October 27, 2010
World Series Prospectus
Running Away With It
If you've been watching this year's post-season games, you're no doubt aware of the role that the Rangers' aggressive baserunning played in their reaching the World Series. They've stolen 15 bases in 17 attempts thus far in the playoffs, and their so-called "antler plays"—in which their runners take an extra base on a hit, an out, or a ball skipping away from the catcher—were a key reason why they got past both the Rays and the Yankees. Particularly so in the final game of the Division Series, where their first three runs against the Rays owed to such baserunning, as Elvis Andrus scored from second on a ground out, Nelson Cruz scored on a throwing error after stealing third (admittedly, after initially dogging it to second base on a hit he thought was a homer), and Vlad Guerrero scored from second on a force out.
Such work on the basepaths by the Rangers is hardly a fluke. During the regular season, they ranked fourth in the majors (third in the AL) in Equivalent Baserunning Runs, our metric to account for the value of a player or team's stolen base attempts as well as their advancement on hits, ground outs, fly outs and other means. The Rangers were 10.1 runs above average overall, despite being slightly below average (-1.7 runs) on stolen bases. The Rays, whom they more or less ran out of the Division Series, were first during the regular season, at 12.8 runs. Here's a quick look at the eight playoff teams:
EqGAR stands for Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs (via advancements on ground outs), EqSBR is Equivalent Stolen Base Runs, EqAAR is Equivalent Air Advancement Runs (via fly-ball and line-drive outs), EqHAR is Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs (taking the extra base on hits) and EqOAR is Equivalent Other Advancement Runs (via wild pitches, passed balls, and balks). The Rangers ranked second in the league on air outs, third in the league on hit advancement, and tops in the majors on other advancement. Among the other teams placing notably high in various subcategories, the Rays ranked second in the AL in EqSBR and EqHAR, the Phillies were second in the NL in EqSBR, and the Reds were third in the NL in EqHAR and fourth in EqGAR. At the other end of the spectrum are the Giants, who ranked 11th in the NL in EqSBR and 15th in EqHAR, poor showings mitigated by the fact that their EqOAR total was the majors' second highest behind the Rangers.
Turning the spotlight to the individuals who made the postseason, Andrus is the highest-ranked runner, placing third in the AL in EqBRR overall (8.2) on the strength of 5.0 EqHRR (second in that category behind Juan Pierre, who is indeed good for something) and first in the majors in EqOAR (2.7). Carl Crawford ranked just one spot behind Andrus in the AL both in EqBRR (7.5) and EqHAR (4.4). Ian Kinsler ranked sixth in the AL overall (5.0), third in EqOAR (1.5) and ninth in EqHAR (2.4). The top NL baserunners to see time in October are Andres Torres (7.0 EqBRR, third), Shane Victorino (5.8, fifth) and Drew Stubbs (5.1, seventh). At the not-so-happy end of the spectrum, Ryan Howard had the third-lowest total in the NL (-5.8), Jorge Posada had the second-lowest total in the AL (-5.7), and Guerrero was fifth-lowest (-4.9).
Curious about quantifying the impact of baserunning in the postseason, I asked Colin Wyers to run the October numbers through our typical EqBRR paces. With the caveat that these numbers use a slightly different run expectancy table on a different server than our regular-season report, and that we haven't had a chance to provide any historical context for this, here's a series-by-series look:
The first thing to note is that baserunning during the postseason has been generally a positive, with the six series producing 7.7 EqBRR, and with only two teams producing a net negative in a given series. Contrast that with the fact that during the regular season, teams were a combined 92.7 runs below average (the average being a long-term historical average), almost entirely due to stolen bases, and that 19 of the 30 teams were in the red.
Second, while the currencies are small to nonexistent in some categories, the runs particularly add up in the Rangers' two series. They were a whole 4.6 runs better than the Rays on the basepaths in ALDS, and 3.4 runs better than the Yankees. That's an eight-run advantage over their opponents over the course of 11 games, meaning that their baserunning has been worth nearly an extra win beyond their work at the plate and on the mound. Furthermore, the Rangers' 5.3 EqBRR is more than half their season total. Note that even by going 15 for 17, their stolen bases have only produced an extra 1.7 runs in the two series; it's the advancements on ground outs that have had the bigger impact (3.2 runs).
Meanwhile, the Giants were 1.7 runs worse than the Braves in the Division Series, but they actually outran the Phillies in the NLCS. While the Phils, who have fallen off a bit since posting two of the top 10 EqBRR totals and two of the top four EqSBR totals of the Retrosheet Era in 2007 and 2008, stole seven bases in eight attempts in the NLCS, those steals netted just half a run; the one out they made was when Jimmy Rollins was picked off second base. The Giants gained a bigger overall advantage (by all of 1.1 runs) thanks to hit advancement, and of course they did win that fantastic Game Four on Juan Uribe's sacrifice fly.
Finally, here's a look at the individual top and bottom 10s in EqBRR this postseason. Again, the currencies are relatively small, but not surprisingly, it's Rangers dominating the top spots, with you-know-who as the leader of the pack:
Baserunning certainly isn't the only reason the Rangers got to the World Series, but it's a weapon that's aided their cause significantly. The Rangers outplayed the Rays on both sides of the ball, and the extra runs they added on the bases were a major factor in a five-game squeaker—not as big as Cliff Lee or Cruz, but an advantage nonetheless. That their dominance of the Yankees on this front was overshadowed by them thoroughly out-pitching and out-hitting the Bronx Bombers only underscores that this team has multiple ways to beat their opponents. They have a significant leg up on this front going into the World Series, and we'll be watching to see if that advantage continues to hold.