RRR Wants to Keep Running - Concerns?

Ron Roenicke is once again campaigning the "aggressive baserunning" agenda in 2011. Given the knowledge that the negative effect of an unwarranted out on the basepaths significantly outweighs the positive effect of a stolen or extra base, some of us can feel rightfully queasy; especially for Ed Sedar, who will presumably assume the position under the bus in 2012.

Per Adam McCalvy:

"I'd like to be a little more creative in what we do," Roenicke said. "It's all about how you manufacture runs without Prince [Fielder] in the lineup. We need to do some things to maybe make up for his loss."

You see, Ron believes strongly in a well-known baseball maxim: Force the game to come to you.

"We're going to try to do it, and we'll see how it goes," Roenicke said. "If we're running into too many outs, and I don't like what's going on, then we'll rein them back a little bit. But I think Spring Training is a good test for them to see what they can do, how far we can go with being aggressive."

Of course, this is nothing new; Roenicke made this a priority straight out of the gate in 2011. The Brewers never ended up pushing the envelope in terms of stolen bases, largely based on the personnel, but their decision-making on the basepaths last season were far from conservative. However, there are metrics that indicate the Brewers were actually above average overall on the bases a season ago.

One method of determining baserunning proficiency is in reference to run-expectancy, aptly named as a metric for how many runs an offense scores in an inning on average with a given number of outs, baserunners, and the baserunner's location. The numbers fluctuate year-to-year, but the difference between each specific situation shows consistency.

An example of run expectancy - in 2011, with a runner on first and nobody out, the average MLB offense scored .85 runs in the inning (incidentally, the lowest since 1992). If that runner stole second base, the run expectancy rises to 1.06. If that runner was thrown out, it would have fallen to .26. The risk very clearly outweighs the reward in this scenario. The manager is risking .6 runs in order to gain .2 runs. It really doesn't make a whole lot of sense unless the remaining two or three batters in the inning are all pitchers, or if the base-stealer has a tremendous SB% based on a legitimate sample of SB opportunities and the team is down by a run in the ninth inning.

Here's a quick chart on how the Brewers fared in different run-expectancy based metrics in 2011:

Brewers -4.47 -1.07 3.37 6.40 0.01 4.2
MLB Rank 26th 21st 3rd 4th 17th 8th

The round-up:

  • GAR - Ground Advancement Runs. This tells us the Brewers were far below average in successful movement of runners via the ground ball - for example, scoring from third on a ground ball, or moving to third on a ground ball to the right side.
  • SBR - Stolen Base Runs. An estimation of overall stolen base effect. Predictably, the Brewers didn't rate too highly here, though keep in mind their total SB OPP came in at 24th in the league.
  • AAR - Air Advancement Runs. Movement of runners through the air. Yuniesky Betancourt's greatest contribution to the 2011 Brewers: AAR.
  • HAR - Hit Advancement Runs. Baserunner's success after a hit (a single or double, basically). By far the Brewers' most run-creating attribute - their ability to successfully take the extra base on a batted ball.
  • OAR - Other Advancement Runs. A rather arbitrary stat based on runner's advancement on passed balls, wild pitches, walks, etc.
  • BRR - Base Running Runs. Total baserunning success. It must be weighted to favor HAR and perhaps AAR, because it isn't an exact average of these statistics - if it was, the Brewers would be rated much lower.

The Brewers were a top 10 team on the bases, according to BRR. That can be almost entirely attributed to their success on moving after a base hit, as their success on ground balls and on stolen bases fell well below the break-even point. I wonder how much of that success stems from the fact that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder were the two top sources of singles and doubles. Therefore, the speed of the team (Weeks/Morgan/Braun) were most often asked to take that extra base. However, it would still mean that the other slower players didn't make enough mistakes to counter the extra runs created, a credit to Ed Sedar.

I think the Brewers may be hard pressed to repeat this success on the bases, partly considering how poorly Aramis Ramirez has performed in recent seasons; his 2011 BRR was actually one tenth worse than Casey McGehee's, coming in at -5.3. Then again, that's the man he's replacing, and if Gamel can succeed the -3.3 runs from Prince's legs, I suppose sustainability or improvement isn't out of the question. If improvement can only come from creating runs, or simply choosing to not give them away is up for debate.

In summary - I think the proclivity to steal will fade as the season progresses just as it did last season, and the results are acceptable for a group of players without a ton of team speed.

Also, the Cardinals won the World Series and had easily the worst BRR in the entire league.

So . . . I won't tear my hair out over this one.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.

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