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The 2023 Diamondbacks on the base-paths

Surprisingly, a bit of a downturn for the team

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 Diamondbacks stole a franchise record number of bases, and it wasn’t even close. They swiped 166 bags, while being caught only 26 times. The previous high for the team was almost thirty fewer, the mark of 137 having been set in 1999 and then tied in 2016. Unsurprisingly, leading the way was Corbin Carroll, who had 54 stolen bases, the most by a Diamondback since Tony Womack set the franchise record in 1999 with 72 SB. That was back before Corbin Carroll was born. However, if you look at Fangraphs’ overall base-running metric, BsR, the Diamondbacks were not that good. The figure of +8.9 ranked only sixth-best, and is sharply down on 2022’s BsR figure for the D-backs of +25.4.

So, what happened?

To understand that, first we have to look at what goes into the BsR metric. A full description can be found on Fangraphs, but let’s summarize. There are three components: stolen bases, base-running and double-plays. While the specifics for each of these elements varies, the basic idea is to give credit to a player (and, eventually, his team), not just for simply stealing basis, but for doing things like taking extra bases e.g. going first to third on a single. There’s also avoiding the negative, in terms of staying out of double-plays, which are a hugely negative outcome. As we’ll see, that’s an area where the D-backs were not particularly proficient.

But there’s another factor at play. BsR is a relative metric, not an absolute one, in that’s Base-running Runs ABOVE AVERAGE. And the average jumped up significantly this year, largely as a result of the changes in rules. Bases were bigger, and pitchers were limited in the number of pick-off throws, which made teams more willing to run. There were 3,503 stolen-bases in 2023, the highest rate since before the Diamondbacks entered the league. In particular, that’s a 41% increase over the previous year. The success rate also climbed, going up from 75% to 80%. The percentage of time teams took an extra-base also increased, though not so much as straight SBs.

It’s also worth pointing out how phenomenally good the 2022 D-backs were, according to BsR. The +25.4 figure wasn’t just the best in Arizona history, it was the best in the live-ball era for the entire National League. The 2022 Diamondbacks probably earned themselves 2-3 more wins, simply with theor skills on the basepaths. Sustaining that is not easy. But if you break it down to an individual level, it becomes clearer to see what the problem was. It wasn’t at the top. Carroll’s BsR of +15.8 was the best in franchise history, and it isn’t even close. Eric Byrnes’s 2007 comes second, back on +10.1. As we noted, Carroll was on 1B 15 times last year when a double was hit, and scored on 14 of them.

The problem was at the other end of the spectrum. For we didn’t just have the best base-running season by a player. We also had one of the very worst. In fact, four different D-backs were below -2.0 BsR last year: that’s worse than anybody on the team was in 2022, and combined, that quartet more than negated all the positives provided by Carroll. The men in question were:

  • Evan Longoria: -2.5
  • Ketel Marte: -3.2
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr: -3.2
  • Gabriel Moreno: -7.7

Moreno’s campaign ranks as the second-worst by a Diamondback. It trails only the 2013 season by Martin Prado, when he set the team record by hitting into 29 double-plays. That helped earn him -8.8 BsR. But Moreno’s number made his the least valuable base-runner in the National League, countering the presence of the best NL base-runner, in Carroll. It’s not hard to work out why. Moreno’s painful tendency to hit into double-plays, which are a severely negative trait in BsR. It’s about the worst thing a player can do, being responsible for not just your own out, but that of a team-mate who has already done the hardest part, and reached base safely.

In just 76 opportunities i.e. coming to the plate with a man on first, and fewer than two outs, Moreno hit into a double-play 17 times. That’s 22.4% of the time, comfortably more than twice the MLB average last year of 10.3% [Interestingly, despite all the rules changes, which you’d think might have helped reduce twin killings, such as the ban on shifts, that figure was basically unchanged on 2022’s number of 10.1%] All four of the men listed above, were also higher than average in their double-play percentage, and that played into them being negative by BsR. Arizona hit into 25% more double-plays in 2023 than the previous year, and with the overall numbers little changed, that hurt the team’s BsR.

Can anything be done about it for 2024? Overall, the team didn’t hit the ball on the ground all that much more often. A 44.7% ground-ball rate for 2023, is only slightly up on the 44.3% figure for 2022. But you won’t be surprised to learn that Moreno came close to leading the team, with a 54.6% GB rate. That trailed only Alek Thomas (55.5%). and he has a sprint speed in the 87th percentile. Gaby... does not. Let’s just leave it a that. :) It would be nice to see Moreno elevate the ball more often, especially with a runner on first. But the question becomes, would making that change alter the delicate balance of moving parts which go into a hitter’s approach?

To which the honest answer is, “I don’t know. Not my problem.” I’m sure it’s something Torey Lovullo and the hitting coaches are aware of. This is a team which needs to squeeze out every ounce of productivity from their roster in order to succeed, But it’s worth noting that, in the 2023 post-season, Moreno came to the plate 25 times with a runner on first, and only hit into a double-play once, in Game 3 of the World Series. Obvious small sample size applies, but fingers crossed that indicates better things to come for Moreno’s BsR in the 2024 season.