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Baserunning and the Royals: A mediocre history

Diving into some baserunning numbers and history.

This guy.
This guy.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Observe this leaderboard. Notice that the Royals are on top of this particular leaderboard, which is that of stolen bases.

Observe this other leaderboard. Notice that the Royals are not on top of this particular leaderboard, which is that of baserunning runs (BsR), the definition of which may be found here.

The Nationals, measured as the best baserunning team so far this year, are in the middle of the road in terms of stolen bases. My curiosity was piqued. Therefore, I embarked on a tedious journey to determine how often this phenomenon has occurred in history (1871-2014). That is, in what percentage of years did the leader in stolen bases not equal the leader in BsR?

52.2%. That's the answer. There are 10 years without the requisite data on FanGraphs, so I eliminated those. That left 134 seasons. In those 134 seasons, 52.2% of the time, the leader in stolen bases and the leader in BsR were NOT the same team. Anecdotally, I observed that this number changed over time. For example, from arbitrarily selected years 1886-1925, only in 27.5% of the years were the two leaders not the same. However, in equally arbitrary 1997-2014, the two leaders were not the same in 83.3% of the years.  I would attribute this to expansion over time; more teams, more chances for disparity. More player movement between teams in modern times is another reason.

There were some oddities. In 1916, the St. Louis Browns were the leader in stolen bases. They were the worst in BsR. They got caught stealing a lot. In 1921, the Cleveland Indians were the leader in BsR, but they were last in stolen bases. Fun.

The Royals have a history of being a speedy team. Stolen bases, taking the extra base, blah blah blah. Let's look. In general, the 70s were a good time for the Royals in baserunning. In 1971, the Royals led MLB in both stolen bases and BsR due to the fleet feet of Amos Otis and Freddie Patek. In 1979, the Royals again led MLB in both stats. Freddie Patek and Amos Otis were still playing, but Frank White helped out as well. Willie Wilson, though, stole 83 bases that year and amassed 12 BsR, which, depending on the runs-to-wins conversion of that time, was probably worth a win or more alone. That's silly.

The Royals remained a pretty good baserunning team until 1990 happened. Their baserunners were in the twilight of their careers, and the wheels fell off that year. HAHA GET IT!?....Sorry. For most of the 1990s, the Royals' rank in stolen bases outpaced (HAHA GET IT?!...Sorry. Again) their rank in BsR. Attempting to hold on to the past, the Royals still ran a bunch but just weren't very good at baserunning in general. For example, in 1994 the Royals led the league in stolen bases but were only middling in BsR. Vince Coleman and Brian McRae garnered positive baserunning value, but Greg Gagne and Felix Jose offset those guys.

Players like Jose Offerman, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Beltran helped make 1998-2003 a pretty good time for Royals baserunning. Then everybody got traded, and we don't want to talk about mid-2000s Royals baseball.

This brings us to now. Unfortunately, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer have had some rough times on the bases this year, but with Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, and Norichika Aoki, the Royals have a good baserunning team again.

Overall, there have been some ups and downs in Royals baserunning history. In their heyday, they were a good baserunning team, and then those guys got older. Humans do that. The Royals have a good core of guys again now, but since time inevitably marches onward, those guys will become poorer runners. Wouldn't we all be better off if we just had in his prime Willie Wilson, in his prime Amos Otis, current Lorenzo Cain, current Jarrod Dyson, and current Alex Gordon all playing the outfield? The Royals would steal all the bases and take all the extra bases. They also wouldn't let a ball hit the grass.

You know, if time travel existed and all.