Statistical revolutions have been hitting baseball with such frequency lately that it's almost hard for silly baseball bloggers like us to keep up with them. First, teams were supposed to follow the Billy Beane model and hoard players with fattened on base percentages. More recently, teams have been chided for the defensive abilities of their outfielders and infielders and told to improve defensive efficiency; the 2009 Mariners subscribed to that newsletter and the results are mixed as of yet. Let's make room for the new sabermetric craze that I hope will change the way teams value their players: an effective and easy way to measure baserunning.
Stats to measure baserunning are not new. Dan Fox, formerly of Baseball Prospectus and current advisor to the Pittsburgh Pirates, introduced Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR) a few years ago, based on earlier research published at The Hardball Times. EqBRR aims to measure how many runs a player contributes through good baserunning skills over what the average baserunner would do. It takes into account stolen base attempts, advancing on ground ball outs and flyouts, advancing on hits and taking the extra base successfully, and advancing on silly things like passed balls and errant throws. While a 90% success rate of stolen bases will earn you tidy credit, you can't assign the blame to Dale Sveum when you get tossed out at home plate: that counts as a big fat negative in EqBRR. Do something better than expected, you get an uptick.
Dan has a ton of great information at his blog, including a look at the top 50 and bottom 50 individual baserunning seasons in the last 50 years. Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines were pretty darn good. Todd Zeile, not so much. Here are your current EqBRR leaders:
- Carl Crawford
- Michael Bourn
- Chone Figgins
- Fred Lewis
- Vernon Wells
Fred Lewis is the most interesting name on the list because he's attempted just seven stolen bases and been caught thrice. But Lewis is the best in his league at getting to third base from first on singles and scoring from first on doubles; he's also above average in advancing on outs which makes him a hidden gem among baserunners.
But even more important than isolating the best baserunners in the big leagues would be to humiliate the real stinky ones. And perhaps it's unfair to look at the bottom of the EqBRR rankings because it isolates plodding first basemen and catchers with rickety knees. Nobody expects Carlos Lee to score from first on a long double or Bengie Molina to scamper down to third on a wild pitch that bounces right back to the catcher.
Instead, I want the official scorer at the ballparks to punish baseball players for making mental mistakes on the basepaths. He'd have to do double duty on errors, recording baserunning mistakes as well as defensive miscues. Wouldn't you want to know how many times Jose Reyes got doubled up at first base on a pop-up because he forgot there was just one out in the inning? Wouldn't it be interesting to see that Chipper Jones made an out because he shouldn't have been running to third base on a ground ball right back to the pitcher? Like fielding mistakes, these mental baserunning errors are subjective and not objective which is why the official scorer should be the one tallying the oopsies. Mental screw-ups like these committed by otherwise bright ballplayers cost their team runs.
In honor of Ruben Rivera's Single Worst Baserunning Mistake in Baseball History, I suggest we dub this statistic the RIVERA, or "Really, I'm Very Erratically Running Around".