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Aggression on the basepaths - how they do it in Cincinnati

The Reds are laggards when it comes to stealing bases. But are they bad baserunners?

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Sliding into paydirt.
Sliding into paydirt.
Jamie Sabau

It happened again on Saturday. Brandon Phillips got caught stealing - something he hasn't tried often but the team has made a habit of. The Reds later coughed up their best chance to rally when Xavier Paul foolishly attempted to advance to second on a flyout. It sure seems like the Reds have wasted many precious outs on the basepaths this year. But is that the case?

If you’re looking at stolen base numbers, the answer is an unqualified yes. With just 34 steals against 28 caught, the Reds stand second from the bottom in the NL in total steals and dead last in efficiency. This follows a downward trend starting with the division-winning 2010 team. The Reds have finished 7th, 9th, 14th, and 14th (2013 to date) in total steals since then. Raw steals actually overstates the Reds’ thievery prowess - with good offenses, the Reds have generally been near the top of the league in stolen base opportunities. More importantly, they’ve also been below average in success rate in three of the four seasons.

So it came as a surprise to me while reading this article about the Mets' baserunning that the Reds score very well in Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metric. Baserunning Runs (BRR) shows the Reds adding 11 runs this year - second in all of baseball to the Mets. Come again? BRR acknowledges that the Reds are below average on both steals and advancements on balls hit in the air, but judges that the club has added almost 8 runs on advancements on ground balls (best in the game) and another 5 runs for taking the extra base on hits (second).

I wasn't exactly sure what to make of the BRR rating. Fangraphs’ metric, BsR, shares some of my initial skepticism. BsR (which includes SB/CS figures) puts the Reds at a very average -3 runs, which is 7th in the league. But if you take the steals out (which is UBR), the Reds rise up to +5 runs. So maybe the Reds are good baserunners. That’s borne out if you look at the raw, unadjusted numbers:

  • The Reds are easily the best in the league with 124 "Bases Taken," which is advancements on flies, grounders, balks, etc. (everything but hits)
  • On hits, the Reds take extra bases 41% of the time - 5th in the NL and probably more impressive because they play in a smaller park. They’re better than average at getting to third from first on singles, and best in the league in scoring from first on doubles.
  • 51 ROEs, good for 2nd in the league.
  • 8th in Outs on Base. I expected the Reds to be near the top here, but considering how often they are on base, this isn’t bad.
  • With 90 GIDPs, the Reds have one more than the league average. Again, not bad considering they're on base frequently.

Individually, Joey Votto, Zack Cozart, and Todd Frazier are the top three by BsR. Devin Mesoraco rates the worst by a fair amount. Derrick Robinson, Xavier Paul, and Phillips are also in the red.

Good baserunning outweighing poor basestealing sounded familiar. With some Google sleuthing (thanks for nothing, SBN search function) I found this article by Slyde from early 2010. Then, as now, the Reds were worse than average in stealing bases but did all the other things considerably better. Later that summer, we overheard Phillips cheering on Scott Rolen during the All-Star Game. He shouted "that’s how we do it in Cincinnati! We go first to third!" as Rolen motored around the keystone on a single. Three years later, the spirit of Scotty Ballgame continues to imbue the Reds with heads-up aggression on the basepaths.