Chase Utley: Best Baserunner in MLB

October 12, 2011
One of the signature moments of this year's postseason so far was that incredible play during Game 4 of the Phillies-Cardinals divisional series in which Albert Pujols threw out Chase Utley as Utley tried to go first-to-third on a ground ball to shortstop.  Despite being thrown out, you cannot fault Utley for trying to take the extra base on that play.  That was a great baserunning play.  Utley knew exactly what he was doing, and had the play pegged perfectly.
In a typical situation in which the first baseman waits to receive the ball to get the out at first, Utley would have been safe at third.  Pujols had to make a truly great defensive play to get Utley out, making the split-second decision to pass up the sure out at first base to come off the bag, cut off the throw from the shortstop, and make a perfect throw to third base.

It is quite impressive that Pujols was able to make that play at all.  However, it becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that, according to the metric Baserunning Gain (which can be found in The Bill James Handbook 2012), Utley has been the best baserunner in baseball over the last three years.

Baserunning Gain is a measure of how often a player advances the extra base, or is thrown out trying to do so, as compared with what would have been expected based on league averages.  The top ten baserunners by this metric over the last three years combined are shown below.
Baserunning Gain (3-Year)
Chase Utley
Elvis Andrus
Shane Victorino
Ben Zobrist
Ian Kinsler
Michael Bourn
Ryan Braun
Brett Gardner
Drew Stubbs
Juan Pierre
As great as Utley has been, Elvis Andrus is close on his heels. After a shaky rookie season in 2009, Andrus has improved his baserunning tremendously, and may soon be able to lay claim to the title of best baserunner in the game.
More detailed baserunning information for the 2011 season will be available in the forthcoming Bill James Handbook 2012, available in stores on November 1, 2011. You can pre-order a copy of the book by clicking here.

COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

Is baserunning gain a simple +/- or is it weighted by the run value of the extra base vs. the negative run value of an out on the bases? An out costs much more than you gain by taking an extra base. So without weighting on run value I would assume the 'gamblers' are rewarded disproportionately.

Either way, it's definitely a nice metric to see.
5:06 AM Oct 13th
Thanks for teaser for the 2012 Handbook. Utley really is pretty amazing. I doubt he's in the top 20% in raw foot speed among MLB players (he was a mediocre base-stealer in the minors - 47 for 67 in 450 games): yet, he steals 15 bases a year at a 90% +/- rate, rarely hits into GIDP's, and advances on the base as well as anybody in the game.
9:24 PM Oct 12th
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