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October 14, 2009

The Baserunning Report

Running for Fun and Profit

by Christina Kahrl

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Baserunning plays often end up being among the most dramatic moments in a critical ballgame. Matt Holliday's tagging up and coming home in the 13th inning of the Rockies' play-in tie-breaker against the Padres in 2007 might be the most dramatic October baserunning play in recent years, proving you can be a hero on the bases without being the fastest man on a ballclub. Then there's Jeremy Giambi's non-slide-and why hadn't he even been pinch-run for?-that helped make The Flip by Derek Jeter in the 2001 ALDS a timeless example of what bad baserunning (and heady defense) can do to change an outcome. The LCS round is sure to present opportunities for the men aboard to be heroes or goats, but looking back on the 2009 season, who are the most and least likely candidates on the four ballclubs? Looking at each team, here's a quick view of the best and worst baserunners, using Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Baserunning Runs. (We'll show everyone who was worth 2.5 runs or more, or hurt his team by 2.5 runs or more.)

The Phillies


Player            EqBRR
Chase Utley        8.8
Shane Victorino    3.8
Jayson Werth       2.6
Raul Ibanez       -3.0
Ryan Howard       -3.4
Pedro Feliz       -5.6

Famous for their outstanding execution as far as stealing bases, the Phillies did finish second in the National League in the stolen-base component of EqBRR (behind the Mets), but just sixth overall. That's because this year's team suffered a big dropoff from years past-they totaled 10.6 baserunning runs as a team last season, but netted just 2.6 this year. The star of the squad might surprise you, but here as elsewhere, Chase Utley's one of the most underrated great players in the game, rating second in baseball (behind former Philly Michael Bourn). It gets less play that they have their share of slow sluggers, however, reflected in that bottom trio. Ibanez did especially badly trying to advance on groundouts, Howard got hung up on base hits, while Feliz did poorly in all phases, rating as the baserunner in the NLCS who hurt his team the most during the regular season. What about the missing man, Jimmy Rollins? While Rollins didn't do all that well or badly in any category, the real problem for the speedster is that you can't steal first base, eroding his opportunities to contribute on the bases.

The Dodgers


Player            EqBRR
Matt Kemp          2.6
James Loney       -2.7

Decidely slower than the Phillies, having lost 5.2 runs on the bases on the year and ranking just 18th in the majors in EqBRR, the Dodgers are perhaps most notable for how various players have hurt them or helped them all that much. Manny Ramirez would have rated among the liabilities if he'd played a full season, having cost the Dodgers 2.3 runs in two-thirds of a campaign. They hurt themselves badly on stolen bases, finishing 28th in the major leagues (and ahead of just the Cubs and Nationals), with Juan Pierre, Russell Martin, and Rafael Furcal all doing poorly with their opportunities despite their reputations. The Dodgers were effective at advancing on fly balls and taking advantage of opportunities advancing on base hits (one of Kemp's particular gifts), and Furcal did rank among the league leaders in adding value advancing on ground-ball outs.

The Yankees


Player            EqBRR
Brett Gardner      4.9
Johnny Damon       2.9
Mark Teixeira     -2.5
Jorge Posada      -8.0

The Yankees' problems are essentially symptomatic of an older ballclub-they might steal bases well with players like Gardner who do run well, but collectively they're negative in every other area of baserunning, winding up an LCS-worst -6.4 in EqBRR as a team, which ranked 20th in the major leagues. Posada may be bound for the Hall of Fame, but he runs like tree sap in winter. The really horrific component of Jorge's failures while aboard is his ineffectiveness advancing ahead of teammates' hits-he cost the Bombers 5.8 runs in this category alone, easily the worst mark in the major leagues. The Yankees will have to avoid running too many risks on the bases, but we know you'll ask, so here's the scoop on Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod was mildly negative (-0.4), doing well at advancing on ground-ball outs and stolen bases, but getting hung up trying to advance on a few too many hits, while the Captain was positive (1.1), scoring well on stolen-base attempts and trying to get that extra base on teammates' hits.

The Angels of Anaheim


Player            EqBRR
Maicer Izturis     4.5
Chone Figgins      3.9
Gary Matthews Jr.  3.0
Jeff Mathis       -2.5
Juan Rivera       -3.4
Kendry Morales    -5.5

Like the Phillies, the Angels have a big reputation for basepath aggression, but it's a bit overstated given the results, as they finished fifth in the AL in EqBRR with just 1.3 total. The reason why isn't too surprising-while the Halos have their share of slower runners, the more basic problem is speed may show up at the ballpark everyday, but it also kills. The club cost itself almost seven runs on the season with the stolen-base play alone. If there's a surprise that's a symptom, consider the splits for Chone Figgins-he rates a positive overall, but his relatively low success rate for stealing bases added up to a negative rating in Equivalent Stolen Base Runs, an LCS-worst -3.4. If Figgins had just broken even on his stolen bases, he'd have graded out as easily the best runner in the ALCS, and given Posada's problems limiting the running game, the danger he presents to the Yankees' defense might come into play in every area. The Halos also have a not-so-secret weapon in Reggie Willits, who had 2.3 EqBRR in limited playing time, making him the post-season's deluxe pinch-runner. If there's one thing the Angels excel at and where their speed gets exploited to tremendous advantage, it's advancing on hits, topping the major leagues handily by adding 10.7 runs as a ballclub there.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Halos,  Stolen Base

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