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On Baserunning, Timeliness and Moderation

Over at Baseball Prospectus: Unfiltered, Dan Fox takes a look at the baserunning metrics in the new Bill James Handbook (BJH) and juxtaposes them with Baseball Prospectus's own baserunning stats to get a feel for how well they correlate with one another.

With the help of the extensive play-by-play data that has become readily (at a cost) available in recent years, analysts are able to present baserunning information that has nothing to do with stolen bases. This isn't to say that stolen bases aren't a component of baserunning or even that they aren't a significant one, just that previous measurements of base-stealing versus base-running were too difficult and time-consuming to even consider compiling.

Thanks to companies like Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) we know how many times a player has gone from first to third on a single, scored from first on a double, taken an extra base on a passed ball or wild pitch, etc. We hear broadcasters constantly laud this player or that for being a terrific baserunner and now we have some data to help defend or refute those claims.

As it pertains to the Mets, both the BJH and BP agree that Jose Reyes is one of the best -- if not the very best -- baserunner in the game. The BJH system ranks him first overall based on two baserunning categories. The first they call BR Gain, or base running gain, which is the total number of bases gained as a baserunner relative to the league average and excluding stolen bases. This includes the aforementioned baserunning situations, and the system also deducts bases -- three to be precise -- if a player is "doubled off or runs into an out", relative to an average baserunner. James doesn't really define "doubled off" or "runs into an out", though I take them to mean "doubled off on a lineout" and "making an out on the basepaths independent of basestealing and forceouts.

The second baserunning category is called SB Gain, which is simply stolen bases minus twice caught stealing. For example, Reyes's SB Gain would be his total steals (78) minus twice his times caught (2 x 21), or 36. That mark tied with Eric Byrnes for tops in the majors, narrowly edging out Juan Pierre's SB Gain. As a team the Mets were first overall with 108 SB Gain.

In addition to his basestealing prowess, Reyes also led all of baseball in BR Gain with 34, just a shade better than Jimmy Rollins's 32. Reyes's aggregate bases gained in 2007 was 70, nine ahead of second-place Rollins.

BP's baserunning measurements work differently, though their intention is to measure the same thing. Their results are expressed in runs, which makes them easily converted to something resembling wins if we accept that roughly ten runs is equivalent to one extra victory.

BP has Reyes ranked second overall, due mostly to his baserunning and less to his basestealing. I haven't found a table of league-wide rankings for every player, but Reyes's 6.6 NonEqSBR (equivalence base runs not attributed to stolen bases) trails only Pierre (7.5) and Grady Sizemore (7.4) on the partial list provided. BP really seems to rake Reyes over the coals when calculating his EqSBR (equivalence stolen base runs), docking him considerably for the (many) times he was caught stealing as well as times he was picked off, an event which is mysteriously excluded from caught stealing marks and, interestingly, not included in the BJH anywhere at all.

Reyes's 77-for-98 basestealing record in 2007 worked out to a 78.6% success rate, strong but not outstanding by any means. By comparison, Pierre went 64-for-79, an 81.0% clip, yet his 4.2 EqSBR was almost double Reyes's 2.2. Why? I'm guessing it's the pickoffs. After much searching and frantic IM'ing I was finally able to track down pickoffs by batter thanks to Baseball Prospectus's Custom Reports. It turns out that Reyes was picked off twelve (12!) times this season.

I am going to assume that the figures on the BP report do not include instances where a pitcher throws to first and the runner takes off, only to be thrown out at second. That would count as a caught stealing and shouldn't be a pickoff. BP's glossary is no help, defining PICKOFF as "Number of times picked off". That's like when you open the dictionary for the definition of a word that's been puzzling you, only to find:

      splendiferousness, n. the act or state of being splendiferous.

In any case, let's move ahead with the assumption that pickoffs are pickoffs and not a subset of caught stealing. Pierre was picked off six times in 2007, half has often as Reyes. Pierre had a slight edge in basestealing efficiency when we considered only true steals and caught stealing, but let's juxtapose those marks with the pickoffs we just found and see how they really compare. After all, though pickoffs aren't included in caught stealing they are equally detrimental from a value-loss standpoint. Pickoffs might actually be considered worse than caught stealing in some abstract way since a caught stealing was at least an attempt at something better.

Player SB CS SB% PO SB-PO%
Jose Reyes 77 21 78.6% 12 70.0%
Juan Pierre 64 15 81.0% 6 75.3%
Hanley Ramirez 51 14 78.5% 4 73.9%
Carl Crawford 50 10 83.3% 3 79.4%
Eric Byrnes 50 7 87.7% 5 80.1%
Brian Roberts 50 7 87.7% 8 76.9%
Chone Figgins 41 12 77.4% 1 75.9%
Jimmy Rollins 41 6 87.2% 5 78.8%
Ichiro Suzuki 37 8 82.2% 1 80.4%
Corey Patterson 37 9 80.4% 1 78.7%

Reyes may have led the big leagues in stolen bases last year but his efficiency in basestealing-related activities hovered right around the break even point, lagging well behind everyone else in the top ten among basestealers. SB-PO% represents the player's stolen base rate when pickoffs are counted as caught stealing [SB/(SB+CS+PO)], so if we allow that pickoffs are just as bad as caught stealing we find that Jose Reyes -- and the Mets, by extension -- may have been better off if he had never even thought about attempting a stolen base last year, all things considered. At all events, the value he added to the team with his basestealing endeavors was marginal at best. As we saw before, BP calculates Reyes's figure at 2.2 runs, which is slightly more than one-fifth of a win. All of that running, one-fifth of a win.

Much of Reyes's problem was that pitchers expected him to steal every time he was on first. The result was that he could rarely take a battery by surprise and that every stolen base was a hard-fought one. There were a lot of pickoff attempts, a lot of diving back into the bag, a lot of retreating to first after a foul ball. He is considerably faster than teammate David Wright, but the latter's ability to pick his spots and catch the opposing team off-guard allowed him to swipe 34 bases in 39 attempts (87.2%). Even considering his six pickoffs Wright's SB-PO% was a solid 79.1%.

The bottom line, it seems, is that Reyes should probably consider dialing it back a notch or two. He was involved in 110 basestealing-related events last year, or approximately two every three games. I'm not qualified to say whether all of that running may have contributed to his lackluster second half at the plate, but I'm willing to bet that it didn't help matters. Most players tend to wear down physically as the season grinds into August and September, so any extra miles on Reyes's tires could reasonably be expected to further deplete his energy in the waning months of the season.

Scaling his basestealing events back to something in the 50-60 range will allow him to better leverage his speed by staggering the times he steals with the times he does not and keeping opposing pitchers guessing far more than they do now. Doing so will increase Reyes's overall value to the team directly by making himself more efficient on the basepaths, and indirectly by keeping him fresh through the summer.