May 16, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL Central
Ron Roenicke’s baserunning philosophy has been a matter of public record since day one of his managerial regime, when he essentially introduced himself to the city of Milwaukee with the above quote. In the lead-up to the season, it was practically impossible to find an article about Roenicke and the Brewers that did not mention Roenicke's aggressive style of play. As a storyline in Brewers circles, it has been a go-to choice for months now. However, as a policy, it hasn't proven popular.
Any time a manager gladly admits to giving up outs in risky situations, there's a good chance that his decisions won't go over well with fans. Now, whenever a player makes a mistake on the basepaths—say, for example, Casey McGehee trying to stretch a single into a double or Carlos Gomez looking to take third on a misplayed ball in shallow center—fans can add it to the "Runnin' Ron Roenicke" files for future complaints. Well-played aggressive baserunning is far less obvious, of course, so the file is rarely cleared out.
But how well is Roenicke really doing in his running ways? Are fans giving him a fair shake when they focus only on the negative moments they can remember, or are they missing too many of the positive moments in doing so? How do the Brewers compare to their division and league rivals?
By navigating to the Team Baserunning Report, we can see that Runnin' Ron's team isn't off to a great start. The Brewers are in the bottom third of the majors and are 12th in the National League in making the most of their opportunities on the basepaths. Among National League Central teams, only the Cardinals rank below them.
There are some positives, though. In EQAAR (air advancement opportunities), the Brewers rank fifth in the majors and second in the National League (to Washington). That means that only a handful of teams in all of the majors have been better at moving their runners up on flyballs, pop-ups, or line drives. The Brewers are also on the plus-side in EQHAR, advancing runners on hits. In fact, the only baserunning category that the Brewers score badly in is EQGAR, or advancing runners on ground ball outs. At 3.35 runs below average, Milwaukee's EQGAR score ranks 25th in the league and is almost entirely responsible for the Brewers -1.6 EQBRR (total baserunning runs).
Interestingly, the single biggest reason for Milwaukee's horrible EQGAR is the play of Carlos Gomez, who sports a -2.90 EQGAR on the young season. At the same time, Gomez has been the force behind Milwaukee’s positive air- and hit-advancement scores, contributing 1.03 runs and 0.92 runs, respectively, to those categories. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have also turned in poor scores in certain categories (Fielder in EQHAR and Braun in EQGAR), but Gomez's EQGAR is the single worst showing in any area for the Brewers. In fact, the -2.90 EQGAR score from Gomez is the single worst baserunning contribution by any player in the majors.
Roenicke may be happy to learn that the Brewers aren't the worst baserunning team in the division, though. That "honor" falls to Tony LaRussa and his Cardinals who, with 7.2 baserunning runs below average, are nearly four times worse than the Brewers and sit above only the Atlanta Braves. St. Louis can thank Gerald Laird, Ryan Theriot, Daniel Descalso, Yadier Molina, and Kyle McClellan for their cellar-dwelling score, with those five players each contributing between 1.6 and 2.1 baserunning runs below average.
Descalso's -1.94 EQGAR and Lance Berkman's -1.46 EQGAR are the two largest drivers of the team's baserunning woes so far this year (though Berkman does make up for it somewhat with his 1.0 EQHAR, the single best contribution on the Cardinals). Colby Rasmus, St. Louis' number-two hitter, leads the team with 1.5 EQBRR. He and the Cards have benefited from Rasmus' having the second-most advancement opportunities in the majors.
The Pirates sit atop the division in baserunning runs, but their status owes more to their division rivals' poor legwork than any spectacular basepath performance of their own. With only 1.1 baserunning runs above average as a team, Pittsburgh ranks 14th in the majors (and seventh in the NL), hardly a showing that should be leading a division. That's not to dismiss what the Pirates have done: with a -0.64 EQSBR (stolen base runs) as the worst aspect of the team's baserunning, the Bucs should be commended for being so consistently average across the board. Other than Neil Walker (2.1 EQBRR) and Jose Tabata (1.3 EQBRR), the Pirates have very balanced baserunners. Outside of those two, all of their players' baserunning components fall almost exclusively between 0.65 and -0.68 runs. Their worst baserunner is Lyle Overbay, who currently sits at -1.4 EQBRR. That score would make Overbay only the sixth-worst runner thus far in St. Louis.
Roenicke will continue to assess whether the risks associated with an aggressive baserunning philosophy are worth the potential payoffs. It's still too early in the season to pronounce his philosophy a bust: Gomez's terrible EQGAR (along with some of the scores of St. Louis' bottom-feeders, like McClellan and Laird), come from very small sample sizes. Gomez has only had five groundout advancement opportunities, thanks in part to his low OBP and Braun's and Fielder's tendencies to hit the ball in the air. As those opportunities increase (and as players adjust to the new philosophy), the numbers could easily become less extreme and the Brewers could rise up the ranks. If the initial results prove too costly, Roenicke and his crew may never give themselves the chance to offset their poor start, but if the intractability of many major-league managers is any indication, "Runnin' Ron" may not abandon his philosophy any time soon.