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The Rays' Baserunning Ways: How good were the Rays after getting on base?

It's pretty obvious to anyone who has watched more than a couple baseball games that there's a lot more to good baserunning than just steals. For example, taking the extra base and not getting picked off when possible are both important parts of being a good baserunner. Yet, if you wanted to evaluate a player's baserunning, even more advanced websites (particularly Fangraphs) give you nothing to indicate baserunning contribution. First consider the things that good baserunning involves:

1) Advancing from first to third base on a single.

2) Scoring from second base on a single and from first on a double.

3) Advancing in a ground out.

4) Going from second to third base or scoring from third in a fly out with less than two outs.

5) Stealing bases.

6) Advancing on wild pitches and passed balls.

7) Inducing balks.

While all of these things have as much to do with the fielder as with the baserunner himself, in the long-run this stabilizes and in the short-run gives you an idea of how much a player contributed. As a rule of thumb, an extra base is worth .25 runs and an out made on the basepaths is worth -.50, though this varies depending on the number of outs, the inning, the score, and the base being taken.

To evaluate baserunning, we will consider Baseball Prospectus's EqBRR. EqBRR uses the above factors to determine how many runs a team or player contributes above average. Below are the EqBRR values for each of the AL Teams.

TBA 12.7
TEX 10.4
OAK 9.8
NYA 2.5
CLE -1
DET -2.2
CHA -3.9
TOR -7.4
MIN -7.7
SEA -7.7
BAL -8.5
BOS -8.6
ANA -17.5
KCA -18.3

Surprise surprise. The Rays had the best baserunning in the league. If the 3.4 runs obtained purely from stealing bases is removed, then the Rays were +9.2 runs just from advancing on balls in play and mistakes made by the pitcher and catcher (wild pitches, balks, and passed balls). It appears that our team's pure baserunning contributed roughly a win over the course of the season.

The table below illustrates how many runs each player on the Rays contributed via basepads.

Carl Crawford 7.5
Ben Zobrist 4.1
B.J. Upton 3.7
Evan Longoria 1.8
Jason Bartlett 0.9
Reid Brignac 0.7
Carlos Pena 0.4
Willy Aybar 0.2
Sean Rodriguez 0.2
John Jaso 0.1
Dan Johnson 0
Desmond Jennings -0.3
Kelly Shoppach -0.8
Matt Joyce -1.6
Dioner Navarro -3.4

In perhaps the least surprising revelation in the history of history, Carl Crawford was our best baserunner and Dioner Navarro was our worst. In all seriousness though, we see that the people lauded for having "good instincts" (Longoria, Zobrist, and Bartlett) actually do have above-average baserunning. Zobrist in particular was a tremendous baserunner despite having merely good speed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Matt Joyce was a well below-average baserunner this year, given that he's fairly athletic. Additionally, we see that John Jaso is clearly not the best runner on the Rays, despite what some commentators may believe. That being said, he was roughly average despite having well below-average speed, so he is indeed an "intelligent" baserunner.

While good base-running is part of being a good team, it's not as big a deal as it often is thought to be over the course of a season. The difference between the best and worst baserunning teams this year was 31 runs, or roughly 3 wins, a small fraction of the 29 wins that separated us from Kansas City. Despite this, a marginal benefit is still a benefit, and in a division like the AL East, squeezing out the extra 2% through baserunning is a necessity, not a luxury.