Tim Raines’ Missing Information

I want you to know that I don’t have an agenda here. I mean, I know that’s exactly what someone who has an agenda would say, and I know there are people online who push Tim Raines pretty hard every year, but if you can believe it, this actually came out of research focused on David DeJesus. I recognize that Tim Raines was outstanding. When I was younger, I didn’t have much opportunity to watch him, so I don’t have much in the way of loyalty. And based on trends, it looks like Raines will make the Hall of Fame next year, given how close he just came. This post is agenda-less. All I want to do is fill in a gap.

It’s a baserunning gap. When talking about Raines as a deserving Hall-of-Famer, part of the argument is his ability to steal bases. Considered most simply, Raines ranks fifth on the all-time stolen-base list. Considered more nerdily, I examined the last 50 years, and calculated stolen-base value per 600 plate appearances. You can do this using our leaderboards, and Raines came in third, out of more than 1,100 players. Only Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson are above him. Willie Wilson’s right behind him. Raines’ ability to steal — successfully — was a big part of what made him a star, and this is reflected on his player page, where you see him at 101.5 stolen-base runs above average for his career. If it weren’t for the steals, Raines’ Cooperstown argument would be an awful lot weaker.

Yet, there should be more to this. Just as there’s more to catcher defense than throwing runners out, there’s more to baserunning than just stealing or not stealing. For Raines, however, we don’t have much of a record. There’s value he contributed that isn’t showing up.

As mentioned, on Raines’ player page, we see +101.5 stolen-base runs. We also see +100.6 career baserunning runs, and the reason for this is because we don’t have the other baserunning data — UBR and wGDP — before 2002. In 2002, Raines collected the last 114 plate appearances of his life. So the only non-steal baserunning information we have for Raines captures him as a 42-year-old role player. Presumably, earlier in his career, he did more good than bad, in terms of base advancements and avoiding double plays.

I don’t have an easy way to accurately fill in the gap. But I think we can work to estimate Raines’ non-steal baserunning value. Here’s what we can do. We have more complete baserunning information for the last 14 years. So, covering the last 14 years, I looked for the players who’ve been the best overall base-stealers, in terms of value per 600 plate appearances.

The top 10 players averaged +4.2 stolen-base runs per 600. Those same players averaged +3.3 non-steal baserunning runs per 600. In other words, the non-steal value was 79% of the stealing value. The lowest of the top 10 was at 30%; the highest was at 133%. If you extend to the top 20, then those players averaged +3.5 stolen-base runs per 600, and +3.3 non-steal baserunning runs per 600. So then you’re at 93%. Not a single one of these players had a negative non-steal baserunning value. Good runners are good runners, apparently, in all situations.

I think it’s fair to assume that Raines was also a good runner in all situations. I think it’s fair to assume Raines also contributed a lot of non-stealing baserunning value. That value is missing from his career WAR, but as the above would suggest, that value could be substantial.

Just for the sake of some quick evidence, between 1975 – 2005, 18 players batted at least 10,000 times. Raines had the second-highest rate of runs per opportunity, behind only Henderson. Over Raines’ whole career, he scored about 37% of the time he was on base. The league average was just over 30%. Raines took the extra base 50% of the time, according to Baseball-Reference; the league average was just under 44%. Baseball-Reference also shows that Raines didn’t hit into many double plays, relative to the average, even when you adjust for double-play opportunities. The numbers we have do support the idea that Raines was a valuable baserunner, even when he wasn’t stealing.

Let’s try something real quick. Let’s take all the times Raines was on base, and let’s look at the difference between his rate of runs scored, and the average rate of runs scored. Do that, and you get Raines at +233 baserunning runs, which is more than double what he’s currently getting credit for. This is quick and sloppy, because it doesn’t adjust for teammates, or park environments, or the fact that Raines spent a lot of time batting leadoff. But again, it’s suggestive. There’s more to Raines’ career than we see when we just load a page.

Take Raines’ +101.5 career stolen-base runs. Using the minimum from earlier, 30% of that would be +30.5 non-steal baserunning runs. That works out to an additional 3.2 WAR. But why take the minimum? If you remember, the top 20 base-stealers from the last 14 years contributed 93% of their base-stealing value doing other baserunning stuff. Apply that to Raines and you’re adding 94.4 non-steal baserunning runs, or 9.8 WAR. Add 9.8 to Raines’ displayed 66.4 and you get 76.2. Yesterday’s record-setter for Hall of Fame voter support shows a career WAR of 77.7, and there isn’t much evidence that Ken Griffey Jr. was a great baserunner.

Which is not at all to say that Tim Raines = Ken Griffey Jr. This post is full of estimations, and I’m just taking a shot. It’s also vital to remember that, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, it should be about more than just career statistics, and Griffey was unquestionably an icon. Griffey is one of the most recognizable players in the history of the game. Raines was a really awesome player who wasn’t simultaneously as much a part of the culture. Griffey deserved what he earned. Raines, though, has probably been underrated, even by many of those who’ve complained about his underrated-ness. If you try to fill in Tim Raines’ baserunning gap, what you end up with is an even more valuable player. He made his contributions more quietly, but he sure as hell made them.





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.

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tz
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Another quick check….Kenny Lofton averaged roughly 2.5 non-SB baserunning runs over the last 6 years of his career:

http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=246&position=OF

So even if you assume Raines only averaged that much per season over his career, that puts him at about 40-50 extra baserunning runs. Looking at the top baserunners over recent leaderboards, I could easily see 5+ UBR/GIDP runs per season for Raines, consistent with your estimate.