Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tigers Worst in Baseball at Base Running

A reader asked me today if I would give an update on the Tigers base running statistics this year.  His hypothesis was that the Tigers probably don't rank too well in the base running department and most Tigers fans would agree. 

Traditionally, the main base running statistics that have been tracked are stolen bases and caught stealing.  The Tigers are 29th in baseball with 27 stolen bases and have been caught stealing 13 times.  So,  they don't gain much base advancement through base stealing, but they have not run into a lot of outs either. 

Of course, base running is more than just stealing bases.  For example, a player can move from first to third on a single (or fail to do so) or advance a base on a fly ball. Baseball Prospectus uses a complex algorithm to track all kinds of base running advancement.  The BP base running statistics created by Dan Fox, now a statistician for an MLB team, include the following (all expressed in terms of runs above average):

  • GAR (Equivalent Ground Advancement Runs) - Contribution of advancement on ground outs.
  • SBR (Equivalent Stolen Base Runs) - contribution of stolen bases including runs subtracted for caught stealings and pickoffs.
  • AAR (Equivalent Air Advancement Runs) - Contribution of base runners advancing on fly outs
  • HAR (Equivalent Hit Advancement Runs) - contribution of runners taking the extra base on a hit: first to third on a single, second to home on a single, first to home on a double.
  • OAR (Equivalent Other Advancement Runs) - contribution of other base running advancements - passed balls, wild pitches and balks (evidence shows that those events are not entirely randomly and are influenced by base runners to an extent).
  • BRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs)- the sum of the five above statistics above or total base running contribution.
Note that players are penalized for making outs and also for not advancing when the average base runner would have been expected to do so.

The Tigers have scored runs on the bases as follows in 2013:

GAR = -9.35 runs above (below in their case) average on ground outs
SBR = +0.40 on base stealing
AAR = -3.35 on fly ball outs
HAR = -2.72 taking the extra base on hits
OAR = -0.73 on other events
BRR = -14.3 total base running runs above average

So, the Tigers are slightly above average in terms of base stealing/ caught stealing, but are below average in every other phase of base running.  They are especially poor at advancing on ground outs (last in baseball) and fly balls (second to the bottom).  The BRR number tells us that base running has cost the Tigers an estimated 14 runs compared to the average team with the same opportunities.  This is the worst total in the majors .   According to Baseball-Reference, they have also cost themselves two runs below average on double plays. 

Individually, the Tigers are ranked as follows on BRR:

Jackson 2.8
Infante 1.8
Cabrera 0.7
Avila -0.9
Hunter -1.5
Dirks -1.7
Pena -1.8
Peralta -2.7
Tuiasosopo -3.5
Fielder -3.9
Martinez -4.2

As one might expect, their best base runners have been Austin Jackson and Omar Infante.  The fact that Cabrera is their only other above average base runner may come to a surprise to some.  It's hard to find much wrong with his offensive game! The rest of the regulars are below average.

So, the Tigers don't use base running to help score runs which is no shock.  They make up for most of their lack of speed with heavy hitting as they are second in the American League in runs per game  They have lost a good number of close low scoring games when their bats are not producing though and one might  wonder whether they might have taken a couple of those games with some better speed. 


  1. They run like their manager.....he can't run either!!!

  2. They run like their manager.....he can't run either!!!

  3. AnonymousJuly 21, 2013

    Well one thing Cabrera has to his advantage is he certainly shows a lot of dedication and focus and commitment. He's not the most gifted runner but you would be hard pressed to find times that he is slouching or not having his head in the game. It's something you can't take for granted, the effort and the focus that is, just take a look at Victor Martinez the other day. There's a guy who is a long-time professional veteran and just for a few seconds you could see him staring at his hit that he thought was going to be a home run. It didn't end up being an impact to that particular play, but it could have been. His natural reaction and tendency wasn't to immediately bolt for the base after the hit, and you could tell he figured that out very soon after and was noticeably upset at himself for missing that element regardless of whether it would have mattered or not. You've gotta have your head in the game for the whole game and ALL of the time, not just part of the time.

    I've noticed a lot of funky things with our base-running this year, we have not only made a few more technical mistakes than you would like to see, but frankly the effort hasn't been there either. There are countless times that our players dog it especially when running to first base, and many times we don't even know how to run to a base or figuring out the proper transition to the next one. There's a lot of messy footwork and positioning out there and sometimes our guys are running down the grass to first base way off to the side of the base-paths. This is an issue in fielding too from time to time it seems that our players have trouble staying in consistent form at the fundamentals of fielding footwork and general positioning.

    Maybe the Tigers should hire Pete Rose to come in for a speech and instill the importance of "hustle", cause we sure don't hustle consistently. The video doesn't lie.

  4. Thanks, Lee. I wonder if this may be a factor in the Tigers' futility at scoring runs late in games (today notwithstanding). When you are facing elite relievers in the late innings, you aren't going to hit a lot of home runs, or even doubles. And if you are running station-to-station (or running into outs), you sure have to string a lot of singles together.

  5. AnonymousJuly 22, 2013

    Leyland's late inning strategy against KC was telling. He had Kelly pinch hit for Santiago and then stay in the game at 2nd. Hernan Perez is a much better 2nd baseman but Jim went with a weaker Kelly and kept Perez on the bench so that he could use him as a pinch runner for Martinez the next inning. It was almost brilliant as Martinez doubled in the AB thestrategyexpert mentions, and had there been an OF single the maneuver would paid dividends.

  6. AnonymousJuly 22, 2013

    I thought the Tigers hired somebody before Spring Training to help out with their running game??? Or was that strictly for Spring Training?

    1. AnonymousJuly 22, 2013

      Yes they signed a professional "baserunning guru" to help out.

    2. AnonymousJuly 22, 2013

      Sorry missed the second part of your question, he is indeed signed on for the whole season. His job is to focus on individual instruction amongst other things and he only works during homestands and has some kind of monthly schedule set up.

  7. I think getting somebody to help with base running in spring training is like working on fundamentals in spring training. It happens every spring, but doesn't amount to anything unless you've got the right players.

    1. AnonymousJuly 22, 2013

      I think this is a very important statement you make. That's why to me the key to baseball is to start with a solid GM that knows how to find the right players and how to instill a focus on proper fundamentals. That's where we fail at and that creates a negative force to deal with across countless elements of the game of baseball.

      We need to improve in a ton of areas and we aren't doing a good job at that and our GM has been given such a long leash that he doesn't even have to provide excuses or be accountable for high-end team performance. If you don't demand greatness and strive for it, then you'll never achieve it.

  8. Lee, this brings up another question. The Tigers, with their high-powered offense, sure get shut out a lot. I wonder if a power hitting attack with lousy base running might be less able to attack good pitching than a team that can advance more than one base at a time. Is there any way to devise a metric to determine if the Tigers tend to be more affected by the quality of pitching than most teams, that they bash around poor or mediocre pitchers at a better than average rate but have a harder time than the league average vs. elite pitchers? If so, it sure doesn't bode well for the post season.
    Thanks as always.

  9. nocynic, That kind of analysis would be very interesting. I've thought about doing something like that before (more along the lines of power hitting versus small ball versus quality of pitcher), but it would be time consuming. As for the Tigers, I don't really consider them a power hitting team. Last time I checked, they were first in batting average and sixth in home runs, so that might make the lack of speed worse.

    Anyway, they've been shutout a lot this year, but they were shutout less often than any other team in 2011-2012, so I don't think it's the make-up of the team that is causing shutouts.



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