Baserunning is a touchy subject for baseball fans. You don’t really notice the good plays too much, and the mistakes stick out like a sore thumb. During the New York Yankees’ four-game split with the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees made two outs at home plate and one at third base in three separate games, and surely heard the fans’ wrath.
While the two losses were one-run losses and that extra run could have made a difference, the truth is that the Yankees do not throw away too many runners on the bases. By most metrics, in fact, the Yankees are one of the best running teams in baseball.
FanGraphs has developed a statistic known simply as “baserunning” (BsR) to quantify and compare the baserunning skills of individual players and teams. Described as the “baserunning component of WAR,” it is part of the overall formula to track player value and factors in risk and reward to figure out if a player is creating or preventing scoring chances when he runs. While it is very much a new-age, computer-generated statistic (and thus is not perfect), it is one of the only ways to directly compare players on the bases, and it usually aligns with the old-fashioned eye test.
A league-average BsR is 0.0, and anything above 2.0 or below -2.0 is above- or below-average, respectively. As a team, the Yankees have a collective 4.4 BsR, which is good for the 10th-best figure in baseball. There are 12 above-average baserunning teams and 10 below-average teams, while the remaining eight teams fall somewhere in the average range. It shouldn’t be surprising that the majority of the good running teams are contending teams while the poor running teams are largely out of the playoffs.
However, the Yankees specifically are ahead of teams including the Astros, Red Sox and Mariners, who are likely playoff opponents. Pundits often cite the Yankees’ lineup and bullpen as possible advantages over those teams, but their baserunning is another key edge that the Yankees have.
The Yankees have three above-average runners by BsR in Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius. Aaron Judge also provides some value, while most others are in the average range. Last year, the Yankees also had Jacoby Ellsbury in the well-above-average category, while Chase Headley and Starlin Castro also added some baserunning savvy. Those players have been replaced by Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar. While their collective BsR is less than the 2017 trio’s, these players are also younger and faster.
The Yankees don’t have too many noticeably “slow” players aside from Bird and the catchers, which is a big improvement from past years. These players know their limitations and rarely put themselves in situations of high risk on the basepaths, which is a big part of being an effective baserunner.
The conventional metrics also look good for the Yankees on the bases. While they don’t take the extra base or steal that often (they’re in the bottom half of the league in these categories), their success rate when stealing bases is quite good at 75 percent. While the majority of their baserunning outs come at third base and home plate, this hasn’t hurt the Yankees too much because they generate more total baserunners and thus score more runs than most other teams.
The Yankees may be conservative on the bases, but that is OK with a lineup that leads the league in home runs. After all, you do not want to turn a two-run home run into a solo shot by getting caught stealing ahead of Giancarlo Stanton. While the Yankees don’t run often, they run smartly.
There’s always room for improvement though, and another plus baserunner could be useful in October. However, there’s not much that can be done right now. There’s not any room on the roster, and AL teams rarely carry a pinch-running specialist in the middle of the season, anyway. Once September rolls around and rosters expand, Tyler Wade could be used as a late-game baserunning weapon.
Not only does he offer blazing speed (I’d be willing to bet he could beat Gardner and Ellsbury in a footrace, and that’s saying something), he’s not just a one-trick pony either. Aaron Boone could leave Wade in a ballgame after pinch-running and wouldn’t have to sub him out immediately, like other specialists before him. Simply put, he’s the type of valuable postseason bench player like Dave Roberts, Andrew Toles or Marwin Gonzalez that could become a sneaky household name as he finds himself in multiple postseason games. It should also be noted that Jacoby Ellsbury would excel in this role too, should he ever get healthy.
The Yankees have made great strides in regards to their team baserunning skills. They’re a slightly above average team on the bases that knows the type of players they have, and don’t try to be something they’re not. Sure, the Yankees seem to make occasional mistakes on the bases, but the numbers show they do it no more than league average. When compared to teams of the past decade that featured numerous negative baserunners, the Yankees of today are up to speed on the bases.