For most of baseball history, baserunning has been measured by stolen bases and caught stealing. Fans have insisted for a long time that there is more to baserunning than stealing bases and they are correct. For example, a good baserunner will go from first to third on a single or advance from second to third on a fly ball more often than a poor baserunner. Yet, those types of maneuvers where not tracked until recently.
With the development of play-by-play databases such as Retrosheet, it is now possible to measure baserunning beyond stolen bases. The most advanced baserunning metric is Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EQBRR) found at at Baseball Prospectus. Developed by former Baseball Prospectus writer and current MLB team statistician Dan Fox, EQBRR takes into account the following types of baserunner advancement:
(1) Ground outs (e.g. Runner is on first base with other bases unoccupied and less than two outs and then advances to second on a ground out)
(2) Air outs (e.g. Runner is on second base with third base unoccupied and less than two outs and then advances to third on a fly out)
(3) Stolen bases, caught stealing and pickoffs.
(4) Hits (Runner goes from first to third on a single, second to home on a single or first to home on a double)
(5) Other (passed balls, wild pitches, balks)
A complex algorithm takes all of the above into consideration in estimating the number of runs which a player contributed to his team above what you would expect from an average baserunner. For those who are interested in the details, the methodology can be found here, here and here. .
The top baserunners in the Majors according to EQBRR from 2008-2010 are listed below:
Michael Bourn 29.9
Ian Kinsler 19.2
Ichiro Suzuki 18.1
Brett Gardner 16.9
Shane Victorino 16.6
Rajai Davis 16.3
Chone Figgins 15.8
Carl Crawford 15.8
Jacoby Ellsbury 14.1
Willy Taveras 13.7
Austin Jackson had an EQBRR of 6.9 in 2010 meaning that he contributed about seven runs with his base running beyond what you would expect from an average runner. This ranked him fifth in the American League and ninth in the Majors.
Beyond Jackson, the Tigers don't create a lot of runs with their baserunning. Last year, the rest of the team was 9 runs below average. Take away Johnny Damon (+3.7) and Gerald Laird (+1.0) and they were nearly 14 runs below average. They haven't done anything during the off-season to rectify that. Victor Martinez, their biggest acquisition of the winter, had an EqBRR of -4.9 from 2008-2010.
Most of next year's starters were below average from 2008-2010:
Austin Jackson 6.9
Scott Sizemore 0.9 (small sample)
Ryan Raburn 0.7
Will Rhymes -2.2 (small Sample)
Alex Avila -2.5
Calos Guillen -2.9
Victor Martinez -4.9
Miguel Cabrera -6.3
Magglio Ordonez -7.3
Brandon Inge -7.4
Jhonny Peralta -8.6
Baserunning is not nearly as important as hitting in run scoring, and I'm not overly concerned about the Tigers lack of speed. However, it's not something that can be ignored. Consider that there were an estimated 31 baserunning runs or three wins between the Rays (12.7) and Royals (-18.3) in 2010. The Tigers will probably be below average on the bases again in 2011 and will have to make up for it with their bats.