Dec
01

Looking at the Yankees’ baserunning in 2009

By

Run Johnny run!The Yankees are often accused of relying too much on the homerun, and at times that can certainly appear to be true. We all know they can sit back and rake with the best of ‘em, but how well did the Bombers create runs on the bases last year? After taking a detailed look at Robinson Cano’s baserunning exploits yesterday, now it’s time to examine the Yankees as a whole.

As a team, the Yanks stole 111 bases in 2009, led by Derek Jeter‘s 30. It was their fourth straight season with triple-digit steals, and not only did the team swipe a boatload of bases, they stole them efficiently. Their 80% success rate was the second highest in baseball, well above the break-even point of 72-75%. According to Baseball Prospectus’ EqSBR, the Yanks were 3.92 runs better than expected in 2009 given the number and quality of stolen bases they attempted, trailing only Texas for the best mark in baseball.

Note: Make sure you read yesterday’s post on Cano for info about BP’s baserunning stats.

Unsurprisingly, most of the stolen base damage was done by Brett Gardner (2.40 EqSBR) and Jeter (2.00 EqSBR), while Johnny Damon checked in at a solid 1.42 EqSBR. The trio was a combined 68 for 78 (87%) in stolen base attempts last year. Alex Rodriguez (1.14 EqSBR, 14 for 16 in SB attempts) and Melky Cabrera (1.03 EqSBR, 10 of 12) also chipped in over a run’s worth of steals each.

However, stolen bases are only on part of the baserunning equation. Going from first-to-third on a single, moving up on a wild pitch, advancing from second to third on a ground ball to the right side, stuff like that also contributes to a team’s ability to score runs. Unfortunately, the Yanks were absolutely brutal at what we’ll call non-stolen base baserunning last year.

Following the lead of Erik Manning at FanGraphs, we can determine how well – or how poorly – the team performed in these non-stolen base baserunning situations using some more fancy BP stats. By subtracting EqSBR from EqBRR, we’ll know how well someone (or in this case, the entire team) performed on the bases while doing something other than stealing. As I said earlier, the Yanks sucked in these spots, coming in at more than ten runs below average, third worst in baseball behind only the Braves and Orioles. Here’s the player-by-player breakdown:

2009 Baserunning
Since ten runs equal one win, the Yankees cost themselves more than a win with their non-stolen base baserunning in 2009, which is dreadful. On the flip side, the Rockies, Cardinals, Twins, and A’s all added a win to their team’s ledger via their baserunning, so congrats to them. The data in the table forms a nice bell curve, as most of the players are scrunched in the middle (say from -0.50 to +0.50 runs) with just a handful at the extremes.

Brett Gardner, unsurprisingly, was the best baserunner on the team, and we already went over Cano yesterday. Johnny Damon has been a tremendous baserunner his entire career, and that proved true again this year as he was the only other player on the team to make a significant contribution with his non-stolen base baserunning. After those three though, the team’s baserunning is pretty non-existent. Well that’s not true, it exists, it’s just so bad that it hurts the team.

Jorge Posada, obviously, is the worst offender. In fact, out of the 845 players that ran the bases at least once in 2009, Posada’s non-stolen base baserunning ranked … wait for it … 845th! Melvin Mora (-7.80 EqBRR-EqSBR) was the only other player in baseball who’s non-stolen base baserunning cost his team more than 6.5 runs. Posada’s baserunning was that bad. Of course, he’s a 38-year-old catcher that has caught almost 12,200 innings in his career (not counting playoffs) and battled a hamstring issue early last year, so he’s expected to be slow, just not this awful at baserunning. He’s redefined station-to-station.

Moving away from Posada, who almost singlehandedly cost the Yankees a win with his baserunning, the tandem of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira cost the Yankees 4.21 runs with their non-stolen base baserunning last year, though they more than make up for it with their bats. Both guys were below average when it comes to advancing on base hits according to BP’s data, though A-Rod has a built-in excuse with his hip surgery while Tex is just noticeably slow. Alex has traditionally been a positive baserunner in those situations, so hopefully he’ll rebound in the future as he gets further away from his hip surgery. Tex’s baserunning performance was right in line with the rest of his career, so don’t expect any sort of rebound.

Angel Berroa managed to cost the Yankees a full run on the bases despite being on-base just twelve times in pinstripes (four hits, one hit by pitch, seven pinch running appearances). Derek Jeter was a below average baserunner in 2009 almost entirely because of his performance on sacrifice flies, however that doesn’t jive with how he performed in those spots in recent years, so expect him to get back on track next year. We knew Jose Molina would be awful on the bases, while everyone else’s performance was pretty negligible and right around average.

The good news is that with expected rebounds from A-Rod and Jeter, plus continued improvement from Cano and the possible arrival of Austin Jackson, the Yankees should be a better baserunning team next year. Posada’s a lost cause on the bases in every way, so that’s a big hurdle for the team to overcome if they plan on being a positive baserunning team going forward. For what it’s worth, the Yankees were more than a run above average on the bases in 2008 (I’m guessing it’s because Posada was hurt most of the year), so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

As the Yankees continue to follow through on their plan to get younger and more athletic, one of the first places we’ll notice it is on the bases. Younger legs mean more first-to-thirds, more steals, and more risky advances, but as the data shows, it’s not really a huge part of the game. Despite being the third worst baserunning team in the game, the Yanks cost themselves only one win over the full 162-game season. On the other hand, the best baserunning teams only improved by one win. A win is a win, but sacrificing a little on the bases in exchange for a considerable advantage elsewhere (like living with Tex’s baserunning because of his bat and defense) is perfectly acceptable in my book.

Photo Credit: Nick Laham, Getty Images

Categories : Analysis

66 Comments»

  1. Hey Mike, really enjoyed the post on the Yankees baserunning, but I’d like to take issue with your assessment of Posada. These numbers can’t correctly calculate the extent to which Posada inspired his team by going for bases despite the odds of being thrown out. If you had watched the games you would know that it pumped up the crowd and the bench. Also, he is a catcher so that probably shouldn’t count against him. So if you take it out, and also add in the value of his veteran leadership, you probably get Yankees have good baserunning, also they won the World Series so what difference does it make anyway.

  2. “Both guys were below average when it comes to advancing on base hits according to BP’s data, though A-Rod has a built-in excuse with his hip surgery while Tex is just noticeably slow.”

    … oh, and he runs like a… I don’t know what he runs like. I was gonna say Tex runs like a girl, but girls run with more balance and agility than that.

    Tex runs like a crazy fucker. That’s the best I’ve got. His runs should be YouTubed to a Yakety Sax soundtrack. Unintentional comedy. He may be the least athletic great athlete ever.

  3. Accent Shallow says:

    I feel like this really shows the limited impact of baserunning, as long as half your team doesn’t consist of Gardner-like or Posada-like players.

    Just look how almost everyone is <1 win.

  4. A.D. says:

    ohhh Frankie Cervelli trying to steal bases.

  5. Rose says:

    Ok, pretend for a moment that I don’t know anything about metallurgy, engineering, or physics, and just tell me what the hell is going on!!

  6. Cody Ransom: Positive numbers across the board.

    FACT: The man wins ballgames. FACT.

  7. Mike HC says:

    It seemed like Jeter had a down year on the base paths. Maybe even the last couple of years it seems as if he has a slowed a bit. He used to never get thrown out on the bases and always made the right play. The past couple of years, it has been far more common for him to be tagged out mid base path. I see that the numbers agree with my eyes here, although I’m not sure where these numbers put him earlier in his career.

  8. The fact that Hideki Matsui’s EqSBR is -0.43, and not 0.00 like it probably should be, is a little frightening in retrospect.

    If HazMat returns, let’s just go ahead and give him the permanent red light next season.

  9. Thomas says:

    The data in the table forms a nice bell curve

    Someone in one of my classes asked, “If the bell curve was created by DeMoivre and proved by Gauss, then who was Bell?”

    This was a junior year engineering course.

  10. mtrico says:

    Posada is by far the worst base runner I have ever seen at the major league level (perhaps there have been worse, but watching him every day, I know he is absolutely terrible.) It’s good to see that the stats back up what my eyes are telling me, when it comes to running the bases, Posada has the instincts of a brick.

  11. larryf says:

    and don’t forget Matsui doesn’t slide! I love that stat.

    The rally-killing double play is also a major downer for Posada. One would hope Cervelli would beat a few of those out.

    Hip Hip Jorge!!!

  12. rbizzler says:

    I am glad that we can finally quantify how awful Jorge is as a base runner. The ‘eye test’ has for years not treated him kindly, but costing the team just short of a win is horrendous.

  13. Mike Pop says:

    This factors in to players WAR’s right?

  14. king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

    I’m still stunned that Molina not only wasn’t the worst, he’s a marginally better base runner than your boy Jeter…

    :)

  15. Riddering says:

    Wait a second. Are you telling me the Angels didn’t compile 12+ wins based on their running alone?

    In fact, out of the 845 players that ran the bases at least once in 2009, Posada’s non-stolen base baserunning ranked … wait for it … 845th!

    As bad as Posada is, that’s not a fair assessment. If you gave the guy only one non-steal baserunning opportunity in an entire season I’m sure he’d prep up and be gold, Mike, pure gold!

  16. Is EQBRR the only advanced baserunning stat we have?

    • The Oracle says:

      The Bill James Handbook has a detailed breakdown of baserunning, including how many times a player went from 1st to 3rd, scored from 1st on a double, etc. It’s easier to understand and more clearly stated than using EQBRR.

      For example from the ’09 Handbook, in 2009 Jorge Posada went first to third on a single 4 times in 20 opportunities. He scored from second on a single 4 out of 15 times, and scored from first on a double 1 out of 7 times. He took 8 bases on passed balls, wild pitches, sac flies, etc. He ran into 4 outs on the bases, was not doubled off once, and grounded into 13 double plays in 91 opportunities. Their formula has Posada’s net gain on the bases as -17.

      Personally, I enjoy actually being able to see how the numbers break down rather than just throwing out “Posada has a -8.00 EQBRR.”

      • Dwnflfan says:

        I suspect a park effect here. The short RF in YSIII helps hold runners much like the LF in Camden does. The Orioles, finished dead last with a -15 in the Fan Graphs article.

        Anyway we can see Home/Road splits for these?

        Park effect or no, Posada has has the worst base running instincts I have ever seen.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    JoPo is one of my favorite players, but he’s a godawful baserunner. As Accent Shallow said above, it’s the combo of no speed + terrible instincts.

    Station-to-station is one thing. But he then also manages to run into outs. That’s frustrating. One can understand a lack of speed in a 38 year old catcher. At some point, however, you’d think he’d figure out when not to run.

  18. [...] Mike Axisa looks at the Yankees baserunning in 2009… [...]

  19. [...] need to worry about them. Instead, we can use the same EqBRR-EqSBR calculation I presented here and here to determine how each player’s non-stolen base baserunning effected the team. Over that same [...]

  20. [...] When it comes to baseball skills that don’t involve a bat, Lopez is adequate at best. He has extensive experience at all three non-first base infield spots, though he’s awful at short according to UZR per 150 defensive games (-10.7 career) while being no better than average at second (-1.0) and third (+0.7). Lopez even has some experience in the corner outfield spots, but we’re talking about 109 career innings total. It’s not enough to think he could fill in there regularly. Once upon a time he was a baserunning threat, swiping 68 bases in 89 tries (76.4%) in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but he’s tailed off since then (just 22 steals in 38 tries since, an unacceptable 57.9% success rate). Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning stats have Lopez at just about average in non-stolen base baserunning situations (going first-to-third, scoring from second on a single, etc.) over the last two seasons, but that would be an upgrade for the Yankees based on recent years. [...]

  21. [...] despite being young and relatively athletic. When I looked at the team’s baserunning ability last winter, I found that the 2009 squad was worth 10.30 runs below average in non-stolen base situations. I [...]

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