One issue that seems to have plagued the Yankees in 2011 is a penchant for making outs on the bases. It seems like every couple of days, the Yankees have a game where they make 2 or more outs on the basepaths, giving away outs and taking away at-bats from their excellent lineup. While you do want to see certain Yankees be aggressive and take the extra base where they can, the high quality of the Yankees’ hitters means that a high level of success is required to make aggressive baserunning a statistically sound strategy. Let’s take a look at some basic statistics to see if the perception of a baserunning malaise is accurate.
Stolen Bases: The Yankees are 9th in the majors in stolen bases with 62, but they are also tied for first in times caught stealing, with 29. Overall, they have a success rate of 68%, which is 25th in baseball and is below the “break-even” point. That means that they are making enough outs by attempting to steal to nullify the benefit of the instances in which they are successful. By contrast, last year’s club stole at a 77% rate. The real culprits in this area have been Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, with 59% and 58% success rates respectively. These two have accounted for 41 of the team’s 91 attempts, so their struggles are the driving factor behind a good base-stealing team in 2010 becoming a poor one in 2011. Considering that both players have posted much higher success rates in the past, I would expect these numbers to improve as the season continues.
Pickoffs: Yankees’ baserunners have been picked off 11 times, tying them for 8th in baseball. They were picked off 19 times all of last season, but are on a 25 pickoff pace thus far in 2011. Brett Gardner is once again to blame in this category, as his 4 pickoffs ties him for 5th in all of baseball (note: all four of his pickoffs came on attempted steals and are included in the caught stealing data). Eduardo Nunez and Alex Rodriguez both have been picked off twice as well.
Outs on Bases: These are outs made in the course of baserunning, such as while trying to stretch a hit, advance on a flyball, or getting doubled off on a lineout. The Yankees are in the middle of the pack with 26 OOB, which ties them for 11th in MLB. Considering that the Yankees have more baserunners than most teams, that seems fairly solid. That said, it is interesting to note that in terms of taking the extra base on a hit, (XBT%), the Yankees are 28th at 36%. This suggests to me that they are not being incredibly aggressive in terms of trying to take an extra base, yet they still have a reasonably high number of outs on the bases, which may point to poor baserunning. Just as a point of comparison, the 2010 Yankees only made 48 outs on the bases (currently on pace for 59) despite taking the extra base at a 38% clip.
As for the culprits in this category, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher are tied for the team lead with 4 OOB. Both only take the extra base about 32% of the time, so they are giving themselves up on the bases without recovering those bases with well-timed aggression. Robinson Cano and Eduardo Nunez are in a similar position with 3 OOB each and fairly low XBT rates, while Jorge Posada has 3 OOB to go with his incredibly laughable 6% XBT. Jorge really is one of the worst baserunners of all time.
Another notable negative is that although he has only been thrown out on the bases twice, Brett Gardner has only taken the extra base 30% of the time, which is well below his 47% career rate and places him 11th on the Yankees (7th among regulars). It seems that he really has lost any baserunning instincts that he had coming into 2011. On a more positive note, Mark Teixeira has not been thrown out on the bases to this point, Russell Martin takes the extra base at a rate above league average (46% compared to 41% average), and Curtis Granderson has a whopping 67% XBT.
Conclusion: Looking at all of these measures points to a general weakness for the Yankees on the basepaths. They have been one of the least aggressive clubs in baseball in terms of taking the extra base, yet have made plenty of outs while running the bases. Furthermore, they have been fairly aggressive in the stolen base department, but have not been successful enough to justify that aggression. In particular, Brett Gardner is having a very poor year in this department, something that is not in line with his career performance or his skill set. If the Yankees could get him straightened out, it would go a long way towards correcting some of the more unsightly elements of this problem.
Photo: AP, via Daylife.com
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