There’s a metric for everything in baseball. The fun ones are those that tell us something we might not have known just by using our eyeballs. Here, courtesy of an ESPN Insider post by Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus, is a key reason why the Braves might just overhaul Washington to take the National League East.
The Braves are very good at running the bases. The Nationals are not.
Baseball Prospectus offers a stat called baserunning runs, which measures the number of runs a player adds or subtracts by advancing more or fewer bases than expected given his number of opportunities. The Braves and Nationals couldn’t be further apart on the BRR leader board. Atlanta is baseball’s best baserunning team with 13.7 BRR, while Washington is the worst with -14.9. The Braves have been almost four runs better than the next-best baserunning team, while the Nats fall a full five runs below the next worst.
Some of this will not be surprising. If you pay attention to the Nats’ games, you’ll see the overly aggressive rookie Bryce Harper getting thrown out a different base every night. (I exaggerate for effect.) And you’ll doubtless have noted that Jason Heyward — like Harper, Heyward was a hugely touted prospect — is truly outstanding in his baserunning. But Michael Bourn, according to BP’s BRR, is even better. Lindbergh again:
[Bourn and Heyward] rank first and third in the majors, respectively, in individual BRR. Bourn and Heyward have combined for 15.4 runs on the bases, which means their teammates have been a net negative.
I strongly advise you to read the entire article — the link requires registration — but I leave you with one more nugget. Lindbergh advises that Chipper Jones, who’s 40, has the lowest BRR rating among Braves at minus-2.6. Even so, he’s better than Adam LaRoche, the former Brave who plays first base for the Nats and who is eight years younger. LaRoche’s rating is minus-3.7.
LaRoche also happens to be Chipper’s best hunting buddy. Bragging rights!
Update: Mr. Lindbergh was kind enough to Tweet that the overly aggressive Bryce Harper I mentioned above has, in Mr. Lindbergh’s words, “actually been one of the few good baserunners on a bad running team.” (Harper’s BRR is 35th-best in baseball.) Another example of eyeballs — via MLB.com’s At Bat iPad app, I’ve watched a lot of the Nats the past few weeks — not necessarily telling the true tale. Which is why Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs come highly recommended.
By Mark Bradley