Baseball is the most individualistic of the major sports, as it mostly consists of one on one matchups between a batter and pitcher. Some fielding plays require teamwork, but that is basically the extent of the cooperation that occurs on the field. For this reason, it is often difficult to identify any sort of strategy espoused by a particular team, some unifying strategic message that the manager imparts to his club. One exception to this has been Mike Sciocsa’s Angels, who have been built upon the concept of being overly aggressive on the basepaths. This concept has come up on the blog over the last few days due to my bringing up Chone Figgins as an option for the Yankees, and building my possible trade around Al Aceves. I have been told that Figgins is vitally important to the Angels method of maximizing run scoring, and he may very well be. However, I think many of you may be surprised, as I was, to read the following in a Baseball Analysts study on baserunning:
There are several advanced metrics for baserunning, but my choice for this analysis is Bill James Online’s “net gain,” which takes into account “basestealing, avoidance of the double play, and success at taking the extra base while avoiding being thrown out…….”
The average American League team is seven bases a year better than National League teams. I still don’t know what a National League style of play means other than inferior baseball. The Phillies have been the best baserunning team over the last seven years, but they have been rather unclutch. The Angels rank sixth in baserunning, right behind the Yankees ironically enough, and the Halos have been twice as clutch as any team in the time period……
While baserunning might be under-appreciated in today’s game in a macro sense, it might be over-valued in explaining how an individual game is won and lost. Teams can leverage their baserunning to add a few runs over the course of a season, if that. Teams hold constant true-talent levels for baserunning, and it doesn’t appear that the better clubs are able to achieve greater success by leveraging the ability at opportune times. Over 162 games, the difference between a team’s offensive performance in high-leverage situations relative to their normal run production levels can’t be explained by their baserunning.
Basically, the Yankees have actually been better at baserunning than the Angels from 2002-2008, although the Angels have done their best running in big spots. Considering that the “A-Rod Yankees” have been viewed as a station to station type team, this is pretty surprising to hear. Furthermore, the whole concept of a offensive strategy built around aggressive baserunning seems to be a bit silly, being that, as the study states, the impact of being better on the basepaths is minimal. Maybe Figgins is overvalued, after all?
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