With one out in the fourth inning of Monday’s game against the Royals, Lonnie Chisenhall hit a bloop single to center field. Even though Jose Ramirez was not running on the pitch (probably because of what happened two pitches earlier), he still managed to go from first to third on the short single. On the next play, he scored on a Juan Uribe groundout pushing the Tribe’s lead to two.
If Ramirez hadn’t taken the extra base on Chisenhall’s hit, he wouldn’t have scored on the groundout. It’s his aggressiveness on the bases, and the team’s aggressiveness as a whole, that’s putting them in better positions to win games. Though unfortunately the Tribe lost that game, the team’s excellent base running is one of the reasons they are in first place in the division.
According to Baseball Reference, the Tribe has taken an extra base 48% of the time, the highest percentage in the American League. In this context, advancing more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double is considered taking an extra base. FanGraphs has a base running metric as well, simply called Base Running (BsR), which also takes into account stolen bases, stolen base attempts, possible double plays, and other base running plays. BsR tells us the Tribe have added about 12 runs more than the average team would with their base running, the most in the AL. The team in second place, the Boston Red Sox, is two runs behind. And if you like stolen bases, well the Tribe does that too, ranking second in the AL in both steals (70) and stolen base percentage (80%).
It’s no surprise then to find Tribe players near the top of the BsR leaderboard, with speed demon Rajai Davis leading the team. He ranks fourth in the AL with 6 runs above average. It’s not just because he steals a lot of bases (24, tied for second most in the league), though that’s a big part of it. He’s also smart in his attempts, with catchers throwing him out only three times all year. Davis’s 89% success rate is fourth best in the AL. He’s not just good on the 90 feet between first and second either. Davis has taken the extra base 64% of the time, the highest percentage among Tribe regulars. By being aggressive on the bases, he is forcing outfielders into rash decisions, which more than likely results in success. Davis is putting the Tribe in better scoring situations with just his legs alone.
With a veteran like Davis being aggressive on the base paths, it’s easy to see why others are following suit. The aforementioned Ramirez ranks second on the team and tenth in the AL with 4.4 runs added above average, despite only stealing 10 bases in 15 attempts (67% success rate). He’s succeeded in other ways. First, he takes extra bases frequently. Baseball Reference tells us he’s taken the extra base 56% of the time, fourth most among Tribe regulars. Second, he beats out double play balls. His three double plays grounded into are tied for fourth fewest in the AL. Moreover, FanGraphs has a metric called Weighted Grounded into Double Play Runs (wGDP) which measures how well players stay out of double plays. Ramirez is 14th in the AL in wGDP, adding one run more than the average player.
It’s not just speedy guys like Ramirez and Davis taking extra bases either. The next two Tribe players in BsR are Chisenhall and Carlos Santana. Normally the Tribe’s DH, you wouldn’t think of Santana as a threat on the bases. But he swiped 11 bags last year in 14 attempts and has already taken four bases this year. Chisenhall has done him one better, a perfect 5-for-5 in steal attempts in 2016. He’s also taken the extra base 58% of the time and ranks 16th in the AL in BsR among batters with more than 200 plate appearances, adding 2.7 runs above average.
Credit should be given to base coaches Mike Sarbaugh and Sandy Alomar Jr. for promoting an aggressive and smart style of play on the base paths. Though base running doesn’t add much to overall winning (12 runs is about one win), it’s another thing opponents have to worry about when facing the Tribe. When you combine excellent base running with fantastic starting pitching, a stellar defense, and an above average offense, you get a first place ball club, one that should be taken seriously when the postseason approaches.
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