Running and Runs: A Look at UBR Data

Yesterday, the great Mitchel Lichtmen gave us a look into how FanGraphs’ latest toy, Ultimate Base Running (UBR). This nifty base-running stat is now on the player pages and a part of WAR. As Dave Appleman noted, UBR (or Bsr, short for base running, on the player pages) has a rather small effect (though not insignificant) on a player’s WAR.

Although small on a player level, UBR (henceforth called Bsr) does help us spot organizational trends, identifying which teams prioritize bag-dashing and the like. Unsurprisingly, the relationship between base running and runs scored is not very meaningful. This should make sense because base running is great, but teams cannot run the bases if they are not getting on base — and they cannot run the bases if they clap a homer.

Looking at the MLB through the 2002 and 2011 seasons, we encounter more than one surprise:

This data contains a number of interesting tidbits:

    • This may be the pessimist Cubs fan in me, but I am largely surprised the ol’ North Siders are not in the base-running basement. Frankly, I am surprised the Red Sox (who scored the 2nd most runs in the selected era) ran so poorly. When I consider the major players involved, though, it makes sense: David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, and the like.
    • The Cardinals really surprised me on this one, too. When I think St. Louis, I think Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Yadier Molina — not really base-running masters. Well, maybe not so: Apparently Rolen had a positive Bsr (+8.9) during that span, and Pujols — quite surprisingly — has been literally Carl Crawfordesque (20.7).
    • There appears to be a special plateau of teams with -50 or lower runs lost via the base paths (the Red Sox, Cubs, and Orioles). Of that plateau’s members, only the Red Sox (8112 runs) mustered an above-median number of runs (6894 runs).
    • Several players had significant impacts on their teams, such as Pujols. For the Angels, Kendrys Morales (-22.1) nearly out-terrible’d Chone Figgins‘ double awesome (+37.5). Meanwhile, Brian McCann and Prince Fielder have done their best impressions of an armor regiment, at -25.7 and -24.9, respectively. The two most tank-like chuggers, however, were the trot-sensations Paul Konerko (-44.2) and David Ortiz (-40.5).
    • Looking without regard to teams, we see Chone Figgins and Juan Pierre getting some long-deserved credit: Figgins, 41.7 runs, and Pierre, 43.6, formed the top running duo.
    • Though there’s no really useful relationship between Bsr and runs or wRC+, there does appear to be less variability among the great base-running teams. Perhaps that is an element of small-ballish operations?

There are still many of fun little mysteries to uncover with Bsr (UBR); I cannot wait until we uncover them all! And then destroy them.

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Matt Zakrowski
12 years ago

Basically, the conclusion I’m seeing in the UBR data is that base-running isn’t really very important when compared to the other phases of the game. Am I oversimplifying this?

12 years ago

What if you plotted UBR against Runs scored minus runs-scored-on-home-runs ? I wonder if there’d be any correlation in that case.

12 years ago

I’d also like to see the chart plotted against home runs (in addition to a chart removing home runs). I think we’d see a clear inverse relationship — as one should. Being aggressive on the base paths is a better strategy for a team with little power, and a poor strategy for a team with a lot of extra base hits.