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Stolen Offense? The Diamondbacks On The Base-Paths

Willie Bloomquist getting picked off second base in Wednesday's game against the Giants has already been the topic of some discussion. To remind readers, the Diamondbacks had two on with two outs, and Chris Young at the plate, in a game that was still scoreless. However, the rally was killed by Bloomquist's out on the basepaths. While it wasn't all that much a gamechanger - only -4.7% in Win Probability - it felt like momentum had shifted to the Giants - they scored four runs in the bottom half of the inning, and cruised to victory. As shoewizard pointed out, this was Bloomquist's 13th out on the base-paths, an amazing total for a man who has only been on base 74 times.

Let's look at the numbers to see if the aggression preached by Gibby has been a help or a hindrance.

I have been beaten to the punch somewhat, as Amit, similarly inspired, looked at this topic just the other day, over at D-backs Venom. He came to the conclusion that "The Diamondbacks' baserunning has been a negative. They do a pretty good job at taking the extra base, but negate that with too many outs... It probably hasn't cost them much in the standings, but all of those outs on the bases sure can make them frustrating to watch at times."

Base-running has been an area of special interest to Gibosn well before this year. Back in 2007, as a bench-coach to then manager Bob Melvin, Kirk was described as "Arizona's new baserunning guru", and immediately on becoming the Diamondbacks' manager, Gibson immediately ramped up the running game. Before he became manager in 2010, we attempted 0.73 stolen-bases per game; that increased to 0.83 the rest of the way. However, the success-rate dropped significantly, from 77.6% to 59.4%, well below the break-even point. After a good start, things seem to have gone steadily downhill this year too:


SB CS % Suc
April 22 7 75.9%
May 27 13 67.5%
June 16 8 66.7%
July/Aug 20 13 60.6%

That's not a pretty picture, with the success rate since the start of July virtually back to the unacceptably-low figure it was after Gibson took over in 2010. The overall rate of 67.5% is well below league average (72.7%), and good enough only for 12th in the league. But the stolen-base is only one aspect of base-running. On the positive side, extra-bases can be taken, e.g. going from first to third on a single, or scoring from second. On the down side, runners can be thrown out trying to do just that. Both in rate (43% vs. 41%) and in pure numbers, Arizona are ahead of average in taking extra bases. Does this outweigh the negative aspect?

To find out, we've got do some fiddling with numbers. Baseball-Reference.com has the basic baseunning stats, so we can work out both the positive and negative side of our running game. Positive would be stolen bases + bases taken. That's easy enough. It's a bit trickier with negative, because if a runner is picked off, but makes the out at the next base, that's recorded as a pick-off and a caught-stealing, as well as a PCS (pickoff caught stealing). So the negative side is caught stealing + (pickoffs - PCS) + outs on basepaths. Thank heaves for spreadsheets. Here are all those number for the National League:

Tm SB CS PO PCS OOB BT + Base - Base Base %
ARI 85 41 22 12 47 101 186 98 65.5%
ATL 43 30 10 6 45 63 106 79 57.3%
CHC 38 16 7 2 43 93 131 64 67.2%
CIN 65 36 16 7 36 103 168 81 67.5%
COL 74 32 12 4 48 94 168 88 65.6%
FLA 69 29 10 3 32 90 159 68 70.0%
HOU 82 20 9 5 41 102 184 65 73.9%
LAD 83 19 16 7 41 87 170 69 71.1%
MIL 63 22 12 4 57 98 161 87 64.9%
NYM 97 27 17 7 34 114 211 71 74.8%
PHI 75 17 10 6 30 100 175 51 77.4%
PIT 80 36 14 7 39 77 157 82 65.7%
SDP 126 31 17 7 46 93 219 87 71.6%
SFG 64 32 14 6 28 106 170 68 71.4%
STL 39 27 13 5 40 90 129 75 63.2%
WSN 86 25 15 3 37 82 168 74 69.4%
LgAvg 73 28 13 6 40 93 166 75 68.9%
Totals
1169 440 214 91 644 1493 2662 1207 68.8%

This shows, while the team is certainly very aggressive, that aggression comes with a heavy price. Arizona are third for positive outcomes, but including everything, the Diamondbacks are just short of a hundred outs, one way or another, on the base-paths - most in the National League, by quite some way [the Rockies are next, with 88]. Put another way, it's 32.2 innings worth of outs surrendered, compared to a league average of 25 innings, and is already five more than all of last season.. Let's break down the overall team numbers into those for individual players, and see who are the culprits:

Tm SB CS PO PCS OOB BT + Base - Base Base %
Willie Bloomquist 11 8 6 4 3 6 17 13 56.7%
Stephen Drew 4 4 3 1 8 15 19 14 57.6%
Kelly Johnson 11 2 1 1 4 13 24 6 80.0%
Miguel Montero 1 0 0 0 4 10 11 4 73.3%
Xavier Nady 2 0 0 0 2 7 9 2 81.8%
Gerardo Parra 7 1 2 0 7 10 17 10 63.0%
Ryan Roberts 14 7 1 1 2 10 24 9 72.7%
Justin Upton 16 7 2 1 1 8 24 9 72.7%
Chris Young 15 8 6 4 6 8 23 16 59.0%
The rest 4 4 1 0 10 14 18 15 54.5%
Team Total 85 41 22 12 47 101 186 98 65.5%

This does indicate the Bloomquist is, indeed the biggest liability among the regular players, though Stephen Drew is not much better, and Chris Young's overall number is also much lower than we'd like to see. Conversely, Xavier Nady has the best percentage, but given playing time, Kelly Johnson is probably the best base-runner. He has an 11:2 SB:CS ratio, has never been picked off (except as a caught stealing), and has taken 13 extra bases, while making four outs. If the rest of the team could follow suit, we'd be much better off. It's quite surprising to see Montero with the third-best percentage; he's pretty conservative,. but safe.

Fangraphs recently introduced UBR - Ultimate Base Running. If you're interested in how it's calculated, here's a primer, but the long and the short of it, is that a runner gets credit for what he does on the base-paths, expressed in runs above or below average, and unlike my metric, does take the game situation into account i.e. stealing third with no outs is different from second with two outs. To date, Arizona are 1.2 runs above average, ranked seventh. That's basically insignificant: as context, the D-backs' fielding is valued by Fangraphs as an NL-best +45.6 runs above average. Individually, the range is from Ryan Roberts (+3.6) to...surprisingly, Kelly Johnson, who is -1.5 runs.

Overall, there doesn't seem to be much evidence that the team's aggressive approach on the base-paths has had much effect on their offensive production. The positives of putting pressure on the defense and forcing them to make plays, appear largely to be countered by the base-runners erased, when the defense steps up and makes said plays. That said, there's clearly room for improvement, especially in the area of pick-offs. In what is shaping up to be a tight divisional race, even a single out could prove crucial.