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7 Ways To Advance Runners on First Base or Second Base

Batters can advance runners. Baserunners can take bases.

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Corbin Carroll runs the bases.
Corbin Carroll runs the bases.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two points to introduce baserunning.

Even before this season’s rule changes that made it easier for great baserunning to impact the game, baserunning was more important than was generally aknowledged.

Please consider the following quotes by some of the great players and managers in the game:

“I see two or three baserunning mistakes [per game]. Baserunning is the ultimate team play. If you don’t run the bases well, you are selfish….” — Buck Showalter 2021. He has managed Yankees, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Orioles, and Mets.

[baserunning] “It is the measure of a great teammate.” — Dave Roberts, 2022. He has managed the Dodgers for 8 seasons.

“[Former Twins manager] Tom Kelly had a conversation with [then-Yankees manager] Joe Torre 20 years ago, and they agreed that other than starting pitching, they thought that baserunning was the [most] important component for a team’s success,…” — Paul Molitor. He is in the Hall of Fame and was the best baserunner of his era.

“Watch that Betts play [to score a run in the World Series] and what you see is the result of great concentration and anticipation.” — Jeff Bagwell. He is in the Hall of Fame and was one of the best baserunners of his era.

The Diamondbacks are a young, speedy, and athletic team. Their speed and daring-do on the basepaths are exciting to watch. More than that their success on the basepaths is evidence of excellent teamwork. Let’s compare the Diamondbacks to other teams for each of seven ways to advance a baserunner on first or second base. The ways follow:

  • The batter walks
  • The batter gets a hit.
  • The batter bunts.
  • The batter avoids double plays.
  • The baserunner steals a base.
  • The baserunner advances an extra base on a hit (two bases on a single or three bases on a double).
  • The baserunner advances on non-hits (fly ball outs, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, defensive indifference).

Data sources were Baseball Reference including Stathead, and Baseball Savant. Data was through 27 June.

The batter walks: the Diamondbacks were slightly above average.

With baserunner(s) on first and/or second base, but not on third base, the Diamondbacks .088 walks per PA ranked 11th in the Majors. The best two teams were the Padres (.112) and the Dodgers (.109).

In a subset of that data, with runners on first AND second, but not third, the Diamondbacks .117 walks per PA ranked 2nd in the Majors, behind the Astros.

Their better than average plate discipline stands out because for all plate appearances their walks per PA are near the .086 average in the Majors.

The batter gets a hit: the Diamondbacks were above average.

With baserunner(s) on first and/or second base, but not on third base, the Diamondbacks .239 hits per PA ranked 9th in the Majors. The best two teams were the Braves (.258) and the Rangers (.252).

The batter bunts: the Diamondbacks were average.

Now that the DH applies to the Diamondbacks, the value of bunting is debatable (unless the bunt is a hit instead of a sacrifice to advance the runner). With baserunner(s) on first and/or second base, but not on third base, the Diamondbacks executed a sac bunt fourteen times with a total of negative 0.4 run value added. Interestingly, in this circumstance the two Diamondbacks with the most sac bunts were Perdomo and Herrera with 4 each.

The best team in the Majors was the Guardians (6 bunts with 0.6 run value added).

The batter avoids double plays: The Diamondbacks were excellent in avoiding double plays.

This season, in this circumstance the Diamondbacks hit into double plays twice for a negative 0.7 run value. That ranks in a tie for 3rd to 5th least lost value due to double plays. The Rays had a negative 1.4 run value.

Three ways that baserunners made an impact.

So far we looked at four ways batters made an impact. Next, let’s look at three ways that baserunners can make an impact:

Stolen Bases. Through 27 June, the Diamondbacks stole 80 bases. Only two teams stole more – the Rays had 99 steals and the Reds had 87 steals. Corbin Carroll leads the Diamondbacks with 23 stolen bases, with Jake McCarthy in second with 17 stolen bases.

Extra Bases on Hits. Baserunners can advances an extra base on a hit (two bases on a single or three bases on a double). Through 27 June, the Diamondbacks had 135 extra bases taken. Only three teams had more – the Rays had 143, the Reds had 140, and the Giants had 136. The Diamondbacks outshined the Rays in percentage of extra bases taken per opportunity (50.9% vs 49.7%).

Baserunners Advanced on Non-Hits. The baserunner advances on non-hits (fly ball outs, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, defensive indifference). With 100 bases taken, the Diamondbacks had by far the most in the Majors.

Which team has the most bases advanced due to baserunning?

If you add the baserunner advances (stolen bases plus extra bases taken on hits plus non-hit bases taken), the Rays and the Diamondbacks have the highest totals (321 and 315 total bases).

Before jumping to the conclusion that the Rays are better baserunners, consider that we did not yet consider pickoffs and caught stealing. With the caveat that play descriptions led to my decisions whether a runner was picked off or caught stealing (so my counts may slightly different than ‘official’ counts), a comparison of the Rays and Diamondbacks follows:

  • Pickoffs: The Rays were picked off 10 times, with a total of 0.425 WPA; the Diamondbacks were picked off 5 times, with a total of 0.166 WPA.
  • Caught stealing: The Rays were caught stealing 20 times, with a total of 1.496 WPA; the Diamondbacks were caught stealing 7 times, with a total of 0.303 WPA.

My conclusion is that when the Diamondback baserunners made an out due to being picked off or caught stealing, the impact was much less than when the Rays baserunners made an out. Perhaps the Diamondbacks were clutch baserunners, finding success when it mattered most!

Looking at the players with the top sprint speeds on each team, the youngest and fastest players are generally Diamondbacks. The following scatterchart shows the comparison.

Data from Baseball Savant.

Summary.

Although there are many important aspects of the game, baserunning is more important in winning games than is generally acknowledged. We looked at 7 ways to advance a baserunner, with a focus on the Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks batters were above average in advancing the baserunners via walks, hits, and avoiding double plays.

The Diamondbacks baserunners were above average in stealing bases, taking extra bases on hits, and taking bases on non-hits.

Looking at advancing baserunners, the top two teams were the Diamondbacks (315 bases taken) and the Rays (321 bases taken). The Diamondbacks baserunners were best overall because when the Rays’ baserunning made outs, the negative impact was larger (1.924 WPA vs 0.469 WPA).

Compared to preseason expectations, the surprisingly strong results by the Rays and Diamondbacks seem to reflect their excellence in baserunning and advancing runners.