Cleveland’s Baserunning Edge Could Extend to the Outfield

Earlier this morning, I wrote about the exploitable advantage the Indians’ offense ought to have against Blue Jays pitching in the ALCS, in that Toronto’s been notoriously susceptible to allowing stolen bases this season, while Cleveland’s notoriously successful in stealing bases themselves. And, while it’s not always true that good base-stealers are also good baserunners, it’s the logical line of thinking, and in this particular instance, it’s true.

We host a stat here on FanGraphs called Ultimate Base Running (UBR), which filters out stolen base attempts and focuses just on a player’s ability and efficiency in taking the extra base on hits and tagging up on fly balls. As a team, the Indians rank second in baseball in this measure, behind only the historic Padres. On an individual level, Jose Ramirez was baseball’s best baserunner. Rajai Davis ranked seventh, among 268 batters with at least 300 plate appearances. Jason Kipnis, Tyler Naquin, and Carlos Santana were all soundly above-average, and in fact, Mike Napoli and Chris Gimenez are the only members of Cleveland’s postseason roster that were soundly below-average at taking the extra base.

For more context, the league-average in taking the extra base on a hit is 40%. Cleveland ranked second, successfully taking the extra base on 45% of their hits, when possible. They led baseball in scoring from second on a single, doing so 129 times in 184 opportunities. Ramirez did this 18 times, while taking the extra base in 60% of his opportunities. Francisco Lindor scored from second on a single 17 times. There’s either speed, baserunning instincts, or a combination of both, all throughout Cleveland’s lineup.

This is simply one of the tents of this Cleveland team. Been that way all season. Nothing new here. Like the stolen bases, it only becomes interesting in the context of the upcoming series when you consider the opponent.

Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), our in-house defensive metric, contains an arm component (ARM), which measures exactly what you’d think it would. Using our leaderboards, we can isolate team outfields, sort by ARM, and find that Blue Jays outfielders ranked 23rd in suppressing baserunning this season. Michael Saunders was a disaster in this regard. Ezequiel Carrera was below-average. Even Jose Bautista was below-average, and Kevin Pillar was just neutral.

Baseball Info Solutions endorses Pillar’s mediocrity. For all the incredible things he does with the glove, there isn’t much evidence to suggest he has a plus arm. Using regressed, three-year totals, batters have taken the extra base on Pillar in 54% of opportunities as defined by BIS, where the league-average for center fielders is 55%. He has eight outfield kills during that time, which is exactly league-average. His arm is graded as having saved precisely zero runs. This isn’t saying Pillar has a bad arm, but it’s certainly not one that can’t be tested.

Bautista is the surprise, or maybe not. He once had the reputation of having a cannon in right field, and rightfully so, but ever since an injury to his right shoulder prevented him from throwing and relegated him to DH-duty for more than a month in the first half last season, Bautista’s arm in right field has graded as a liability. The Statcast data confirms: according to information provided by Mike Petriello, Bautista’s velocity on 90th-percentile throws was just 84 miles per hour this season, well below the league-average of 90.

Compare a Bautista throw from last month…

…to one from 2011…

…and it’s impossible not to notice the lost life on the ball.

Melvin Upton Jr. is the only plus arm in Toronto’s outfield — UZR, Baseball Info Solutions, and Statcast all agree — but the thing about that is, with Cleveland throwing four right-handed starters, it remains to be seen how much playing time Upton will receive in this series.

That means the regular outfield alignment for Toronto in this series will be either Carrera or Saunders in left, each of whom grade as having below-average arms, Pillar in center, who is just average, and Bautista in right, who suddenly looks like the biggest liability of them all. In other words, no matter which outfielder is fielding the ball, it’s a testable arm. For a Cleveland offense that exploited testable arms all season long, expect plenty of windmill motions by third base coach Mike Sarbaugh. Whether on the pitch or on the ball in play, the Indians have no reason not to run in this series.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

newest oldest most voted
Big Daddy V
Member
Big Daddy V

I don’t think so. You’re not allowed to run the bases in the outfield.

bunslow
Member
bunslow

To the downthumbers, I think he’s trying to express that the title isn’t very good/isn’t very easy to parse — a sentiment I agree with.