 72%
PIT 58 23 81 72%
SDP 79 32 111 71%
WSN 67 29 96 70%
HOU 53 23 76 70%
ATL 40 18 58 69%
CIN 59 27 86 69%
STL 52 24 76 68%
CHC 35 17 52 67%
LAD 61 30 91 67%
COL 52 28 80 65%
SFG 35 20 55 64%

Using a more intricate measure of base running, we can see from which positions the Phillies clearly miss the threat of speed. Equivalent Base Running Runs (EQBRR) from Baseball Prospectus combines the contributions by base runners in several facets: base-stealing (SB), advancing on ground and air outs (GA and AA), advancing on hits (HA), and “other” (OA).

I prorated the 2010 Phillies over a full season, defined as their current EQBRR times 162 games divided by their current games played of 92. It’s not perfect of course, but I don’t think it will make a huge difference in the overall results. It will overrate Chase Utley, who will play less going forward than he has so far this season, and it will underrate Jimmy Rollins, who will play more going forward than he has so far this season.

Click on the graph below to view a larger version.

Each position was calculated with the inclusion of bench players. The bench player got credit at the position at which he logged the most playing time per Baseball Reference. No player was double-counted.

The biggest loss in 2010 is very clearly Jimmy Rollins. He was responsible for creating 10 extra runs on the bases in 2008 and ’09, roughly one extra win. As he has missed so much time this year, he has only been worth 0.5 EQBRR. If you prorate that production in 36 games over 92 games, it increases to 1.3. Over 162 games, his EQBRR is 2.3 — slightly better than he was last year.

He is simply not the same base-stealer he was in 2008 as this graph illustrates:

Note: the ‘p’ after 2010 indicates that the value has been prorated over 162 games.

In his 36 games, Rollins had attempted and successfully stolen a base six times. That prorates to 15 stolen bases in 92 games and 27 over a full season. Clearly, the base running aggression of Rollins — who earlier in the season said he wanted to steal 50 bases — has waned as a result of playing it safe having recuperated from two calf strains.

Also on the decline is Chase Utley. His 0.6 EQBRR pales in comparison to his 8.8 last year, even prorated. Over 92 games, his EQBRR goes to 0.8 and over 162 games only 1.4. The biggest difference? Stolen bases and advancing on hits (surprising, given Utley’s heralded baseball IQ).

While base running doesn’t have a huge impact like hitting and pitching, it can create a noticeable difference. This is especially true for the Phillies who set themselves apart from the league with well above-average base running aggression combined with well above-average base running efficiency (you can thank Davey Lopes later).

The 2008 Phillies created an extra two wins simply by being good, intelligent runners. The 2010 Phillies are on pace to cost the team more than a half of one win. Again, not a lot compared to other facets of the game, but still something worth noting with this aging, declining group of Phillies.

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5 comments

  1. Richard

    July 20, 2010 01:30 PM

    Do the graphs represent other baserunning events? It seems to me that the Phillies have been a very stupid team on the basepaths this year. Being doubled up on easy-to-read plays, pickoffs (several times in the last week+ alone), bone-headed attempts to stretch (like Victorino on Saturday–what the hell was that?; and the play that resulted in Utley’s injury; etc). Also, again this is anecdotal, but when they were in the worst of the team-wide slump earlier in the year, they seemed incapable of advancing more than one base on a hit to the outfield. All of this, plus the points you raise, have cost this team runs.

  2. Bill Baer

    July 20, 2010 01:32 PM

    I believe pick-offs are included in the SB portion of EQBRR and being thrown out attempting to stretch would be included in hit advancement (HA).

  3. Richard

    July 20, 2010 02:15 PM

    Right, my eyes slid right over the paragraph explaining the components of EQBRR…. thanks.

  4. Ted

    July 20, 2010 02:41 PM

    Fangraphs published an article today talking about baserunning as well listing the top 25 baserunners: www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/nerd-for-baserunning/

    The fact no Phillies’ players made the top 25 is quite unsettling when you consider where the Phillies have been the past two years. Chase Utley is the leading Phillies’ player at #38 overall, good thing too since he’s out until mid-end of August. The rest:

    Victorino – #47
    Valdez – #65
    Francisco – #82
    Dobbs – #84
    Rollins – #88
    Werth – #103
    Polanco – #143
    Ruiz – #163
    Ibanez – #298
    Howard – #342

    Jeff Francoeur came in at #90 overall. Enough said…

  5. LarryM

    July 20, 2010 05:04 PM

    “Aging, declining.”

    Premature, at least. Most of the Phillies are not yet in the steep decline phase of their careers.

    (1) Ibanez – sure, but he was only a significant positive factor for them for 1/2 a season anyway.
    (2) Rollins – sadly, possibly true – but sample size, this year especially, is still on the low side. Decline seems more steep/early than one would expect, especially give his skill set/body type.
    (3) Howard – premature. His first half numbers are disappointing, but not out of line with previous years (he a strong pattern of better second halves; also, offense is down a bit league wide this year).
    (4), (5) Utley, Victorino – WAY premature, based on small sample sizes.
    (6) Ruiz – offense is up, if anything.
    (7) Werth you have defended and I agree.
    (8) Polanco – certainly old enough that you would expect decline, but it hasn’t happened.

    Will this group likely decline a bit over the next few years, because of normal aging effects? Yes. But I would expect an up-tick in team offense next year, since this year’s problems are (a) mainly a matter of injuries, (b) secondarily, probably somewhat a matter of luck – i.e., a disproportionate number of players having down years.

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