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The good, the bad, and the funny: Phillies base running edition

Overall, the Phillies have done well on the base paths, but they haven’t been without their blunders.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“The good, the bad, and the funny” is a series designed to take a closer look at the state of the Philadelphia Phillies, one aspect at a time. Up next? Base running.

Overall, the Phillies have been quite good at base running this season. They rank third in the National League in stolen bases (63) behind the Padres (94) and the Marlins (82). They rank second in stolen base success rate (80%) behind only the Giants (84%).

According to BsR, the all encompassing base running statistic from Fangraphs, the Phillies have been 6.3 runs better than league average on the base paths, which ranks third in the NL behind Colorado (17.4) and Miami (7.0). This means that base running has, in fact, been the Phillies’ biggest strength this season.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, because the Phillies starting lineup is quite fast. As illustrated by Baseball Savant, Rhys Hoskins (orange dot) is the only player in the Phillies starting eight with a below average sprint speed, and even he is still middle-of-the-pack for a first baseman.

2021 Baserunning Sprint Speed - Phillies (min 75 PA)
2021 Baserunning Sprint Speed - Phillies (min 75 PA)
via Baseball Savant

So, without further ado, hero is the good, the bad, and the funny of the Phillies’ base running this season. (All stats as of Tuesday, August 17.)

The Good

J.T. Realmuto

J.T. Realmuto is fast. He’s the fastest starting catcher in baseball by both sprint speed (28.7 ft/sec) and time from home plate to first base (4.31). Dalton Varsho, the 25-year-old backup catcher for the Diamondbacks, is the only catcher who runs faster than Realmuto.

And J.T. is not only fast for a catcher – he’s just genuinely fast. The only player on the Phillies’ roster with a faster sprint speed is the 25-year-old utility man Luke Williams (28.8 ft-sec), and Williams’ sprint speed is only 0.1 better than Realmuto’s. J.T. Realmuto’s sprint speed puts him in the 88th percentile in all of baseball.

Realmuto has only grounded into two double plays all season. Among all 136 qualified MLB hitters, only one (Eduardo Escobar) has grounded into fewer double plays. Fittingly, FanGraphs ranks Realmuto as the 14th most valuable baserunner in the National League.

You probably already knew Realmuto was fast. But I just don’t think the value he brings with his speed can be overstated. To use a phrase that Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler were so enamored with, Realmuto’s speed is the perfect example of “value at the margins.” Nobody expects to get any base running value out of their catcher. Almost every starting catcher in baseball is a below average runner and that’s just accepted as an inevitability. So when a catcher can run it’s a huge bonus.

J.T. Realmuto got paid the big bucks for his bat and his defense, but his speed is a tremendous asset as well. It’s just so rare to see a guy who excels at both base running and preventing his opponents from running the bases.

The Bad

Alec Bohm

It was hard to decide who to write about here. As I said, the Phillies, on the whole, are quite good at base running. I could have written about Rhys Hoskins, who is the slowest player on the team, but that didn’t feel fair. He’s a first baseman, so he’s not expected to be a good base runner. And as far as first basemen go, he ranks 7th among 12 qualified NL first basemen in BsR. That’s average and perfectly acceptable.

I also considered writing about Odúbel Herrera, because while he isn’t slow, he is slow for a center fielder. His sprint speed ranks in the bottom 15% percent at the position. However, despite his slow sprint speed, his time from home plate to first base actually ranks in the top third of all center fielders, and his BsR puts him around league average for his position.

Alec Bohm might seem like a strange choice for “the bad” at first thought. After all, according to sprint speed, he’s faster than both Hoskins and Herrera.

But that’s just the thing. Bohm has the potential to be a strong base runner, but he hasn’t been able to make that happen. His sprint speed ranks in the 68th percentile in the major leagues and the 77th percentile among 3B. However, his time from home plate to first base ranks in just the 31st percentile in MLB and the 39th percentile among 3B. He ranks just 16th out of 19th qualified MLB third basemen in BsR, and the two men just below him - Manny Machado and Eugenio Suarez - have had significantly more base running opportunities. On a per-plate-appearance basis, the only major league third baseman who has been a genuinely worse base runner than Bohm is Austin Riley of the Atlanta Braves. And when you’re hitting like Riley is (25 HR, .896 OPS), nobody really cares that much about your base running.

It’s not just Fangraphs and Baseball Savant that paint a negative picture of Bohm’s base running. The base running metrics at Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus also suggest that Bohm has been a negative presence on the bases. Baseball Reference uses the metric Rbaser to measure base running value, and by that metric Bohm is tied with Rhys Hoskins for worst on the Phillies (-1 runs). They are the only two position players on the team with a negative Rbaser. According to the Baseball Prospectus measurement BRR, Bohm has been worth -0.1 runs on the bases. That’s not nearly as bad as he looks on the other sites, but it’s still below average.

Finally, let's not forget Bohm’s various sliding mishaps this year. While he was luckily called safe on his most egregious slide of the season (you know the one), he hasn’t always been so lucky. By my eye test, Bohm has cheated himself out of an extra base multiple times this season thanks to poor sliding.

The Funny

Let’s go with a few things here...

Funny in a good way

Remember back in April when many of us (myself included) thought Andrew McCutchen was done for? It seemed like nearly every Phillies fan thought that his ACL injury from 2019 had completely derailed his career and that he was getting too old to be an every day player.

Well, Cutch is certainly having the last laugh now. No matter what his stats looks like by the end of the season, he has certainly proven that his ACL has healed and he isn’t too old for this game quite yet. His sprint speed ranks in the 88th percentile in baseball. It also ranks first in baseball among all players 35 and older, and first in the National League among all players 32 and older.

Funny in a bad way

As I mentioned earlier, the Phillies have one of the best stolen base success rates in baseball. In fact, only one player on the Phillies has been caught stealing more times than he has successfully stolen a bag. But funnily enough, the one player happens to be Luke Williams, the fastest runner on the roster! Williams’ sprint speed ranks in the 92 percentile in baseball, but he’s been caught stealing 66% of the time this season (2 out of 3 times).

Funny in a funny way

I was looking through the Phillies leaders in Base Running Runs on Baseball Prospectus, and I noticed that Spencer Howard ranks 6th on the team in this metric. Twenty-seven men have run the bases for the Phillies this year, and Howard was better than twenty-one of them (according to this one stat, anyway). And Spencer Howard only reached base two times this season.

Oh, and one more tidbit. Howard and Mickey Moniak reached base fewer than ten times this season, but combined they have been worth more Base Running Runs than anyone on the Phillies roster. How about that?

You can read last week’s edition of “The good, the bad, and the funny” about the bullpen here.