You might not know very much about Travis Jankowski, but he’s just about tied with Bryce Harper in WAR, in half the plate appearances. The bat has been fine, but the defense has been exceptional, and the work on the basepaths has been daring. Just Wednesday, Jankowski pulled off a successful steal of home. As a rule, players don’t really try to steal home. Jankowski has now done it twice. His teammates in San Diego have done it another two times.
That’s four successful steals of home. Here they all are, in one clip:
The last team to record even three steals of home in one season was the 2008 Giants. The last team to reach four was the 1999 Padres, who actually got to five. Jankowski already has two such steals to his name. Wil Myers has also done it, and so did Melvin Upton Jr., before he was dealt. You can see that the Padres have been willing to take some chances.
But really, it’s more than that. It’s not easy to notice, because the Padres as a club this year haven’t been easy to notice. They’re bad, and their own team officials acknowledged after the Drew Pomeranz trade that a return to contention is probably many seasons away. Yet, okay — every team in spring training says one of the goals is to get more aggressive on the basepaths. Typically, nothing comes of it. The Padres have been remarkably aggressive, and they’ve been even more remarkably effective. The Padres have been the best baserunning team in baseball, and it’s not even all that close.
Let’s stay focused on the steals of home for a moment. I think they can teach us a lesson — great running is part preparation, part execution, and part luck. Here’s Jankowski scoring the first time. See that little indicator? When the play started, there were runners on first and second. Both runners took off, and the throw went through to second, and then Wil Myers got hung up long enough to allow Jankowski to come all the way around. In one play, he stole third and home. That’s — I didn’t even realize that until just now. Good heavens.
Here’s Upton scoring. He could’ve been tagged out, but he pulled off a miraculous slide.
In a way, maybe Upton should’ve been out. The ball did beat him. But he was responsible for his slide, and he was also responsible for reading the situation. Excerpt:
“I knew that he had a slow delivery to the plate out of the windup and kind of extended my lead,” Upton said. “When he didn’t give me a peek, I took off.”
Here’s Myers scoring, uncontested. He practically jogged and touched the plate standing up.
“Jabari [Blash] was up when I was on second,” Myers said. “I saw that [Bailey] would turn his back on a lot of close calls, and I knew that if he walked him that he might turn his back again.”
And here’s Jankowski scoring Wednesday. He successfully caught the Pirates off guard, but still needed a bad throw to reach.
I want to capitalize on some mental mistakes and just be aggressive. Hopefully they don’t pick up on it and I can continue to do it.
The funny thing about that last bit — the Pirates did show a little awareness. Before Eric Fryer returned the ball to the mound, he looked over at Jankowski at third, as if to make sure he wasn’t going to do anything.
Fryer was satisfied, but then Jankowski took off anyway. It might’ve been a 50/50 play, or even a 40/60 play, and with a good throw, Jankowski would’ve been pretty easily out. That’s just the thing about the element of surprise. You can either be successful through your own efforts, or you can be successful through the failure of your opponent. It all counts the same on the scoreboard.
The steals of home aren’t the whole picture. The steals of home are representative. The Padres have made a point of running more aggressively, and while that might just be something you look for from a team with few other strengths, they haven’t simply been pretty good. By our baserunning metric, the Padres have been easily the best baserunning team. And, we have that metric going back to 2002, covering just about 15 years. Here are the top 10 teams in BsR:
This is a counting stat, not a rate stat, and the Padres have already been 23 runs better than average. That puts them in fourth place out of 450 team-seasons, and there’s still almost a third of the season left. Let’s now break this down into components. This time, I will calculate a rate stat, putting everything over 162 games. In the table, you’ll see overall baserunning value, baserunning value excluding steals and double plays, stolen-base value, and double-play value.
|Stat||Performance||Rank out of 450||Percentile|
In the worst stat, the Padres are still in the top seventh, since 2002. They’ve been outstanding stealing bases, and they’ve been even more outstanding at the other stuff. So in overall baserunning value per full season, the Padres are lined up to finish second-best in the last 15 years. They’re already close to second place, and it’s barely the middle of August.
On the player level, I took the liberty of calculating BsR per 600 plate appearances for everyone who’s batted at least 100 times. Including Upton, the Padres have had six of the top 50, where you’d expect them to have one or two, just based on averages. Jankowski has been a big part of this. Myers has been a big part of this. Upton chipped in, and Jon Jay has chipped in, and Ryan Schimpf has found something else to do besides just hit dingers. Even Derek Norris has a positive baserunning rating, which is highly uncommon for a catcher. The Padres take pride in what they’ve been able to do, and this hasn’t all come from the coaching staff. Myers, for example, went to them, expressing a desire to do more running. The coaches have helped to make them all better, and the Padres as a result are around the top in all the leaderboards.
The Padres are third in baseball in steal attempts per opportunity, and they’re third in success rate. They’re first in baseball in successful steals in high-leverage situations. They rank second in frequency of going first to third on singles. They rank first in frequency of going first to home on doubles. They rank first in frequency of going second to home on singles, so when you put those all together, they easily rank first in getting the extra base. They’re still just 15th in outs made on the bases, so the aggressiveness hasn’t bit them too much. The Padres are a perfect 17-for-17 when trying to steal third or home. The Cardinals, for comparison, are 2-for-7.
The Padres haven’t been a good team, and the Padres weren’t expected to be a good team. As such, they haven’t gotten a lot of attention, and maybe that’s actually a part of this — maybe they’ve just been able to take advantage of oblivious opponents. They’re a pretty easy team to overlook. But they’ve been making a statement on the basepaths, and it’s not slowing down. Their baserunning performance has improved by the month, as the players have gotten more comfortable. How far this goes, I don’t know. Rosters change over time. But Wil Myers knows he can run, now. Travis Jankowski knows he can run. Maybe this’ll just become a part of the Padres’ identity. Maybe the Padres’ identity will be something people care about sooner than many expect.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.