About 6 weeks ago, I looked at the Yankees’ baserunning and found them wanting in a number of areas. In particular, struggles on the part of Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner were dragging the entire team’s baserunning stats down, as the club was subpar in terms of stolen bases and pickoff, and was taking the extra base infrequently while still making plenty of outs on the bases. Let’s take a look at how much things have changed over the last few weeks, and where the club now stands relative to the rest of the league.
Stolen Bases: The Yankees are now 2nd in the majors in stolen bases with 119, but they are also tied for 6th-most in times caught stealing, with 38. Overall, their success rate is up to 76% (up 8% since last check), which is 6th in baseball (1st in AL) and is above the “break-even” point. That means that they are stealing enough bases to nullify the detriment of the instances in which they are unsuccessful. To compare, last year’s club stole at a 77% rate. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, who had 59% and 58% success rates respectively 6 weeks ago, are now up to 69% and 77%. These two have accounted for 79 of the team’s 157 attempts, so their resurgence is what has driven the team’s turnaround in this area.
Pickoffs: Yankees’ baserunners have been picked off 13 times, tying them for 10th fewest in baseball. They were picked off 19 times all of last season, and are on a similar pace this season due to being picked off just twice since late-June. Brett Gardner has been picked off 4 times, which is actually quite solid for someone who runs as often as he does, while Eduardo Nunez has 3 and Alex Rodriguez is stuck on 2. Granderson has just 1, but it was a costly one as it ended a game against the Angels earlier this week.
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 have made 35 OOB, which is tied for the 7th best mark in MLB. Considering that the Yankees have more baserunners than most teams, that is quite solid. That said, it is interesting to note that the Yankees have not improved in terms of taking the extra base on a hit, (XBT%), as they are 27th at 36%. This suggests to me that they are not being incredibly aggressive in terms of trying to take an extra base, which makes the fact that they make few outs on the bases less impressive. Just as a point of comparison, the 2010 Yankees only made 48 outs on the bases despite taking the extra base at a 38% clip.
As for the culprits in this category, Derek Jeter has 6 OOB, Eduardo Nunez has 5, while Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher are tied with 4 OOB. None of the four take the extra base with any sort of regularity (all 32% XBT or lower compared to 41% league average), and Jorge Posada has a laughably low 4% XBT.
One positive in this area is the improvement of Brett Gardner, who 6 weeks ago had only been thrown out on the bases twice but was only taking the extra base 30% of the time, which was well below his 47% career rate. Since that time Brett has not been thrown out while taking an extra base and has bumped his XBT rate to 39%. Additionally, Mark Teixeira has still not been thrown out on the bases to this point, Francisco Cervelli leads the team in XBT at 64%, and Curtis Granderson has a wonderful 58% XBT.
Conclusion: It took just 6 weeks for the Yankees to go from a poor baserunning team to a solid one, and most of that has to do with the turnaround experienced by Brett Gardner. He was caught stealing last night for the first time since June 18th, and has been on a run where he has increased his aggressiveness without making more outs. Although the club remains fairly passive in terms of taking the extra base, they are one of the league leaders in terms of stolen bases and have largely stopped running themselves out of innings. Baserunning can no longer be looked at as a weakness for the 2011 Yankees.
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