The Baserunning Ways of the Rays

September 6, 2021
In June we published a look at the leaders in the baserunning stat, Net Gain. The Padres were way ahead of the field and didn’t look like they would be caught.

 

Much like the standings have shifted against San Diego’s playoff hopes, so too has the Net Gain leaderboard. And the new team on top, the Rays, has taken an interesting path to the top spot.

As a refresher, Net Gain is composed of two components: stolen base attempts (Stolen Base Gain) and all other plays (Baserunning Gain).

The stat uses a plus-minus approach. For Stolen Base Gain, a player and his team get a +1 credit for a stolen base and a -2 penalty for a caught stealing.

For baserunning gain, a player gets a credit for advancing a base on an out, taking an extra base on a hit (for example, going first to third on a single), or advancing via a wild pitch, passed ball, balk, sacrifice fly, or defensive indifference.

The player also gets a penalty for his baserunning outs. The overall plus-minus number is based on how much above or below the combination of credits and penalites is compared to MLB average.

Net Baserunning Gain Leaders

Team Net Gain
Rays +69
Padres +65
Dodgers +64
Rockies +57
Royals +52
Braves +51

When we wrote our previous article, the Padres were at +74. The next-closest team was the Rockies at +46. The Rays were a distant sixth at +26.

The Rays’ move to the No. 1 position is not about basestealing. Though Tampa Bay is tied for eighth in MLB in stolen bases with 67, Rays baserunners have been caught the most, 32 times. As such, its gain from stolen bases is a minimal +3.

Instead, the Rays’ edge is partly on the strength of taking the extra base on hits. The Rays rank first in bases gained from going first to third on hits and fourth in bases gained going from second to home on hits.

But it's also a product of one other thing. Net Gain also factors in a team’s ability to avoid grounding into double plays.

And there’s no team quite like the Rays in this regard.

The Rays have grounded into 53 double plays this season, the fewest in the majors. The next-closest teams, the Braves and Mariners, have 66. With more than three-quarters of the season complete, the Rays are on pace to ground into 67 double plays this season.

The record for fewest double plays grounded into by a team in a non-shortened season s 75 by the 1945 Cardinals (double play data exists back to 1933; a full season prior to 1961 was 154 games). The last team to have fewer than 80 was the 1983 Astros who had 76.

You’re probably wondering if the Rays don’t hit a lot of ground balls. They hit them at a slightly-below average rate (42.5% vs the MLB average of 43.0%) and rank 19th in ground balls hit overall. They’re 25th in ground balls hit in double play situations (man on first, less than two outs). And they strike out the second most of any team, so that has something to do with it.

But the Rays also have some players with above-average speed going from home plate to first base. Brett Phillips (4.07 seconds) ranks 7th in MLB and has hit into only 2 double plays in 215 at-bats this season. Kevin Kiermaier (4.09) isn’t far behind Phillips speed-wise. He’s also hit into only 2 double plays in 272 at-bats. Wander Franco (4.17) hasn’t hit into a double play in 197 at-bats in his rookie season.

The team’s leader in grounding into double plays is Randy Arozarena with 9. There are 73 players who have hit into more double plays than he has.

In order to compete with the powerhouse spending teams in the AL East, the Rays have had to find creative ways to succeed. This year, better baserunning seems to be one way. The Rays are well ahead of the Yankees (20th) and Red Sox (24th) in Net Gain and are ahead of both teams in the standings as well.

 
 

COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

Rallymonkey5
They lead the AL (2nd in majors) in strikeouts. That’s one way to avoid the double play. Though I wonder how many of the CS happened on third strikes.
8:02 PM Sep 8th
 
malbuff
Good study. Thanks. I really like the Rays, they're a fun team to watch and they're well coached. I wonder, though, if you're not undervaluing caught stealing. Though I've never done a study on it, it's always seemed to me that if your stolen base success rate isn't at least 75%, you're better off just staying put.
1:05 PM Sep 7th
 
 
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