Running the Bases – Part 2

Yesterday we looked at team baserunning; now let’s take a gander at the individual leaders for the 2009 season. Again, this is taken from Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metrics (Hip-hip hooray for Dan Fox), sans the stolen bases, which are already figured in a player’s WAR total. These are the players who were the best at taking that extra base and not getting caught doing it.

Feel free to add these numbers in to a player’s total WAR to get a better picture of what these individuals were worth on the diamond.

Michael Bourn	   8
Chone Figgins	   7
Emilio Bonifacio   6
Cristian Guzman	   6
Dexter Fowler	   6
Chase Utley	   5
Ryan Zimmerman	   5
Rajai Davis	   5
Colby Rasmus	   5
Ichiro Suzuki	   5
Brandon Phillips   5

Baserunning matters, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot — at least not for the vast majority of players. Only 18 players contributed 4 or more runs, and only 13 players hurt their teams by 4 or more runs. Perhaps not surprisingly, we see a lot of speedsters on this list and…Ryan Zimmerman?

Bourn’s +8 lifts him up to the rarified air of 5 WAR, which is actually sort of mind-boggling when you think when you consider his awful 2008 season.

The Legend of Chone Figgins continues to grow. From 2007-2009, Figgins has been good for 19 runs of non-steals baserunning and 21 runs worth of fielding. It will be fascinating to see what sort of contract he gets on the free agent market.

Colby Rasmus may not have had the type of rookie campaign at the plate that was putting him in pre-season discussions for the NL ROY, but he was one of the best defensive fielders in the game (+9 UZR) and also added value with his legs. 2.8 WAR for a rookie is nothing to sneeze at; I humbly submit to you that Colby was a more deserving ROY than Chris Coghlan.

Oh, and is there anything Ichiro and Utley can’t do?

We’ll wrap this up tomorrow by throwing rocks at the biffs of the basepaths.

Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

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14 years ago

This is a variation on the question I asked yesterday.

If Bill James says that talent is pyramidal, why does that only apply to hitting and pitching? Why does defense and baserunning cluster so much with so little difference between the top and bottom and so many players in the middle? Is it because these talents are not pyramidal? Or because we don’t truly know how to measure them? I fear this analysis is hampered by a lack of good metrics.

Sky Kalkmanmember
14 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

My guess is that it’s because of what MLB selects for. Speed/baserunning/defensive skills are quite likely pyramidal among the population at large. But because the main skill in baseball (for non-pitchers) is hitting, players make the majors largely based on their hitting skill. The other skills help, but are mainly along for the ride.

Also, for defense, things will probably look more pyramidal if you combine the position and fielding numbers. -5 runs at SS is more valuable than +5 runs in LF. For defensive value, comparing each player to their positional peers is only part of the analysis.

Joe R
14 years ago
Reply to  Sky Kalkman

I was thinking that, it’s like wondering why Olympic sprinters don’t follow a pyramid in bench pressing.

Sure upper body strength is nice for a sprinter and can help (to a point, obviously, don’t want to bulk up too much), but overall, it’s secondary to everything else a sprinter does to better their abilities. Speed isn’t a defining skill for baseball players, except on the very, very extreme ends of the spectrum.

Weird analogy, but makes sense at the same time.

14 years ago
Reply to  Sky Kalkman

You are correct. Adjusting for defensive value transforms the diamond into more of a pyramid. There is still a stalagtite of defensive suck at the bottom, but those are your typical DH-stuck-in-the-NL type mashers . . . and Vernon Wells.

14 years ago
Reply to  Sky Kalkman

Joe R has it exactly right. Players are selected (most of the time) for the most impactful two skills, hitting or pitching. Take Emilio Bonifacio, one of the best baserunners in the league. That’s nice, and got him some early Sportscenter highlights, but if that OBP doesn’t get far from .300, he won’t be on a baseball diamond for long.

Beyond that, the simple level of impact allows for a pyramid. It is easy to see the difference between a 2.5 ERA (probably best or near best in the league), 3.5 ERA (good), 4.5 ERA (average-ish), 5.0+ ERA (bad) pitchers because there is a broad range. For baserunners the total spread is so narrow that no pyramid can develop.

Nathaniel Dawson
14 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

Why would you say that baserunning is not pyramidal? I really dont have any other information to disagree, but since you’re commenting to this post, I assume it’s in response to the list above. It only lists the top 11, so we don’t know what the other results look like, but there’s one player at 8, one at 7, three at 6, and six at 5. That looks pyramidal to me.