The Los Angeles Angels made some truly horrendous baserunning decisions Tuesday night in the top of the third inning that cost the team at least one run. Chris Iannetta made the first out of the inning attempting to go first-to-third on a bunt single that never left the infield, while J.B. Shuck was thrown out at third for the second out of the inning attempting to advance on a ball that rolled about three feet away from Salvador Perez.
The Kansas City Royals contrasted the Angels horrible display of baserunning with a nice play by Alcides Escobar. Escobar reached first with a single, then scored on a Billy Butler double. Butler's double was hit down the third-base line, but did not roll into the corner; Shuck kept the ball in front of him. Despite the leftfielder making a pretty solid play on the ball, Escobar got a great read off the bat and raced around the bases to score.
Ultimately, the baserunning gaffes did not come back to haunt the Angels; hitting four solo home runs tends to cancel out poor decision making. Still, watching Los Angeles run the bases last night reminded me of watching the Royals run the bases last season. It's a little thing, but so far the team has shown much more discretion on the basepaths, avoiding unnecessary outs while taking an extra base when available.
The Royals were around league-average running the bases last year, as Fangraphs credits the team with 2 Baserunning Runs (BsR) last season. The team received some excellent baserunning contributions from Escobar and Jarrod Dyson, but also had 11 players cost the team at least one run on the bases last season; Billy Butler andJeff Francoeur combined to post a -11.1 BsR.
The 2013 team has looked much better running the bases, as they had already accumulated 2 BsR into 2013 heading into Tuesday's game. That number will likely look a little better today, since Lorenzo Cain stole second base and Escobar scored from first on a double.
The Royals rank third in the American League with 28 steals on the season, but have only been caught stealing 4 times, the second lowest number in the AL. That means the Royals have been successful on 88% of their steal attempts, a 10% improvement from last season.
The team has not cut down on the number of stolen base attempts relative to stolen base opportunities. As a group, Royals baserunners attempted to steal a base during 8% of the at-bats the baserunner had the opportunity to steal in 2012. This season, the team has attempted to steal during 7% of the at-bats a base runner has the opportunity to steal. Kansas City baserunners are simply more efficient at swiping an extra base.
Kansas City has also cut down on the number of pickoffs and ill-advised outs on the basepaths this season. The team preached an aggressive baserunning approach at the start of last season, but it backfired, as the team ran into far too many outs. The Royals were picked-off 22 times on the basepaths last season, and gave away an additional 64 outs on other baserunning plays (non-steals, pick-offs or force plays).
The team has only played 22% of the regular season in 2013, but their totals project to finish much lower. The Royals have only been picked off twice this season, and ran into 4 additional outs on the basepaths. If the team continues to make outs on the basepaths at the same pace for the rest of year, they will finish with 9 pickoffs and 18 other baserunning outs.
That would give the Royals an additional 59 outs to play with over the course of the season. That's a big difference, especially for an offense currently devoid of plate discipline and power.
The Royals have been just as effective at taking the extra base this year despite the increased caution on the basepaths. Baseball Reference defines taking the "extra base" as the baserunner advancing more than one base on a single, and more than two bases on a double, regardless of batted ball type and location. Royals hitters took the extra base 40% of the time in 2012, and have taken the extra base 39% of the time in 2013.
Simply put, the team has picked up a similar number of extra bases from steals and general baserunning that they did last season while cutting out the majority of the #RoyalsFreeOuts. It's an impressive accomplishment, and one that might actually improve if Dyson continues to take playing time away Francoeur. Of course, the lack of offensive production could cause the team to panic and resume the counter-productive aggressive approach they used last season in an attempt to bleed a few more runs out of the team.
All baseball teams preach doing the "little things" well, but the Royals have given sermons on the subject during the numerous rebuilding seasons. So it's nice to actually see the team do one of the little-things well and pick up some free bases while avoiding unnecessary outs.
The "little things," however, don't have as large of an impact on a team's offense as the "big things" do, reaching base and hitting for power. The team's improved baserunning skills have not and will not compensate for quality hitters in the same manner that quality hitters can overcome horrible baserunning (Billy Butler).
Still, we should give the Royals credit for a smarter approach on the basepaths after we rightfully crushed them for their approach last season. If the team could start to get the rest of the offense rolling, the improved baserunning would start to have a bigger impact on the game.