Non-Stolen Base Threats: Baseball's best on the bases at the other stuff

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Is Matt Carpenter one the game's best base-runners? The numbers say yes.
Is Matt Carpenter one the game's best base-runners? The numbers say yes. (USATSI)

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For a while, defense was something most fans and analysts overlooked. Everyone knew it existed, I mean it's kinda hard not too, but it was tough to quantify and we were left relying on ours eyes (they lie!) and archaic stats like errors and fielding percentage. They were good once upon a time but have since become outdated.

Base-running is the same way. It exists, we know it exists and it's often easy to tell who's a good base-runner and who's a bad base-runner. Telling the good ones from the very good ones and the very good ones from the great ones isn't as easy, however. Stolen base totals are useful but there is much more to base-running than that -- going first-to-third on a single, advancing on a wild pitch or a ground ball, all of that stuff counts too.

Baseball Prospectus has a series of base-running stats that break down a player's performance on the bases into various components. Those components: stolen bases and advancing on ground balls, fly balls, hits and "other." Wild pitches, balks and passed balls fall under "other." Add all of that together and you get a player's base-running value. A base-running version of WAR, basically.

We're going to focus on the aspects of base-running that tend to go unnoticed, meaning everything other than stolen bases. Let's call it ... non-stolen base base-running runs. Which players have helped their teams the most on the bases this year by doing things other than stealing bases? Here are the top 10:

2013's Best Non-Stolen Base-Runners
Player, TeamSB RunsTotal Base-Running RunsNon-SB Base-Running Runs
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals-0.328.68.92
Daniel Murphy, Mets0.688.07.32
Zack Cozart, Reds-0.036.96.93
Desmond Jennings, Rays0.076.36.23
Michael Bourn, Indians-0.325.65.92
Dexter Fowler, Rockies-1.304.55.80
Elvis Andrus, Rangers1.276.85.53
Austin Jackson, Tigers-0.444.85.24
Eric Young Jr., Mets2.167.35.14
Alex Gordon Royals-0.174.74.87

All we're doing is subtracting stolen base runs (SB runs) from total base-running runs. That gives us the value of everything else. Ten runs equals roughly one win, or 1.0 WAR.

Carpenter has only stolen three bases (in six attempts) this year, but he's a monster when it comes to going first-to-third on a single, moving up on a ball in play, things like that. We're talking almost nine runs of value on the bases alone. That's pretty remarkable.

It's no surprise speedsters like Jennings, Bourn, Fowler, Andrus, Jackson and Young are among the top 10 non-stolen base base-runners. Guys like Carpenter, Murphy and Gordon are a bit more surprising. They're doing it with instincts and smarts rather than pure speed.

Now let's flip the coin and look at baseball's worst base-runners. Some of these names will make complete sense:

2013's Worst Non-Stolen Base-Runners
Player, TeamSB RunsTotal Base-Running RunsNon-SB Base-Running Runs
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers0.81-6.4-7.21
Howie Kendrick, Angels-0.36-6.6-6.24
Paul Konerko, White Sox0.00-6.1-6.10
Billy Butler, Royals0.00-5.6-5.60
Adam Dunn, white Sox0.04-5.5-5.54
Prince Fielder, Tigers0.00-5.5-5.50
Victor Martinez, Tigers-0.46-5.9-5.44
Yadier Molina, Cardinals-0.31-5.5-5.19
Dioner Navarro, Cubs-0.18-5.3-5.12
Martin Prado, Diamondbacks-0.58-5.4-4.82

Other than Kendrick and Prado, these guys are all big and lumbering. Three catchers (Lucroy, Molina, Navarro) and five first base/DH types (Konerko, Butler, Dunn, Fielder, Martinez). The slowest of the slow. So slow that even great instincts wouldn't help them on the bases. These guys wins games with their bats, not on the bases.

The gap between the best base-runner (Carpenter) and the worst base-runner (Lucroy) is rather significant, a total of 16.13 runs. That's 1.6 WAR, more or less. The difference between say, Evan Longoria (6.6 WAR) and Ian Desmond (5.0 WAR), or Chase Utley (3.9 WAR) and David Lough (2.3 WAR). It's a big gap.

Remember, we are excluding stolen bases here because we want to know who the best (and worst) players are when it comes to doing other other stuff on the bases. The kind of stuff we notice in a game but don't really pay attention to or think of having a big impact. The numbers say that impact can be big in some cases, both good and bad.

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