Who Are the Top Baserunners in Baseball?

May 23, 2013

Carlos Beltran is in his 16th major league season overall. Over his career, he has been a major force on the diamond, compiling 67 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball-Reference, the 131st-best such figure of all time. He has excelled in every facet of the game including hitting for average, hitting for power, defense and baserunning.

There is one area, however, where his excellence has become average, baserunning. Through 2008 he was one of the best baserunners in the game. However, a series of injuries beginning in 2009 have robbed him of his speed. Using the Bill James’ Baserunning Net Gain metric, the drop-off is dramatic: 

Carlos Beltran Career Baserunning
Year Team Net Gain
2002 KC 32
2003 KC 56
2004 KC-Hou 67
2005 Mets 35
2006 Mets 36
2007 Mets 32
2008 Mets 35
2009 Mets -3
2010 Mets 3
2011 Mets-SF 8
2012 StL 8
2013 StL -2


Before 2009, Beltran averaged more than 40 Baserunning Net Gain points per season. Last season, only six players—Mike Trout, Michael Bourn, Jarrod Dyson, Everth Cabrera, Desmond Jennings, and Jimmy Rollins—were able exceed the total Beltran averaged over a seven-year stretch.

Because of his lost speed, Beltran’s defense has become average as well. After saving an estimated 40 runs defensively for the Mets from 2008 through 2010, Beltran has cost his teams a total of four runs over the last 4+ years.

This year’s leaders in Baserunning Net Gain are:


Best Baserunners through May 22, 2013
Player Net Gain
Everth Cabrera 22
David Wright 16
Juan Pierre 15
Andrew McCutchen 15
Hunter Pence 14


Included in his sizable lead in Baserunning Net Gain are Cabrera’s 18 stolen bases, the most in baseball, four more than the number-two men, Jean Segura and Nate McClouth.

On the other side of the ledger, here are this year’s base cloggers, many of whom are prototypical power hitters:


Worst Baserunners through May 22, 2013
Player Net Gain
Justin Smoak -17
Martin Prado -15
Allen Craig -12
Nelson Cruz -12
Albert Pujols -10
Chris Carter -10


Note: Baserunning Net Gain is featured each year in the Bill James Handbook. It evaluates players based on their opportunities to advance on hits and avoid outs on the basepaths, including both stealing bases and advancing via hits and outs. You can think of this number as the number of extra bases gained or lost compared to the average player.


COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

jwilt - are BB's an "accepted metric"?

Personally I like for some things to be put onto this scale -- especially baserunning, a contribution which I like to compare to walks. "Justin Smoak cost 17 bases with his legs, which pretty much cancel 17 of his walks." People forget that high OBP means less if the player who's getting it has low SLG and is slow.

Heaven forbid we should talk about bases gained and lost in, um, baseball.
8:10 PM May 28th
I thought this was widely known, but perhaps not.

Albert Pujols is playing through right knee and left foot problems. He is very slow this year, a sudden change from the speed he showed just last year.
12:25 PM May 24th
Konerko & Dunn may be slow baserunners, but to be among the 5 worst in the majors, one probably has to be not just slow but also reckless, getting thrown out and not just failing to take extra bases.
12:23 PM May 24th
Justin Smoak wishes he was a prototypical power hitter. He's been basically just an outmaker.
12:21 PM May 24th
From watching him it seems Pujols is a lot slower than he used to be. In my opinion he use to be a good baserunner, not to fast but a smart baserunner. However, now he seems so slow he can't always take that extra base.
11:28 AM May 24th
Sansho, I agrree about Prado.

The other one that really surprizes me is Albert Pujols. I never thought of him as a "prototypical slugger" (like Mark McGwire, for example), despite his prodigous power. Sure, he isn't Rickey, but he has always been a decent baserunnner.
Here are a couple of metrics, by the last few seasons:
Runs / Opportunity
2009 - .293
2010 - .294
2011 - .338
2012 - .275

2009 - 16 & 4
2010 - 14 & 4
2011 - 9 & 1
2012 - 8 & 1

So, OK, he isn't tearing up the world and he did "slip" a little last year, but generally he's far from one of the worst in all of baseball.

I blame his poor standing in this article on the fact that the season is only 25% elapsed (i.e. I am crying "small sample size"). :-)
8:35 AM May 24th
What has happened to Martin Prado? Batting struggles aside, he was one of the best baserunners in the league last year. Is he over-hustling (he has that tendency) and running into outs?
8:02 AM May 24th
Why would this not be converted to runs saved? Bases gained/lost isn't our common baseline here - nearly every other accepted metric deals in runs or wins. Every time I use the stats section here, or read an article on this site, I hear my mental transmission grinding gears as I try to remember if it's referring to some bases-based number that I can't contextualize.
6:27 AM May 24th
I'm guessing neither Paul Konerko nor Adam Dunn has been on base often enough to make this list. (50 times on base for Konerko and 44 for Dunn so far.)
10:05 PM May 23rd
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