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Baserunning has been worse for the Yankees than you might realize

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The Yankees’ baserunning has been awful, and recent history strongly suggests it needs to improve if they want to have World Series aspirations.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been much concern over the season’s first five and a half weeks regarding the Yankees’ starting pitching, relatively slow start with the bats, and team defense. Yet, there’s been very little attention to the baserunning on a team level.

This is somewhat of a surprise because the Yankees’ baserunning on a team level has been by and large, atrocious. If we’re being honest, calling their baserunning atrocious may be considered an insult to teams whose baserunning is in fact, atrocious. Consider the Yankees’ baserunning in the following categories and the corresponding ranks across MLB:

The Yankees are 29th in the league in percentage of extra bases taken (XBT%) and dead last in MLB in outs on bases (OOB), outs at home plate (OOBHm), stolen bases, and FanGraphs comprehensive baserunning metric BsR. It must be noted for clarity’s sake, that last in OOB and OOBHm means they’ve had the most runners thrown out both on the bases and at home plate in the league. Although they escaped with a win, they lost another runner at the plate just last night.

Additionally, if you’re more concerned about stolen base success rate than total stolen bases, we’ll come back to that in a minute.

If you look more closely at the statistics, what the Yankees have “accomplished” on the bases isn’t easy to do — the numbers seem contradictory. Due to a combination of possible factors, they rarely take an extra base when the opportunity presents itself, yet they somehow still manage to lead the league in getting thrown out on the bases. A lack of aggression can be justified if the team isn’t running into outs. Running into a few outs can be justified if the benefits of aggression, such as taking an extra-base occasionally, are reaped. Not being aggressive and yet still managing to run into outs is some combination of unjustifiable and unexplainable.

It begs the question, even though baserunning isn’t as big a factor as pitching, OBP, and power-hitting are, as it relates to wins and losses: is it possible to win a World Series with baserunning that poor?

To find the question, let’s look at recent World Series winners and where they stacked up on the bases compared to their competition:

Baserunning - WS winners

Season/Team XBT% OOB OOBHm BsR SB SB%
Season/Team XBT% OOB OOBHm BsR SB SB%
2020 LAD 20th 22nd 17th 27th 12th 10th
2019 WSN 15th 11th 23rd 12th 3rd 4th
2018 BOS 28th 20th 12th 20th 3rd 1st
2017 HOU 17th 28th 23rd 18th 8th 21st
2016 CHI 6th 28th 3rd 3rd 20th 24th
2015 KCR 4th 19th 29th 17th 5th 4th
2014 SFG 14th 3rd 4th 15th 29th 25th
2013 BOS 18th 23rd 29th 5th 4th 1st

What those numbers strongly suggest is that a team doesn’t need to be very good, or even decent on the bases — it just can’t be awful. Additionally, it may be acceptable to be substandard in certain aspects of baserunning, if you can make up for it in others. The 2013 Red Sox weren’t very good running the bases on hits, but were far above average at stealing bases, as one example.

The answer to our question from above is “No.” Although we should avoid using words such as “impossible”, the chance of a team winning a World Series with the Yankees’ current level of baserunning is infinitesimal. Among the Series winners listed above, the 2020 Dodgers are by far the worst baserunning team, and they were nowhere near as bad as the Yankees have been this season. Additionally, the 2020 Dodgers led all of MLB in both OPS+ and ERA+ last season — a combined feat the Yankees would be hard pressed to accomplish this season.

The problem is obvious, but what’s the solution? Here are some ideas:

Attempt to steal more bases. The good news is the Yankees are third in SB% this season. The bad news is that they only have seven stolen bases, which again is the lowest total in MLB. As discussed on a recent YES broadcast, an extremely high SB% may be indicative of not running often enough according to A.J. Hinch — who, whatever you may think of him personally, certainly knows the math of baseball very well. From the list above, the 2014 Giants and 2016 Cubs were the only ones with low stolen base totals, but as mentioned, they were good in other areas on the bases — the Yankees are not. Furthermore, the Yankees have six players on the current roster with either slightly above or well above-average sprint speed according to Statcast, so opportunities are there.

Third base coach Phil Nevin needs to be better — it’s that simple. I’m bullish on being aggressive when sending runners who are rounding third, especially with two outs, and the number of opportunities may be a factor. But there is simply no positive manner in which to spin “We lead the league in guys getting thrown out at home plate!”

Hustle out of the box. Joshua Diemert recently wrote a great article here on Pinstripe Alley asking us to stop carrying on about “hustle”, or lack thereof. There were no lies told in Joshua’s article, I agreed with 99 percent of what he wrote and his larger point. Still, the first few steps out of the box can be the difference between a single and a double or a double and a triple should a fielder not handle a batted ball cleanly. It can also be the difference between advancing a base on a poor throw or not advancing.

Know your opposition. Every team in the league knows which players on opposing teams can throw well and which ones can’t. Identify the weak links and capitalize on them when opportunities arise.

Again, baserunning is nowhere near as important as pitching, OBP, and power-hitting as they relate to wins and losses. Yet the Yankees' current rate of baserunning performance is not tenable and needs to improve if they plan on raising hardware in the fall.