The Best Baserunning Team I Ever Did See

The Cubs were surprisingly good last year, but there is one area of surprisingly goodness that has gone largely overlooked in 2015. That was the aggressive and usually smart baserunning that Joe Maddon instilled in this roster. It is not terribly surprising that the talk around this Cubs team has been focused on the ability to hit the ball very hard up and down the lineup or the deep pitching staff fronted by the reigning Cy Young winner. Baserunning is one of the least important areas in terms of creating or preventing runs, but it is not insignificant either. The difference between the best and worst baserunning teams has been estimated around 50 runs in a season by Bill James more than once.

The Cubs in 2015 were the best baserunning Cubs teams I can recall watching. Up and down the lineup this team made things happen on the basepaths. This is perhaps the best example of just how unordinary the Cubs were on the basepaths in 2015.
anthony rizzo trick slide

The reason this past season was so startling is because Cubs baserunning usually makes one think of Cubes if they are being completely honest with themselves. This is the franchise that led to coining of the term TOOTBLAN after all. This belief is not just recollecting Ryan Theriot‘s exploits or Ronny Cedeno over-sliding the bag to end a game either. A number of sites keep an all encompassing advanced baserunning statistic, but for the purpose of this blog I am going to use Fangraphs BsR. The most accurate version of this statistic has been maintained since 2002, and the Cubs have been an above average baserunning team just three times during that time according to this statistic.BsR Cubs Teams

Players certainly determine the success or failure of any facet of the game, but the manager has a fair bit of control in this part of the game as well. Joe Maddon preaches an aggressive philosophy on the basepaths. This philosophy has resulted in some of the best baserunning teams according to BsR. The best team by far using this metric was Maddon’s 2010 Rays and his 2009 club rounds out the the top 5 since 2002. Team BsR

The 2016 club might not challenge the 2010 Rays but I think it will be the best Cubs teams yet. BsR is like advanced fielding statistics in that it needs more than a year’s worth of data before it stabilizes. So the numbers for many of the young Cubs need to be taken with a grain of salt, but there are some interesting highlights among the Cubs position players.
BsR 15 Cubs
Kris Bryant was the best baserunner by far by this metric, but in this case the eye-popping number is affirmed by the eye test. Bryant was praised by his manager for his savvy baserunning. Kyle Schwarber ahead of the freakishly agile Anthony Rizzo was a surprise, and it will be something to watch in 2016 to see if he rates as highly again.

Very few Cubs baserunners were solidly below average, but Starlin Castro and Miguel Montero have been among the worst baserunners in baseball according to BsR. There stats are likely an accurate reflection of their abilities. A major upgrade was swapping Starlin Castro for Ben Zobrist. Starlin Castro has the 37th lowest BsR since 2012 in baseball. Ben Zobrist was not much better than Castro in 2015 (-0.9 to -2.1), but it also represented only the second time that Zobrist was a negative baserunner since 2010. Zobrist might not be the baserunner he was earlier in his career as a player entering his age 35 season. It is also possible that 2015 was an outlier as Zobrist recovered from a knee injury. It is safe to say that the Cubs upgraded on the basepaths even if it is a question of by how much.

The Cubs offseason moves will certainly help this area. Only Miguel Montero remains of those negative baserunners in 2015. The Cubs also have added one of the best in baseball with Jason Heyward. Joe Maddon is one of the many people who have complimented Heyward as one of the best baserunners in the baseball. The numbers last year certainly reflect Maddon’s contention that Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward are two of the best in the National League.
BsR 15 Top 10 The Cubs now boast two of the best in the business with Bryant and Heyward.

The contention I made several times in the offseason is that this is the best baserunning Cubs team I will have seen. Here is one example:


The numbers certainly suggest that this was not hyperbole. The focus in 2016 should be on the Cubs hitters in the batters box, but what they do on the basepaths should be as interesting to watch this year.

Comments

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  • Why am I thinking of Theriot right now. I'll never miss him on the bases. So refreshing to see this team run the bases.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    my friend's step-aunt makes $70 an hour on the computer . She has been without a job for 5 months but last month her pay was $18819 just working on the computer for a few hours. look at here
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  • Heyward certainly looked good on a routine play at third in Saturday's game--excellent speed, rapid slide, quick pop-up. A very clean and athletic action.

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    Excellent article! I loved watching the Cubs run the bases last year. I love the details of the game. Take care of the small stuff and the big stuff has a way of taking care of itself. This is going to be a fun season!

  • One of the best baserunners I've ever seen was Greg Maddux. I recall seeing a play at Wrigley, I think it was in 1992 (the year he won the Cy Young with the Cubs) in which he was pitching against Pittsburgh. He hit a single, and went to third on a sacrifice. The next batter hit a chopper to short. Maddux broke for the plate and was caught in a rundown; but he kept the rundown going so long that a runner was able to make it to third. As the catcher attempt to put the tag on him, he flung himself to the ground at the last isntance and came within an eyelash of evading the tag - and would have scored if he had.

    Maddux conceded nothing to the other team: he worked as hard as he could to make himself as good as possible in every facet of the game. Would that all 25 players had that attitude!

    At the other end of the spectrum, Carlos Lee was the worst baserunner I've ever seen. His head simply wasn't in the game.

  • In reply to Nemo:

    He worked very hard at every facet of the game...except holding runners, but it worked out well for him.

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    In reply to Gunther Dabynsky:

    Rick Reuschel was another great baserunner, so much so that he was used as a pinch runner too.

  • Super stat. It has been noticeable and this confirms it. A friend at spring training,not a cub fan, remarked at how mature these young Cubs were. Both at bat and base running.

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    Theo clearly read this because he responded by sending Vogelbach to AAA. Great bat, not so great on the bases. Gunther obviously influenced the decision.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Ha!,.... obviously *smile*

    Had to figure that Vogs was headed to the AAA squad sooner or later,... he had a pretty good Spring though at the plate.

    How much time defensively did he manage to get at 1B this Spring? Hadn't a chance to keep track. Was he 'just' at DH?

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    That is shocking, Mike. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th most common words to describe Vogelbach are usually: Athletic, Fast, Fluid. Then again after a quick check the MOST common word is "not."

    I still say Vogelbach is destined to be traded to an AL team. Whether it is as a "centerpiece" of a minor trade OR as an extra piece in a bigger trade I don't know.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    We can wait on trading Dan. He will develop some more at AAA this year.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Yeah - he's probably destined to be a DH and (at best) part-time 1B guy,... but he could continue to develop some defensively and surprise as an 'average' fielding 1B guy who can get you 20+HR and 30+ 2B and a good OBP.

    Just suspect it will be somewhere in the AL - so we are in agreement there Joel.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I am a big deal very clearly and so this checks out.

  • In reply to Gunther Dabynsky:

    Yay...it has been exactly 0 posts before alluding to a Dan Vogelbach trade. Lets see, if I do it correctly, Vogelbach and Pierce Johnson for Sonny Gray? A's get a young pitcher and they get an AL destined hitter. How did I do on a Vogelbach trade where the Cubs get a super-stud and the writer makes a weak attempt at a fair trade.

  • In reply to npinzur:

    itll be vogelbach and johnson for trout. get it straight.

    hard day today man?

  • In reply to LetTheKidsPlay:

    I almost said Trout! Damn! Thanks for correcting me. I feel like both offers the A's/Angels should do since it would benefit them so much.

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    Just watching the games last year the improvement in base running was obvious. Still interesting to see the numbers back that up. As a Cardinal Heyward was annoyingly competent at running the bases. So now it can be used for good. Bryant's base running instincts have impressed me all the way back to the game against the Pirates the first week of his career. If Baez plays more this season it will also improve BR since Maddon praises it every chance he can.

  • So when Alfonso Soriano and Castro had a habit of trying to steal 3B with 2 outs, does that count double against them?

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    To answer your question like most "advanced" stats it is context neutral. It does not place value on the old baseball axioms of never make the first or last out at third base (which coincidentally is something that Maddon also doesn't necessarily agree with). And the statistic is not the be all and end all. As I said there are many sites that maintain their own version of this stat and they don't all agree with the results here. I just found the numbers interesting because for the most part they confirmed what I recalled watching these Cubs teams of the past 13 years.

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