The Line Between Aggressive and Dumb
If you’ve watched the Mariners play the first two weeks of the season, you’ve seen the team’s speed create runs through stolen bases, forced errors, and taking home on shallow fly balls. You’ve also seen the team run themselves out of innings and make a load of inexplicable outs while trying to advance in situations where they had little chance of success.
So, it probably should not surprise you that the Mariners are tied for second in bases taken, They have advanced an extra 20 bases on fly balls, wild pitches, passed balls, and the like, and have added an additional 11 stolen bases to that total. Only the Dodgers have gotten more extra bases by running aggressively this year.
Also not a surprise? The Mariners lead the league in baserunning outs, having made nine while trying to take an extra base and six by getting caught stealing. In just 13 games, they have made a staggering 15 outs, taking at-bats away from their hitters and essentially canceling out all the good that the aggressiveness has done.
In most cases, taking an extra base is worth about a quarter of a run, but making an out on the bases costs a team about half a run. The out is essentially twice as bad as the advancement is good. So, when you’ve taken 31 bases but made 15 outs to do it, you’ve basically broken even, where the total overall value added to your offense by running has been no different than if the team had just played station to station baseball.
The argument that is usually made in favor of aggressive baserunning is that it puts pressure on the defense, but in reality, the M’s have routinely been taking pressure off of the defense by running themselves right out of rallies. There are few better things for a pitcher than having a runner in scoring position make an out, keeping him from having to throw high stress pitches out of the stretch. And the Mariners have made a lot of outs in situations where they already had the pitcher on the ropes, only to let him off the hook by getting thrown out.
For guys like Ichiro and Figgins, there should be a pretty long leash. They’ve proven to be two of the best baserunners in baseball over their careers, and they’ll add value through utilizing their speed throughout the year. But it’s the other guys that Wak has to rein in. Milton Bradley has already made three outs on the bases, while Casey Kotchman has made two (both on glaringly bad decisions this weekend). Bradley isn’t slow, but he’s got a long history of injuries that have routinely kept him off the field, and he’s not a good enough baserunner to justify the risk. Kotchman is one of the slowest guys in baseball, and simply shouldn’t be wandering away from a base he’s reached safely unless he can walk into the next one.
The top two guys can run and be aggressive. They have the ability to really add value through their wheels. The rest of the team, though, need to put the breaks on the craziness. The hitting isn’t good enough to overcome no-added-value baserunning, so the Mariners simply have to be smarter about picking their spots. Jack Wilson can’t get thrown out by 10 feet stealing second base anymore. For this team, guys on base are going to be a precious resource not to be wasted.
Let the top two guys run all they want, but the other seven, they need to show more restraint, and soon, because the Mariners can’t keep running themselves out of rallies like they have been through the first two weeks.