When flicking through my iPod on Friday, I almost included the soundtrack to Run Lola Run in there, since it's one of the few non-musical scores I will happily listen to, in its entirety, outside of its natural setting: a throbbing techno beat that perfectly matches the film. "And then..." as the film would say, I was flipping through the Bill James Annual on Sunday night, during a commercial break on The Unit, and stumbled across their pages on base-running and how to measure it. This inspired me to look into the numbers available on the topic.
First, a little overall background on how the team did. The rawest statistic for base-running is stolen bases, and looking at that, the Diamondbacks were very unimpressive. The league average was 93, but we swiped just 58 bags, beating only Pittsburgh (57) and the almost static Padres, who managed a mere 36. [That was the least in the NL since the 1994 Mets; ten players had more than the entire San Diego squad] The Arizona success-rate was nothing to write home about either: 71.6%, compared to a league mean of 73.0%.
Baseball Prospectus takes these numbers and converts them into a number of runs, relative to the league average. Unsurprisingly, our stats translate into a figure of -5.79 runs, so that's a loss to the team, compared to what could be expected, "based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities... park-adjusted and based on a multi-year run expectancy table" That figure puts us ahead of Houston, Washington and Cincinnati. However, stolen-bases are only part of the base-running game, and when you look at other factors, the numbers paint a different picture - radically different, in some cases.
BP divides other advancement situations into Ground, Air, Hit and Other categories, the last including things like wild-pitches, and works out runs above or below league average. On Ground Advancement, the team does very well: a figure of +3.34 is good for second in the entire majors, trailing only the Mets. For Air Advancement, the figure is higher, as you'd expect, at 9.12; third in the league. Perhaps surprisingly, it's the Padres who lead the way there at 13.38: while they may be static when the ball comes to the plate, they are like hares when it's hit in the air. Things are less impressive when it comes to Hit Advancement, where the Diamondbacks slip to below average, with a -2.04 result; poor, though not disastrously so. Finally, on Other Advancement, the team was very close to average, at 0.34.
Put all those figures together, and you get a composite Equivalent Base-Running Runs, and the D-backs come out at 4.97; a somewhat positive figure. The list is dominated by American League teams, of all things; this goes against the commonly-received wisdom that everyone there sits back and waits for the three-run homer. Instead, the top five are all on the Junior Circuit, led by the Yankees at 22.66, with the best NL team the Marlins, all the way down at 7.59. Only the Dodgers and Padres are also ahead of the Diamondbacks. The difference between the Yankees and the last-place Giants is almost 50 runs: a significant amount, needless to say.
Breaking things down further, who were the best base-runners on the team? BP allows us to split the above figures down by players, and here are the results in the above categories for the 14 qualifying D-backs position players:
Looking at the stats, Special K was the best base-runner overall, though there was a good deal of variation in the individual categories. Reynolds was the best on Ground and SB Advancement, but was beaten by Chris Young in Air Advancement, and was mediocre or worse in the other two categories. Young came top in advancing on hits, but his team-worst SB Advancement hampered him badly. Bit of a surprise at the other end of the table; would you have had Stephen Drew as the worst base-runner on the team? He was particularly poor advancing on hits, but didn't manage a single positive score: even Eric Byrnes, with his broken hamsters, managed that.
As a check, let's take a look at the method used in The Bill James Annual. They use a plus-minus system, based on, for example, the number of times a runner went from first to third in a single, or came home from second. If you do better than average in that category, you get points added; worse, and you'll get a negative score. Add up the various areas - not just advancing, but getting doubled-off, stealing bases and hitting into double-plays - and you get a simple figure, which for the majors last season ranged between +70 (Willie Taveras0 and -39 (Dioner Navarro). Here are the figures for the Diamondbacks:
Conor Jackson: +23
Mark Reynolds: +15
Chris Burke: +9
Chad Tracy: +8
Adam Dunn: +6
Justin Upton +5
Miguel Montero: +3
Augie Ojeda: +3
Jeff Salazar: +3
Orlando Hudson: +2
Chris Young: -1
Chris Snyder: -5
Eric Byrnes: -5
Stephen Drew: -10
Jackson and Reynolds still rule, though their positions are reversed, and this system also agrees that Byrnes and Drew were the worst base-runners on the team - the latter, by quite some margin again. However, there are some differences; Adam Dunn and Justin Upton are viewed a good deal more kindly in the James system, while on the other hand Young and Augie Ojeda drop down significantly. This is likely an inevitable result of the differing systems; much as with fielding, there is no one approach that can be used to reduce effectiveness to a single number.
That's why taking a variety of approaches is likely wise: for example, James doesn't include advancing on groundouts, but does include elements for double-plays of various types. That's especially true since we are dealing, in a lot of the cases, with a pretty small sample size: for example, Conor Jackson had 25 chances to go first to third all season. A few nicely-placed balls hit into the right location, and a hitter could suddenly look like Ichiro, without exerting much additional effort.