The Giants and Baserunning

According to Mychael Urban, the Giants have discussed adding José Reyes of the New York Mets.  I don't know who his decent source is, but Reyes would instantly add a nice boost to the Giants' paltry offense-a 107 RC+ hitter might not light the world on fire, but that's darn good for a shortstop-all qualified shortstops not named Reyes have accumulated a 101 mark since 2003, so he's a slightly better than average hitter at short.  And at this point, pretty much anyone not named Miguel Tejada would be nice to have at the position.  Reyes is a good hitter for a shortstop, but he's better known for another aspect of his game: his baserunning.  And since Reyes could potentially become a Giant-either through trade or through free agency-it only seems fitting to look back at the very best (and worst) baserunners the Giants have had over the decades.

When we estimate a position player's value provided to his team, we generally look solely at offensive events mushed together in the form of rates like OPS or wOBA, in the form of absolute runs, such as Runs Created, Base Runs, Total Offensive Productivity; or in relative runs, like Linear Weights.  While this covers the vast majority of a player's actual offensive contributions, there are certain aspects left untouched-situational hitting is one; the other, of course, is baserunning, beyond simple stolen bases and caught stealing.

This is, of course, the most recognizable aspect of baserunning-but there's so much more to it than just that.   Baserunners can take bases on wild pitches and passed balls, tag up on fly balls, avoid being thrown out at the lead base on a ground ball, and can take an extra base when a single or a double is hit.

Using Retrosheet data, Dan Fox-formerly of Baseball Prospectus, currently the Pittsburgh Pirates' Director of Baseball Systems Development-took a big step towards quantifying this years ago when he developed Equivalent Baserunning Runs, or EqBRR, which can be found on Baseball Prospectus.  EqBRR consists of five different categories that cover the aforementioned events, and covers all seasons from 1954 to the present day.  So, let's look at Giants baserunners dating back to '54...

By the way, I should first note that pretty much all ballplayers are within + 3 runs per season-indicating that when all is said and done, the difference between the best and worst baserunners are typically about 6 runs, a bit more than half a win in value.  The overall range is 31 runs, with the best baserunning season belonging to Maury Wills in 1962 (20 runs) and the worst to Todd Zeile in 1992 and Tony Bernazard in 1984 (-11 runs apiece).  This tells us that baserunning might not be as important as hitting-obviously-but that it is something that shouldn't be ignored, especially for purposes of comparison.

Let's start with Fox's Other Advancement Runs (OAR), which...

Measures the number of runs contributed by a player's advancement on the bases, above what would be expected based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities with which the player is presented. Other Advancement takes into consideration a player's opportunities and advancement on the basepaths due to wild pitches, passed balls, and balks. The run value of this advancement is based on a multi-year run expectancy matrix and park-adjusted.

In short, OAR looks at the player's rate of advancements based on wild pitches, passed balls, and balks (assumed to be) induced.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie Mays

1954-1972

5215

+9

100

Bobby Bonds

1968-1974

2373

+5

100

Jack Clark

1975-1984

2091

+5

100

Brett Butler

1988-1990

1410

+4

100

Felipe Alou

1958-1963

1330

+4

100

 

Historically, all players are within + 1 run in OAR per season, which explains the low "rate" total.  Willie Mays, the Giants' leader in this category, only attained nine runs in an incredible 5,215 opportunities.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Rich Aurilia

1995-2003; 2007-2009

2332

-4

100

Edgardo Alfonzo

2003-2005

816

-3

100

Willie McGee

1991-1994

993

-3

100

Bengie Molina

2007-2010

815

-2

100

Dick Dietz

1966-1971

1003

-2

100

 

Richie just wasn't a very good baserunner, as we'll see later.  There isn't much that separates between Dick Dietz and Aurilia, really.  These guys aren't exactly what you'd call "adventurous."

Fox's Air Advancement Runs (AAR) looks at the following situations:

  • Runner on first with second and third unoccupied, with less than two outs and a line drive, pop-up or a fly ball is caught by an outfielder.
  • Runner on second only with less than two outs, with the aforementioned parameters.
  • Runner on third with less than two outs.

So, AAR essentially looks at how often a runner successfully tags up.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie Mays

1954-1972

604

+8

101

Brett Butler

1988-1990

168

+6

104

Robby Thompson

1986-1996

337

+5

101

Jack Clark

1975-1984

278

+4

101

Jim Davenport

1958-1970

247

+4

102

 

Mays once again takes the lead with a +8, although Brett Butler was a +6 in 168 opportunities and had a much higher rate than Mays in his stay with the Giants.  His career rate, however, matches Mays with a +10 in 727 opportunities.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Benito Santiago

2001-2003

91

-6

93

Bengie Molina

2007-2010

89

-4

96

Pedro Feliz

2000-2007

151

-4

97

Bob Brenly

1981-1989

138

-4

97

Rich Aurilia

1995-2003; 2007-2009

274

-3

99

 

The list consists of three catchers, one emergency catcher, and...Rich Aurilia.  Again.  It's worth keeping in mind that while AAR does track the outfielder who recorded the putout, it has absolutely no idea where the ball was fielded-in other words, it doesn't know if the ball was a shallow fly ball or a deep one.  This will limit the accuracy of the metric, but I don't imagine by too much, at least on a career level.

Ground Advancement Runs (GAR) takes into consideration the following opportunities:

  • Runner on first with less than two outs; a groundball or bunt is hit, a hit or an error is not credited.
  • Runner on second with less than two outs.
  • Runner on third with less than two outs.

GAR more or less looks at how often a player avoids being out when advancing on a ground ball.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Jose Uribe

1985-1992

279

+10

104

Bobby Bonds

1968-1974

302

+7

102

Royce Clayton

1991-1995

104

+5

105

Chili Davis

1981-1987

160

+5

103

Marvin Benard

1995-2003

190

+4

102

 

José wasn't the best hitter, and he wasn't the fastest baserunner, but he sure seemed to be proficient at advancing on ground balls.  Bobby was a pretty fast runner and quite efficient on the bases, at least while with the Giants-once he went to the Yanks, his baserunning seemed to deteriorate rather quickly, going from about a +5 runner to a -2.  Then again, aging seems to factor in pretty quickly with baserunning.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie McCovey

1959-1980

321

-8

98

Barry Bonds

1993-2007

306

-4

99

Will Clark

1986-1993

180

-4

98

J.T. Snow

1997-2005

225

-3

99

Jack Clark

1975-1984

166

-3

98

 

I'm actually a bit surprised to see the younger Bonds doing relatively poorly here-he always struck me as a pretty smart and efficient baserunner.  "The Thrill" wasn't very good at advancing on grounders, but he was pretty decent at everything else.  I wish I could say the same for J.T., but he wasn't a very good baserunner.

Hit Advancement Runs (HAR) are:

The number of theoretical runs contributed by a baserunner or baserunners above what would have been expected given the number and quality of opportunities. EqHAR considers advancement from first on singles, second on singles, and first on doubles and is adjusted for park and based on a multi-year Run Expectancy Matrix.

I think this is the coolest part of Fox's BRR-taking the extra base on a hit.  You hear announcers mention it all the time, but it has received relatively little play from analysts.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie Mays

1954-1972

678

+25

104

Brett Butler

1988-1990

205

+11

105

Robby Thompson

1986-1996

380

+10

103

Bobby Bonds

1968-1974

314

+9

103

Jeffrey Leonard

1981-1988

171

+9

105

 

Mays takes the lead again by a wide margin, but on a per rate basis is slightly behind Butler and Leonard.  Given the ridiculous amount of opportunities Mays had over the two, I think it's safe to say that he was the most adept at taking the extra base in Giants' history.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie McCovey

1959-1980

568

-20

96

Rich Aurilia

1995-2003; 2007-2009

293

-12

96

J.T. Snow

1997-2005

372

-10

97

Hal Lanier

1964-1971

205

-10

95

Bengie Molina

2007-2010

114

-8

93

 

The difference between Mays and McCovey per 600 opportunities is nearly five wins of value.  Yeesh.  On a per rate basis, nobody is worse than Bengie "Slow as Molasses" Molina.  But you already knew that.  Richie and J.T. might have been adored by the fans, but they certainly didn't help their teams on the basepaths.

And, last but not least...

Stolen Base Runs (SBR):

The number of theoretical runs contributed by a baserunner or baserunners above what would be expected given the number and quality of their baserunning opportunities. EqSBR is based on a multi-year Run Expectancy matrix and considers both stolen base attempts and pick-offs.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Bobby Bonds

1968-1974

357

14

104

Barry Bonds

1993-2007

341

6

102

Stan Javier

1996-1999

90

5

106

Randy Winn

2005-2009

94

4

104

Willie Mays

1954-1972

422

3

101

Father and son are atop the leaderboard with the Bondses.  Bobby was a heckuva thief in his day, and Barry was quite good at it, too.  Randy Winn was quite the baserunner when he was in San Francisco, and Willie makes his way back on to the top five.

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Chili Davis

1981-1987

168

-17

90

Chris Speier

1971-1977; 1987-1989

78

-13

83

Jim Davenport

1958-1970

46

-12

74

Darrell Evans

1976-1983

102

-12

88

Orlando Cepeda

1958-1966

150

-12

92

There have been some downright awful basestealers in Giants history.  Davenport especially.  I mean...yikes.  Chili Davis might have accumulated the worst SBR score, but his rate was better than all but Cepeda.  So I think it's fair to say that the title for "worst basestealer" belongs to either Speier or Davenport.

Putting it all together

By summing the pieces together, we get a decent approximation of a player's overall value provided on the basepaths.  Granted, there are a number of variables left unaccounted for, but all in all, Fox's BRR provide us with a reasonable, objective measurement of just how (in)efficient a player is on the bases.  Since I literally would like to save the best for last, I'm going to list the worst baserunners first:

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie McCovey

1959-1980

5333

-35

99

Rich Aurilia

1995-2003; 2007-2009

3138

-27

99

J.T. Snow

1997-2005

3368

-23

99

Ed Bailey

1961-1963; 1965

652

-15

98

Bengie Molina

2007-2010

1082

-15

99

The worst baserunner in Giants history, according to BRR, is Willie Mac.  He cost the Giants approximately four wins over the course of his career due to his baserunning inefficiency.  Rich Aurilia was quite bad, as was Snow- Ed Bailey was quite terrible in a limited number of opportunities, and no "worst baserunner" list is complete without Bengie on it.  I'm satisfied with this list.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, the best baserunners in Giants history:

Name

Years

Opportunities

Runs

Rate

Willie Mays

1954-1972

7349

47

101

Bobby Bonds

1968-1974

3604

37

101

Brett Butler

1988-1990

2116

17

101

Marvin Benard

1995-2003

2486

12

100

Gary Matthews

1972-1976

1828

10

101

Unsurprisingly, Willie Mays is the best baserunner the Giants have had since 1954.  Was there anything he wasn't good at?  Bonds Sr. was a remarkable runner for the Giants, as was Butler, Benard, and Sarge.  Some recent Giants, including Ray Durham, Randy Winn, and Andres Torres are right behind them.

Baserunning might not make a gigantic difference on the surface- Mays added about five wins to the Giants, McCovey -4- but the difference between the two, nearly ten wins, is enormous.  José Reyes has added about 37 runs via his baserunning in his young career.  Baserunning doesn't get better with age, but it wouldn't be a huge stretch to say that adding Reyes would give the Giants one of their best baserunners in recent memory.

The massive spreadsheet that contains all of the data, of course, can be found here.  Enjoy!

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