The Best Baserunning Team in MLB

January 10, 2015

After the playoffs, you’d be expected to think that the Royals were far and away the best baserunning team in baseball in 2014. Royals Alex Gordon and Terrance Gore were the only two players with more than two steals in the postseason, and that does not even mention the team’s most prolific basestealers from the regular season: Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. And in the regular season, the Royals stole 153 bases, 15 more than the second place team.

The 2014 baserunning narrative probably does not conjure images of the Washington Nationals, who finished just 12th in stolen bases and had just one player with 30-plus steals (Denard Span), one player with 20-plus steals (Ian Desmond), and one player with 10-plus steals (Anthony Rendon). It may surprise you to know then that the Nationals were actually the best baserunning team in baseball last season:

Team Baserunning, 2014
Team Net Gain
Nationals 114
Twins 109
Athletics 93
Phillies 75
Indians 71
Diamondbacks 63
Giants 58
Mets 56
Astros 55
Royals 52


Net Gain is a Bill James-created statistic that comprehensively measures baserunning by including advancements on hits and outs in addition to stolen bases. By that measure—as well as some other comprehensive baserunning statistics such as BsR, explained here—the Nationals were the best baserunning team in 2014 and actually more than twice as successful as the Royals.

The keys to the Nationals’ baserunning success were taking extra bases and avoiding outs. Despite their modest stolen base totals, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond, and Jason Werth were all in the top 10 in extra bases taken. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper made eight outs on the basepaths and was the only National in the bottom 50 of baserunner outs in baseball.


COMMENTS (5 Comments, most recent shown first)

John, this information is great, and the additional info from Don Coffin is also great. Do you have scores for the other teams that were not as good on t he bases?
11:12 AM Jan 13th
Mets are +16; don't know why I didn't get them in there to begin with.
1:35 PM Jan 11th
A quick and dirty answer to shthdr's question. Using data from 2014 only I ran a regression with runs as the dependent variable and OBA and SA as the independent variables. Using that regression:

Runs = -599.0 + 2175.5*OBA + 1489.5*SA
(-4.40) (+3.75) (+5.42)

R-Sq = .812

I predicted runs scored, and compared predicted to actual (Actual - Predicted). For the 10 teams listed here:

Nationals +1
Twins +30
As +64
Phillies +20
Indians -1
D-backs -3
Giants +9
Astros -15
Roylas +7

The correlation between net gain and the +/- above is +0.436, a significant, but not huge correlation.​
11:56 AM Jan 11th
But does this add up to any runs?

Do the teams at the top score more runs than they should?

Do the ones at the bottom score less?
9:32 AM Jan 11th
Harper was able to accomplish all that -- plus get picked off four times -- in only 98 starts. Two SBs and two CS. And the injury was a thumb, not a wheel. Makes ya wunda...
11:14 PM Jan 10th
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