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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%).

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.