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Indians Look to Improve Baserunning in 2013

The 2012 Cleveland Indians finished 13th in the American League in runs scored with 667 and much of the problem had to do with a lack of power in the lineup. On-base percentage is the key component to scoring runs in baseball, but despite being above league average with a .324 OBP the team still struggled to score. The biggest problem was a power shortage fueled by a lack of home runs (136), which led to a lackluster slugging percentage (.381) and wOBA (.310)—all of which ranked second-worst in the league.

Driving in runs on the home run is the easiest way to score, but the other component to scoring runs involves the ability to manufacture runs. A manufactured run, as defined by Bill James, includes acts such as stealing a base or bunting or scoring on wild pitches, moving up on groundouts and flyouts, taking advantage of errors, and taking extra bases on hits. In short, manufacturing runs requires more than just stealing bases—it requires smart baserunning.

The Indians finished sixth in the AL in manufactured runs in 2012 but manager Terry Francona will look to increase the pressure on the opposition. Talking to Jordan Bastian last week, Francona spoke about the need for better baserunning:

“I think we have the potential to be [a good baserunning team], That’s more important to me than the number of stolen bases. Not getting doubled off on line drives, going first to third, things like that. That’s more important to me than the number of stolen bases we have.”

The 2012 Cleveland Indians were above league average in stolen bases, swiping 110 bags (seventh in the league), but had a poor success rate of 71% (third-worst). A look at 14 possible 2013 Tribe players suggests that the team could surpass 2012′s stolen base total:

But Francona has said he’s interested in much more than just stolen bases. To borrow a phrase from iOS software developers: “There’s a stat for that!”

In order to determine the value of the stolen base, FanGraphs uses a statistic called weighted stolen base runs (wSB). FanGraphs calculates wSB by comparing each player’s stolen base runs created per opportunity with league average stolen base runs created per opportunity. The league average for any year is zero. A value above zero indicates that the player has contributed more runs than the average player would have given the same number of opportunities; a value below zero indicates that player has contributed less than an average player given those opportunities. As a team the Indians combined for -2.5 wSB ranking 11th in the AL.

In terms of baserunning, FanGraphs has developed the Ultimate Base Running (UBR)  which applies linear weights to each base running event receiving a specific run value. Examples of some of the events include advancing the extra base on a hit (or not advancing), getting thrown out trying to advance an extra base (as long as no other base runner is blocking an advance), runners trying to tag up on fly balls, and many more (full description here). As a team the Indians combined for a -9.2 UBR which ranked 29th in MLB and last in the AL.

Since UBR does not account for stolen bases FanGraphs combines the sum of wSB with UBR as the BsR (baserunnning) component that they use in their WAR formula. Combined the Indians combined for a -11.6 BsR, which is 29th in MLB and last in the AL. The Indians will look to steal more bases and to do a better job on the bases and the additions of Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs could go a long way to achieving that goal. The following table shows the wSB and UBR data for possible members of the 2013 Indians:

There are several other measures of baserunning that are tracked and are built in to the UBR numbers posted above. The table below represents how many times a runner was on first when a single was hit (1stS) and how often he advanced to 3rd (1stS3), how often a runner was on 1st when a double was hit (1stD) and how often he scored (1stDH), and how often the runner was on 2nd when a single was hits (2ndS) and how often the runner scored (2ndSH). The table below was generated from data collected from baseball-reference.com:

Finally, how aggressive are the Indian baserunners and is their aggressiveness creating runs? The following table presents how often a runner was on base and came around to score (RS%) and how many times that runner took the extra base (XBT%). The XBT% can be a tricky number because it doesn’t represent how often you failed to take the extra base or when you were thrown out advancing.

Bill James has a formula that assigns a base running value (similar to BsR) for a player.  The 2012 Bill James handbook contrasts the overall value of the league’s best baserunner Mike Trount (+51) with the league’s worst baserunner Carlos Santana (-45). Combined the 2012 Indians were 27th in MLB with a -48 net score and 12th in the AL. The data for RS%, XBT%, and Net score:

Smart baserunning is something that can be taught and to a large degree managed, but it isn’t the end-all be-all of being a competitive team. Some teams are bad baserunning teams but have the ability to generate runs with powerful lineups. Some of the worst baserunning teams by the metrics defined above include three of last years playoff teams in the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, and Baltimore Orioles.

The Indians will use speed and more aggressive baserunning to try and manufacture more runs but at the same time they will also focus on cutting down on some of the absent minded baserunning gaffes that short-circuit rallies and cost the team victories. Not only did the Tribe pick up speedy baserunners in Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs they also added smart baserunners like Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn to the mix—so look for them to be hustling on the basepaths this year.

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Tags: Cleveland Indians Terry Francona