Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Running the bases with the Red Sox

The play looked fairly innocuous at the time.

Mike Lowell -- the same Mike Lowell who ran last season as if he was dragging a parachute behind him -- surprised everyone by breaking for third in the second inning of a mid-May game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He'd taken a healthy lead off second base and didn't draw a glance from the pitcher, so he decided on his own to take a shot at third.

Lowell surprised everyone, that is, except J.D. Drew, the runner on first base who broke for second base just as Lowell broke for third. When Jeff Bailey singled to shallow left field, Lowell scored -- and Drew coasted into third base. When George Kottaras followed with a fly ball to left field, Drew scored the second run of the inning.

Had Drew not been paying attention to Lowell, he only would have made it to second base on Bailey's single. He then might or might not have made it to third base on Kottaras' fly ball -- and he certainly would have been stranded when Jacoby Ellsbury lined to first base to end the inning.

You guessed it: The Red Sox ended up winning that game, 2-1.

"We scored a run and J.D. was able to get to third on a ball that probably neither of us (otherwise) advances two bases on," Lowell said after the game. "Georgie got a sac fly, and it ended up being something that worked out for us."

Running the bases doesn't have as much impact as hitting or pitching or even playing defense. Running the bases, though, can turn the tide of a handful of games over the course of a season and even can be the difference between a win and a loss.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the Red Sox have fared -- and might fare next season -- in terms of their baserunning.

(Both and compile baserunning statistics. The below statistics are from the latter.)

Going from first to third on a single
American League average: 27.0 percent
2008 lineup: 22.2 percent
2009 lineup: 24.7 percent
2010 lineup*: 24.7 percent

The best: Kevin Youkilis (12 for 32, 37.5 percent)
The worst: David Ortiz (2 for 27, 7.4 percent)

New acquisitions Adrian Beltre (50 percent) and Mike Cameron (41.9 percent) both went from corner to corner last season at an above-average clip. Marco Scutaro, on the other hand, had a brutal year in that area: He got to third base just four times in 38 opportunities, or 10.5 percent.

Scoring from second on a single
American League average: 58.1 percent
2008 lineup: 58.0 percent
2009 lineup: 55.1 percent
2010 lineup*: 54.0 percent

The best: Jason Bay (11 for 12, 91.7 percent)
The worst: Ortiz (2 for 16, 12.5 percent)

Seeing as how picking on Jacoby Ellsbury has become the unofficial theme of the Red Sox offseason, it's interesting to note that the speedster scored from second just 46.2 percent of the time a season ago, third-worst among Red Sox regulars. Ortiz and Jason Varitek were the only other regulars to fail to score from second base on at least 50 percent of their opportunities last season.

Much like his fielding numbers, Ellsbury's baserunning numbers -- his stolen bases aside, of course -- seem to indicate he's not taking full advantage of his speed.

Scoring from first on a double
American League average: 37.9 percent
2008 lineup: 27.5 percent
2009 lineup: 27.2 percent
2010 lineup*: 35.3 percent

The best: Nick Green (5 for 7, 71.4 percent)
The worst: Ortiz/Varitek (0 for 7/0 for 3, 0 percent)

It shouldn't be that surprising that Ortiz is at the bottom of most of these lists. He is, after all, Big Papi. But as the Red Sox try to figure out how often to play him next season, his inability to do anything on the basepaths -- the way he clogs the bases, if you will -- might be a tiny factor in their decision.

Ellsbury? He scored from first on a double just twice on nine opportunities last season, again the third-lowest rate among Red Sox regulars. This time, though, some context is in order: If Ellsbury singles to lead off the game and Dustin Pedroia lofts a high fly ball off the Green Monster -- Pedroia hit 10 first-inning doubles last season -- Ellsbury is going to have to hold at second base until he knows the fly ball won't be caught.

There's little excuse for Ellsbury not being able to score from second on a single more often than he does, but failing to score from first on a double seems to be a function of the ballpark in which he plays.

* based on 2009 numbers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In terms of scoring from first on a double--how many of those doubles were ground rule doubles (where it is impossible to score from first)?

Given the small samples we are dealing with here, that should be noted