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Milwaukee Brewers are among the best base running teams in baseball

Orlando Arcia is leading the Brewers’ charge around the diamond.

San Francisco Giants v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

If you’ve followed the Milwaukee Brewers over the past few seasons, you’ve likely scratched your head often at the club’s perceived poor base running. It seemed as though TOOTBLANs (Thrown Out on the Basepaths Like a Nincompoop) were required when wearing a Brewers’ jersey. Now if you just paused for a second and realized you haven’t had nearly as many fits of rage about this topic in 2017, you’re right!

The first-place Brewers appear to be a top-5 base running club across the board.

Base running, like many items in baseball, can be challenging to truly evaluate. Just because you make an out running to third base, doesn’t mean it was a bad play. Likewise, averting risk and holding at first base isn’t always the correct decision. There is lots of gray area that lies between successful aggressiveness and foolish carelessness. A number of advanced statistics - and basic ones - show the Brewers have found a balance through the season’s first couple of months.

Let’s start with the basics. Through Wednesday’s game, the Milwaukee Brewers have made the fewest outs on the bases, thrown out just 9 times. This does not include force outs or times caught stealing. For reference, Milwaukee tied for the 4th-most out on the bases last year (65). In 2015 they had the 9th-most (60), while in 2014 they had the 7th-highest mark (61). At their current pace, the Brewers would only make fewer than 30 outs on the bases.

Milwaukee has yet to be thrown out at third base this season, though they continue to be gunned down at the plate. The Brewers led MLB in outs at home last season (27) and currently own the 7th-most outs at the dish this year (7). Whether it’s third base coach Ed Sedar’s windmill arm or manager Craig Counsell’s infatuation with the contact play, Brewers runners still race for home with a fair amount of reckless abandon.

Those numbers, however, don’t always tell the whole story. There are a handful of advanced stats that look to better assess how well players and teams traverse the diamond. Two of those statistics from FanGraphs are Ultimate Base Running (UBR) and Base Running (BsR). Without getting too bogged down by the details, these metrics take into account a variety of base running events and given a value. This would include going from first to third base on a single, scoring from first on a double, and a number of other scenarios.

For both stats, a value of zero represents league average. Here’s how the Brewers have ranked in these categories the past few seasons.

Ultimate Base Running (UBR)

2014: 14th (-1.0)

2015: 12th (2.8)

2016: 19th (-3.1)

2017: 4th (6.9)

You can clearly see the huge jump from 2016 to this year in the early going. They certainly hurt themselves more than they helped on the bases last season. For the club to take a huge spike up - 10 full runs - is quite remarkable. It’s been a team-wide effort for the Milwaukee Brewers. Orlando Arcia has the 2nd-best UBR in baseball (3.3) with Hernan Perez sitting 16th (1.9). Getting rid of their two worst players in UBR also helped: Chris Carter (-2.9) and Scooter Gennett (-3.5).

Base Running (BsR)

2014: 28th (-10.7)

2015: 13th (2.3)

2016: 9th (5.1)

2017: 3rd (8.5)

The beauty here is how the Milwaukee Brewers have annually progressed as a group. Once again Arcia leads the team (2.5), but the man in second might surprise you: Jonathan Villar (1.7). He was actually third on the club in 2016, in large part due to his stolen bases. Once again, a large chunk of the improvement lies in who left and took over. Carter’s -1.4 BsR is gone and has been replaced with Eric Thames’ 1.2 BsR, for an increase of 2.6 overall. Then with Gennett in Cincinnati (-2.6), a group of players including Nick Franklin and Travis Shaw have been much better than the former second baseman.

Many in the industry argue that over the course of a season, wins created from base running are minimal. However, on a one-game basis, it can allow a team to snatch victory from defeat or turn a certain win into a tough loss. Those individual games can add up and play a role late in the year when just a couple games could make the difference in the standings.

Though it’s been the Milwaukee Brewers’ power and relative consistency driving them to the 6th-best run-scoring offense in MLB, base running is making its presence felt as well. They’re still among the leaders in stolen bases with 48 (3rd) and this crew is proving to be a top-5 team when it comes to other aspects of the running game. It will be interesting to see if they continue this positive trend or start to fall back into bad habits.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs