Thursday, October 03, 2013

Worst Base Running Team in Baseball

If you follow the Tigers closely, you have surely figured out that base running is not one of their strengths.  From Alex Avila to Miguel Cabrera to Victor Martinez and beyond, the Tigers are just not built for speed.  Even if you don't watch very often, you may have noticed that no Tiger reached double figures in stolen bases this year.  The last time they failed to have one player reach ten stolen bases was in 1973  when a team of aging stars such as Norm Cash, Bill Freehan and Al Kaline combined for just 28 stolen bases.

This year's team stole just 35 bases with 20 caught stealing for a mediocre 64% success rate.  Base running is more than just stealing bases though.  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 the Pirates) 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 scored runs on the bases as follows in 2013:

GAR = -8.16 estimated runs above (below in their case) average on ground outs
SBR = -0.90 on base stealing
AAR = -4.65 on fly ball outs
HAR = -7.52 taking the extra base on hits
OAR = -0.32 on other events
BRR = -21.5 total base running runs below average

So, the Tigers were below average in all types of base running plays and were especially deficient at advancing on ground outs (last in baseball), fly balls (last) and hits (second to last).  The BRR number tells us that base running cost the Tigers an estimated 22 runs compared to the average team with the same opportunities.  This was by far the worst total in the majors.  

Individually, lead-off man Austin Jackson was the Tigers best base runner with 4.7 BRR (See Table 1).  Not surprisingly though, most of their regulars were under zero meaning they cost the team runs with their base running.  The worst runners were Martinez (-5.9) and Fielder (-5.3).

Table 1: Tigers Base Running Runs, 2013

Data Source:

Table 2 below shows that the Tigers were not the only playoff team that was below average in base running, but they cost themselves 17 more runs than the Braves who were second worst base running team to reach post-season.  The best base running team among post-season clubs was the Cardinals with 14.3 BRR led by major league leader Matt Carpenter (8.6).  

Table 2: Base Running Runs for Playoff Teams, 2013

St. Louis
Los Angeles
Tampa Bay

Data Source:

Fortunately, the Tigers were able to score plenty of runs without the benefit of speed as they finished second in the American League with a .780 OPS and 4.9 runs scored per game.  On the downside, it's not as easy to hit in the post-season when you're facing strong pitchers most nights.  Thus, the ability to manufacture runs probably becomes a little more important.  The Tigers won't be stealing many runs though, so they will have to continue to hit for average and power in order to score runs in post-season,. 


  1. Solid stuff, always thought it was my bias that Detroit left guys out there more often, or did less with more. Here's hoping for the occasional sac fly in Octiger!

  2. And the rosters are out. Don Kelly makes the team over Castellanos and Tui. That's really annoying.


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