Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tigers Base Running Needs Improvement

In Jason Beck's column yesterday, he reported that Jim Leyland wants the Tigers to improve their base running this year:
"I think we were a below-average baserunning team that has to get at least average,"
The Tigers skipper went on to say that it's hard to teach base running because there is not a statistic for it:
"It's one of the toughest parts of the game to teach, because it's really not a statistic," Leyland said. "You see the batting average. You see the RBIs. You see the home runs. You don't see the baserunning. There's never anything about the baserunning in the paper, other than stolen bases.
There actually are statistics for it now and Jason Beck found one on Bill James Online. According to that site, the Tigers advanced an extra base (e.g go from first to third on a single, steal a base) 12 fewer times than the average team in 2008.

It was actually worse than that though as James' methodology does not include base advancement on ground balls and fly balls, two categories where the Tigers were particularly bad. Using my algorithm (which is really a variation of what James did), the Tigers were actually -65.9 bases gained below average in 2008.

Table 1 below shows that the Tigers were below average in all running categories: Taking the extra base on hits (-6.1), moving up on ground outs (-34.8), advancing on air balls (-17.1) and other types of advancement (-7.9). The other category includes stolen bases, caught stealing, pickoffs, passed balls, wild pitches and balks. In contrast, the team was above average in a couple of categories in 2007: hits (+10.7) and other (16.2). Overall, they were right around league average in 2007 (+1.3).

So, Leyland is not just blowing spring training smoke. They really were bad at base running last year and it's an area which needs work. The biggest culprits were Magglio Ordonez (-34.6), Miguel Cabrera (-19.8), Marcus Thames (-13.2) and Edgar Renteria (-12.8).

Another thing to keep in mind is that the first place Twins were +45 in base running last year which is one of the reasons they scored 8 more runs than the Tigers despite being tied in OBP and .036 behind the Bengals in slugging. The other reason was a .305 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Table 1: Advancement By Tigers Base Runners in 2007-2008

Bases Gained Above Avg.






Ground balls






Other (SB,PB,WP,BK)






The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "".


  1. Glad you wrote this. Beyond the Boxscore just took a look at baserunning using BPro's numbers.

    Tigers came out at -3.9 runs on the bases. While every little bit helps, the difference between the best and worst teams on the base paths was 26 runs. However, most teams were in between a 10 run spread of about -6.5 and +7.5-ish.

  2. Your boy Gary Sheffield made the MLB Speed Demons Team:



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