As you may have noticed, I'm really curious what exactly Ruben Amaro, Jr. is good at. I previously argued that, given the roster moves since Amaro took the helm of the Phillies, the current team is his responsibility. Then, I showed that he has taken the team in a rather negative direction with respect to hitting. Not a single aspect of the team's hitting has improved under Amaro's watch. Sure, strikeouts have gone down, but every aspect of production has gone down too. I'll gladly take the productive high-strikeout teams of the late 2000s over the recent less productive low-strikeout teams.
In this third installment, I'm going to look at another aspect of the team's offensive production -- the team's base-running. The most well-known part of a team's base-running is stolen bases. Stolen bases are certainly important, but there's much more involved. Success rate is also important. A team that steals 50 bases may seem like a worse base-running team than a team that steals 100 bases. But what if the 50 stolen bases come with only 5 caught-stealings while the 100 bases come with 50? The 50 stolen-base team is the better base-running team because, although it advances more, it makes fewer outs on the basepaths.
Evaluating baserunning also means looking at how a player advances on batted balls. They can be evaluated in advancing on their own hit, for example stretching a single into a double. Or, they can be evaluated in advancing when other batters are at the plate -- going from first to third on a single, tagging up on a fly ball, moving a base on a passed ball, etc. Advanced baserunning metrics take all of this into account in evaluating players.
Given this basic introduction, let's see how the Phillies have fared since Amaro took over. As with my look at hitting, I'll start with 2008 and progress to this past year. Let's start simple, looking at stolen bases and success rate. The numbers here are the team's rank in the NL:
Relative to the rest of the NL, the Phillies are not stealing as many bases as they used to, but they are still the most efficient team in the NL in this area. They don't waste outs while trying to swipe a bag. This is a hugely important aspect of the game. The Phillies were the best at this before Amaro took over, and they have remained the best at this with all of his changes. Most importantly, they've remained the best even after Davey Lopes was mysteriously let go after the 2010 season. He was widely credited for the Phils' success at stealing bases, and there was suspicion that they would deteriorate in this area without him. That has not been true, as his legacy has lived on without him. Amaro deserves credit for building a team, with both players and coaches, that does not make extra outs while trying to steal bases.
However, what about the other aspects of baserunning. Here, the advanced metrics that look at all aspects of baserunning are not as good for the team under Amaro. In fact, it appears he has taken a team that was excellent on the basepaths and turned it into a mediocre at best, and horrible at worst, team on the basepaths.
These two stats are the overall base-running stats from Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus. BsR is Fangraphs' stat that takes account of all base-running situations. It combines the UBR (Ultimate Base Running) stat with stolen bases and caught stealings (which UBR does not include). BRR is Baseball Prospectus' stat that does something similar. It "measures a player's contributions on the basepaths based on activity during the run of play, on stolen base attempts, from tag-up situations, and other advancement opportunities." From what I can tell, a difference between the two is that BRR is park-adjusted and based on multi-year run expectancies. BsR gives no indication of the same (though it may be - Fangraphs is not as clear with its glossaries).
These more advanced metrics that take account of all aspects of base-running are not flattering to the team Amaro has built. Under Amaro, the Phillies have been going the wrong direction on the bases.
This makes sense when you look at the team's personnel. The speedy players, like Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins, have gotten older (and then left in Victorino's case). The smart baserunners, like Chase Utley and Jayson Werth, have been injured or left the team. Other remaining everyday players, such as Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, were never that good and have gotten worse with age. And many of the team's additions over the past few years have been mediocre to horrible on the basepaths.
There is hope though. Recognizing the need for youth and speed, Amaro traded this off-season for Ben Revere. He has the potential to completely change the team's trajectory on the basepaths. His 7.3 BsR last year was seventh in the majors (Rollins was second with 8.3). He stole 40 bases and was caught only 9 times (81% success rate). By all reports, he is lightning quick and smart with his speed.
The problem with the addition of Revere, though, is that he will be off-set in 2013 by two major factors -- Michael Young and Ryan Howard. Young had a -2.1 BsR last year, stealing only 2 bases while being caught 2 times. Howard had a -5.6 BsR last year in less than half a season. Extrapolating that over an entire season almost negates Revere's addition to the team. And it's not Howard's Achilles that is to blame. Howard has been bad on the basepaths for his entire career and particularly horrible recently. He had a -7.1 BsR in 2010 (3rd worst in the majors) and -9.3 in 2011 (2nd worst in the majors).
Nonetheless, chances are good that the Phillies as a team will be better on the basepaths this year, and that will be due to Amaro's improving the team with Revere. But that's speculation about the future. What we know is that up until this year, like with hitting, Amaro's stewardship has taken this team in the wrong direction in baserunning.