The Padres Are Running Towards History

A few weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan wrote about the Padres spectacular baserunning this year. I didn’t see that post, because I was in Oregon shopping for a house when he published it. So this morning, I started writing about the Padres spectacular baserunning, and then Jeff tapped me on the shoulder and informed me that my post was redundant. 2016 has gone so badly for the Padres that even when we try to write about them, even that gets messed up.

But thankfully, I’ve noticed something that wasn’t true when Jeff wrote his post on August 11th that is still interesting enough to justify this post. His post focused on the Padres overall baserunning success, looking at every factor involved in a team’s aggressiveness and success on the bases. I want to point out the Padres insane success at taking bases after contact. To illustrate their success, here’s a graph of the top 10 team UBRs for 2016, which measures the runs added or lost by a team through non-stolen base baserunning, so things like going first-to-third or second-to-home.

2016 Non-SB Baserunning

The Padres are #1, at almost +16 runs; the Indians are second, at +10 runs. The Padres are six runs better than the next best team at this on the year; only four other teams are even six runs better than average by UBR this year. This is an area where the Padres are an island to themselves; no one is even close to being as good as they are this.

Now, when Jeff wrote his post, he turned the counting stats into rate stats to account for the fact that the Padres hadn’t yet played a full season. In that post, he included this table.

Padres Baserunning, 2016
Stat Performance Rank out of 450 Percentile
BsR/162 32.4 2 100%
UBR/162 16.9 6 99%
wSB/162 10.6 13 97%
wGDP/162 4.9 64 86%

When Jeff wrote that post, the Padres had played 113 games, and had a UBR/162 of +16.9. They’ve played 17 games since, and yet now they’ve almost reached his full season projected UBR total. Over the last few weeks, the Padres have been thrown out in seven of their 16 stolen base attempts, so it looks like teams have adjusted to their aggressiveness somewhat, but they’ve gotten even better at taking extra bases after the ball is put in play, and now they’re looking like they might set the single-season mark (since 2002, the first year we have UBR anyway) for positive baserunning value that isn’t captured in stolen bases.

If we take the Padres current +15.7 UBR and project it to 162 games, they’d end up at +19.6 runs, breaking the 2009 Twins mark of +19.4 runs. But breaking a record by two-tenths of a run in a sample that is only 15 years old isn’t that remarkable. What’s remarkable is that the Padres are racking up this kind of baserunning value with a terrible line-up that never gets on base.

Keep in mind, UBR is a counting stat, so the more a team gets on base, the more opportunities they have to rack up baserunning runs. Here’s a scatter plot showing the OBPs for the nine teams that have cracked +15 UBR in a single season since 2002.

Team UBR and OBP (1)

The Padres have the worst on-base percentage of any team to ever crack +15 UBR, so not only have they gotten here with a full month of baseball still to go, they’ve gotten here despite having fewer opportunities per game to add baserunning value than all the other teams who have previously been really good at this. So because the Padres line-up has been miserable, Jeff’s per-162 game metric actually underrates how good the Padres baserunning has been.

So let’s even things out a little bit. By multiplying OBP by PA, we can see that the 2009 Twins got on base 2,186 times, but the 2016 Padres have only gotten on base 1,422 times. Most of the good UBR teams have reached base around 2,000 times, so let’s scale everybody’s UBR to 2,000 times-on-base. This, of course, isn’t a perfect representation of opportunities to advance on the bases, since OBP treats homers and singles equally, and you can’t advance on the bases after a home run, but for our purposes, we don’t need exact precision, so this should work well enough.

Here’s a bar chart of the 11 teams who have racked up at least +15 UBR per 2,000 times on base since 2002.

UBR Per 2000 Times On Base (1)

Once you adjust for opportunities, the Padres are crushing everybody. If they had even a decent group of hitters, they’d probably crack +20 UBR this season, which no one has ever done. Well, that’s assuming there’s not an inverse correlation between hitting and baserunning, which is a faulty assumption; the Padres probably wouldn’t be as aggressive on the bases if they had good hitters, so this likely is a result of the team trying to make up for the fact that their offense stinks.

But this level of success is basically unprecedented, as far as we have the data to show anyway. While the Padres 2016 season has been a miserable failure, I have to think someone on their coaching staff deserves a raise. This seems like the kind of thing that doesn’t happen by accident, and the Padres across-the-board success in taking extra bases is likely the result of someone in that clubhouse doing a lot of good work to find a small advantage for the team to excel in.

Advancing on contact isn’t a big enough deal to save the Padres lousy season, but it says something about the team that they’re this good at something so small in a throwaway season. I don’t know who is responsible for their success, but the Padres should probably find out and then figure out how to keep him in San Diego, because this is the organization’s one bright spot this year.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Did the ghost of Derek Jeter slide into your first sentence? I re2pect that homage.