Despite potential for more steals, new-look lineup may be worse at base-running overall

Details of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz's ruling against A-Rod
It's official: Brian Roberts is a Yankee
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Thanks to the magic of free agency, the Yankees completely overhauled their offense this offseason. Brett Gardner is the only player from the 2013 Opening Day starting lineup who projects to be in the 2014 Opening Day starting lineup, but there’s still a chance he will be traded in the coming weeks. All that turnover isn’t a bad thing, of course. The Yankees had their worst offense since the early-1990s last year and they needed the overhaul.

As I mentioned last week, all the lineup turnover should lead to longer at-bats and more walks this summer. The Yankees were a pretty impatient club in 2013, especially by the team’s usual standards. Patience and plate discipline aren’t the only things that will change though. All the new faces will impact the team’s running game as well. No one thinks of New York as a running team, but they’ve stolen at least 100 bases in seven of the last eight seasons (including last season) and have had a positive base-running value (per FanGraphs) in three of the last four years. Last year was the exception.

The 2013 Yankees ranked fifth in the league with 115 stolen bases and third with a 79% success rate. Only the Red Sox (87%) and Royals (83%) were better. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki both topped 20+ steals while Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix were also in double-digits. Curtis Granderson and Alfonso Soriano managed eight steals apiece in their limited time. The team really lagged at taking the extra base, meaning going first-to-third on a single or scoring from first on a double. Stuff like that. They successfully took that extra base in only 35% of their opportunities, second lowest in the league (Tigers at 33%) and well-below the 39% league average. Here’s how the regular lineup (using the guys with the most playing time at each position) fared on the bases:

Players 2013 SBA% 2013 SB% 2013 XBT%
C Chris Stewart 4% 100% 19%
1B Lyle Overbay 1% 100% 23%
2B Robinson Cano 3% 88% 38%
SS Eduardo Nunez 10% 77% 40%
3B Jayson Nix 11% 93% 36%
LF Vernon Wells 7% 70% 39%
CF Brett Gardner 14% 75% 45%
RF Ichiro Suzuki 10% 83% 38%
DH Travis Hafner 2% 100% 32%
TOTAL 7% 82% 35%

First things first, some definitions are in order:

  • SBA% or Stolen Base Attempt Rate: This is how often a player attempted to steal a base when presented with a stolen base opportunity. That is whenever they were standing on first or second base with no runner on the next base. The league average was 6%.
  • SB% or Stolen Base Success Rate: Pretty straight forward. How many times did you try to steal a base and how many times were you successful? The league average was 74%.
  • XBT% or Extra Base Taken Rate: I mentioned this above. It’s the rate of which a player successfully took the extra base on a hit, meaning first-to-third on a single, etc. The league average, as I said, was 39%.

Simple enough, right? Last year’s regular lineup attempted about an average number of steals relative to their opportunities, and they were usually successful. Nix was caught only once in 14 attempts and Ichiro was caught only four times in 24 attempts. Gardner was not nearly as prolific or successful stealing bases last year as he has been in the past, and my theory is that he often put on the brakes to make sure there was someone on base for Cano. When you struggle to score like the Yankees did, having men on for your best hitter is a necessity.

The slow guys like Stewart, Overbay, and Hafner managed to go a combined eight-for-eight in stolen bases attempts but those are anomalies. Usually when someone like that steals a base, it’s on the back-end of a double-steal or because the pitcher completely stopped paying attention to them. The core base-stealers, the guys you expect to run like Nunez, Nix, Gardner, and Ichiro, were average or better on the bases in the three categories above. They carried the lineup to those strong overall marks, but most of those players are gone now. Either gone as in off the roster or gone as in relegated to a bench role.

Obviously, the club’s biggest base-running addition this winter was Jacoby Ellsbury. He led baseball in both stolen bases (52) and FanGraphs’ base-running value (+11.4 runs) in 2013, and those 52 steals came with only four (!) caught stealings. The guys was an animal on the bases. Ellsbury has three 50+ stolen base seasons to his credit and he’s been successful in 84% of his career attempts. I don’t think it’s crazy to think he will be the Yankees’ most dangerous base-running threat since Rickey Henderson way back in the day. Here’s how the rest of the projected lineup has done on the bases these last three seasons:

Players 2011-13 SBO% 2011-13 SB% 2011-13 XBT%
C Brian McCann 2% 67% 16%
1B Mark Teixeira 2% 75% 28%
2B Brian Roberts 7% 77% 42%
SS Derek Jeter 5% 71% 33%
3B Kelly Johnson 8% 76% 29%
LF Brett Gardner 21% 77% 48%
CF Jacoby Ellsbury 19% 83% 49%
RF Carlos Beltran 4% 68% 37%
DH Alfonso Soriano 8% 68% 38%
TOTAL 9% 76% 36%

Teixeira and McCann are two of the very worst base-runners in baseball. Teixeira has never been fast and McCann has nearly 9,000 innings worth of squatting behind the plate on his legs. Amazingly, they might be downgrades from Overbay and Stewart on the bases, respectively. Thankfully they do almost literally everything else on a baseball field better.

Roberts and Jeter are almost complete unknowns due to injury. Roberts has barely played the last few years and Jeter missed almost all of last season due to a variety of leg and ankle problems. He wasn’t a particularly good base-runner before that, as the table shows, but there’s a chance he’ll be Teixeira-esque on the bases this coming season due to his age and injuries. Roberts has been effective when healthy — a touch better than league average across the board in the table — but he’s day-to-day at all times.

It’s interesting that Beltran and Soriano had nearly identical success rates for stealing bases and taking the extra base from 2011-13, but the latter attempted twice as many stolen bases. Of course, Beltran’s knees are a disaster while Soriano is perfectly healthy. That’s a bit factor. Regardless of who is in right and who is at DH on a given day, they’ll be a downgrade from Ichiro but an upgrade over Hafner. Ellsbury effectively replaces Wells and that’s a huge upgrade. Johnson is solid on the bases — moreso while stealing bases than taking the extra base — but a downgrade from Nix.

The Yankees have a lot of age in their starting lineup (putting it lightly), so I think they’re more likely to underperform on the bases compared to recent years than maintain the status quo. At least guys like Roberts, Beltran, Soriano, and Jeter. Ellsbury, Johnson, and Gardner should be fine, and in fact I think Gardner might go nuts and try to steal 50+ bases in his contract year. I would. Overall, given their rates these few years, the Yankees’ rebuilt starting lineup may wind up stealing (substantially) more total bases in 2014 than 2013, but they may do so with less efficency and without doing a better job of taking the extra base on hits.

Details of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz's ruling against A-Rod
It's official: Brian Roberts is a Yankee
  • Batsman

    2 players out of a 9 in a lineup ain’t bad.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Sorry, my mind is still blown when I see “2B – Robinson Cano ANYONE ELSE

    Having a hard time adjusting to that. OK, proceed.

    • I’m One

      Unfortunately we’ll have many seasons to adjust to that. And probably have a few years of changing names/faces during the season.

  • Dr TJ Eckleberg

    Great piece, Mike. I think I’ll take lower efficiency with more SB any day. This team has the potential, with a f more riding out in the next year, to be pretty exciting.

    • Dr TJ Eckleberg

      *a bit more rounding out

      Fucking phone typing

  • Dalek Jeter

    I’d love to see Gardner go crazy on the base paths this year. He and Ells alone could steal 100 bases combined.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Remember back when you’d be watching a Yanks/Sox game and Ellsbury would get on base and you JUST KNEW he was going to take 2nd base? And that pit in your stomach because it wasn’t an IF but a WHEN he was taking off? And how pissed you’d be because it was inevitable that he’d do it once a game at least?

      Despite my initial loathing of the Ellsbury signing, its gonna be A SHIT TON of fun to be on this side of that feeling, I have to admit…

      • lightSABR

        I’ve always had an irrational fondness for Gardner and Ichiro for similar reasons. Speed guys are just fun to watch, even if their entertainment value exceeds their actual runs produced.

        • Chris

          Yup, I feel the same way.

        • The Great Gonzo

          Yeah, but Ellsbury has that combination of speed, aggression and confidence that he’s gonna get that base that is infuriating to see on the other team…

          • Chris

            Building on what someone else said here. I hope he can impart some of that to Gardner. They’d be a deadly double steal combo.

  • giuseppe

    Let’s hope watching and learning from Ellsbury can help Gardner become the baserunner we always hoped he’d be.

    • Chris


      no you know what?


  • Jim

    Mike, I know Sizemore is coming off two knee problems, but what was his baserunning like prior to the injuries? He could very well make this team out of spring training after all.

    • Mike Axisa

      He was awesome, but after three knee surgeries (including microfracture on both) I can’t see him helping on the bases or at all. His knees are Matsui-esque.

      • E.T.


    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      OLIVER is projecting Sizemore for 3.8 WAR.

      I’ll just leave that there.

  • jd

    maybe im expecting too much, but it is amazing to me how non threatening gardner was on the bases last year….the yanks couldnt afford to hire a coach to teach him how to steal?? hopefully it will be contagious this year….

  • NYguy3465

    Brett Gardner is the worst base runner, he drives me nuts.

    If i see him slide into first one more time i’m going to lose it, or standing on 1st base watching pitch after pitch go by.

    You’d think he’d learn how to run the bases and bunt.

    I’m hoping Ells can teach him how to steal and run the bases.

  • BillyBall

    Trade Option:

    Trade Ichiro and eat 2 million with Zolio Almonte for Nick Franklin. Yanks save 4 million and Ichiro gets to retire in Seattle Uniform plus we give Seattle two viable Outfield options in which they are looking to trade for outfield help. Nick Franklin competes with Brian Roberts at second and maybe plays some SS and 3rd.

    Yankees should consider moving Jeter to third until Eric Jagiello is ready because it is now obvious that Arod Yankee career is all but over. Suing the Players Union is the last straw for any fringe Arod supporters.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Your trade proposal sucks…. But I’d do that. I think they’d value Franklin more than we do though…

      • BllyBall

        my trade proposal sucks but you would do it??????

        Jeter would provide average offense at third and possibly extend his career. There are no other 3b options in reality other than Scott Sizmore and Kelly Johnson which is not that comforting.

        Brandon Ryan will provide excellent defense and decent bat and speed.

        Nick Franklin has played SS in minors and could compete with Roberts at 2nd base and be the utility infielder and still young enough with hopes of developing into an everyday 2nd baseman.

        Now that we traded Ichiro and Almonte we need a 4th outfielder and you have Johnson as that 4th outfielder plus you have a few prospects in the minors getting closer and giving the team more youth.

        Trading for Franklin makes allot of sense as our team is old and wended to infuse youth plus getting rid of most of Ichiro money in 4 million. We lose Zolio Almonte but in order to get a prospect like Franklin who has lost some appeal last season you have to give up something of value and Zolio had a good winter in Dominican League.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          I’m working on the “Great Lost Grunge Classics of the 90’s” playlist now in case I have to drive them over.

          OF COURSE I’d do that.

  • dars

    You do not need the whole line-up to steal bases. Ellsbury, Gardner, Roberts and Nunez will create havoc on the bases. I don’t agree with the take on this article.

    • Hawkeye

      I agree. Also do your totals count all the players on the roster? Many of those 2013 players did not play all that regularly and bench players need to be counted for both years, though I realize we don’t know this years players. Which makes this piece a lot of pessimistic guess work.

  • dars

    People are underestimating Brian Roberts. He has been injured for two years but healthy the last 2 months of 2013 and played at a very high level. He will be the best surprise of the year, a .280 average with 12-14 homers and 65 RBIs with 15 SB is not out of the question….

    • We Need Tanaka

      Don’t see Roberts playing 140-150 games

  • Darren

    I would be very happy with the infield version of Bartolo Colon’s Yankee stint. To me that would mean .280/.350 w 13 dingers, 60 RBI and 125 games played. One 15 day DL stint for a hamstring costs him 20 games in August and keeps him fresh for the playoffs.

  • 42yankee

    Ya know I was/am all hopped up for the 2014 season but every time I read these (idiot) reporters on River Ave blogs and their degrading and constant knocking of the 2014 Yankees, it makes me want to puke. Do any of these writers have anything DECENT or GOOD to say about 2014 Yankees. This dumb article on the trouble the Yanks will have worse base-stealing, than last year. Where the hell does ASIXA get his info. Maybe he’s a hidden REDSUX reporter. Ellsbury can make up for most if not all of the drop-off ASIXA babbles about. We need to read feel good articles about this 14 team not all these articles that are downers. I think the Yanks will be better than last year 2nd base will be OK and RYAN will pick up Jeter’s slack at SS. So onwards Yanks in 2014.