The Brewers Not-So-Terrible Base Running | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

The Brewers dropped a frustrating 3-2 decision to the Phillies on Monday night. The loss was the Brewers sixth defeat in their last seven contests, their worst stretch of the season to date. The frustration from the piling up losses was compounded by the fact that the Brewers had ample opportunites to take the game from the Phillies, but couldn’t get out of their own way. From Caitlin Swieca of MLB.com:

Part of Milwaukee’s problem on Monday was poor baserunning; the team made avoidable outs on the basepaths with no outs and runners in scoring position in three separate innings. In the second, Carlos Gomez hit a leadoff double, but was picked off by pitcher Cole Hamels. In the fifth, Jean Segura was thrown out by right fielder Marlon Byrd while trying to advance from first to third on a Jeff Bianchi two-run single. In the eighth, Logan Schafer came in to pinch-run afterRyan Braun led off the inning with a double. He attempted to advance on Jonathan Lucroy’s grounder to the shortstop, but was thrown out sliding into third.

Those are three pretty meaningful gaffes, but just how bad were they? Using Tom Tango’s 1993-2010 run expectancy matrix, we can get a rough idea of about what the Brewers gave up. Below is a chart that has the number of expected runs lost. The first column has the number that would have been expected if Gomez, Segura and Schafer had just stayed put at second instead of pushing things, the second has the expected runs post-gaffe and the third has the resulting difference.

Without Misplay With Misplay Net Result
Gomez Pickoff 1.170 0.291 -0.879
Segura Out at Third 1.556 0.562 -0.994
Schafer Out at Third 0.721 0.562 -0.159
Totals 3.447 1.415 -2.032

Of course these are just estimates based on large samples of numbers from an era with a bit more offense than this one. We will never know if the Brewers would have come up with the big hit(s) with runners in scoring position or not. What we do know is that they definitely cost themselves some significant opportunities to score runs.

Did these mistakes “cost” the Brewers the game? That’s all a matter of perspective. After all, it’s not like any of these mistakes changed the expected runs total in a given inning to zero. They still had chances to score in the innings in question. In fact, you would expect a total of 1.415 runs to score in just those innings, even after the gaffes. That’s more than a two run drop from what they would be expected to do without the mistakes, but again, it’s not nothing.

Sometimes it seems like this kind of thing happens far too often to the Brewers under manager Ron Roenicke. After all, since day one in Milwaukee, he’s been stressing the importance of being aggressive on the base paths:

“At times, you’re going to say, ‘Why are you running so much? Why are you getting thrown out trying to take extra bases?’ ” said Roenicke. “That’s going to happen, but that’s the style I like to play. I’ve seen it win a lot of games over the years.

“At times we’re going to get thrown out. But over the course of the season I guarantee we will score a lot more runs by being aggressive. Also, when you let players be aggressive, they have more confidence. That’s what this game is all about – confidence.”

Comments like these may make some people see red, but it’s hard to argue with the overall results on the base paths this year. Coming into the game on Monday, the Brewers were second in MLB in total runs added on the basepaths as calculated by Baseball Prospectus.

# TEAM GA_OPPS GAR SB_OPPS SBR AA_OPPS AAR HA_OPPS HAR OA_OPPS OAR OPPS BRR
1 KCA 269 3.96 78 3.14 228 4.04 349 -1.21 29 0.13 953 10.1
2 MIL 257 4.57 80 -0.31 206 -2.46 293 5.61 37 0.28 873 7.7
3 SFN 223 3.44 47 0.36 196 0.72 289 1.79 43 -0.76 798 5.5
4 WAS 252 1.15 58 1.99 190 1.44 291 0.59 42 -0.02 833 5.1
5 MIA 275 1.06 36 1.22 181 3.05 320 -0.22 39 -0.12 851 5.0
6 SEA 205 -0.47 65 -1.09 188 0.78 301 5.77 42 -0.05 801 4.9
7 CHN 229 4.24 46 -1.81 168 -0.12 260 1.48 25 0.48 728 4.3
8 TEX 299 2.90 95 -3.86 175 3.24 327 1.00 37 0.91 933 4.2
9 COL 254 4.47 68 -0.42 206 -0.12 355 -0.20 23 0.28 906 4.0
10 PIT 272 1.90 80 0.71 194 -1.75 328 2.45 28 -0.12 902 3.2
11 CLE 234 -3.30 59 1.73 201 1.26 314 3.04 29 0.44 837 3.2
12 ATL 247 -0.29 63 1.46 172 -0.74 295 1.09 24 0.57 801 2.1
13 NYN 240 2.73 81 0.88 223 -3.61 289 0.86 27 0.42 860 1.3
14 MIN 204 -0.18 54 0.44 197 0.29 306 0.77 43 -0.59 804 0.7
15 ANA 250 1.92 70 -0.70 205 -0.97 355 0.56 35 -0.11 915 0.7
16 CIN 257 -1.47 102 1.44 174 -0.10 270 -0.09 38 -0.09 841 -0.3
17 TBA 263 -1.35 44 -3.02 210 1.99 308 1.49 40 0.44 865 -0.5
18 HOU 214 0.50 84 1.92 172 -0.21 257 -4.84 32 0.40 759 -2.2
19 LAN 280 -0.35 109 -0.49 191 -1.28 342 0.10 31 -0.60 953 -2.6
20 ARI 272 -4.66 55 0.13 190 -0.32 316 2.10 38 -0.11 871 -2.9
21 TOR 261 0.75 46 -0.10 209 -3.18 300 1.56 37 -2.16 853 -3.1
22 NYA 234 -0.73 75 2.16 219 -1.00 304 -4.47 35 0.84 867 -3.2
23 PHI 255 1.87 67 0.74 198 -1.53 290 -4.65 48 0.17 858 -3.4
24 SLN 284 -0.15 46 -0.73 204 0.78 315 -4.52 34 0.43 883 -4.2
25 SDN 244 -2.96 59 -1.10 144 0.39 210 -1.28 26 0.49 683 -4.5
26 BAL 242 -2.45 26 -1.43 198 1.36 317 -2.77 24 0.09 807 -5.2
27 DET 218 -0.12 74 -3.96 222 1.54 315 -2.59 23 -0.34 852 -5.5
28 BOS 239 -4.33 44 -1.17 217 -0.62 309 -0.73 40 -0.74 849 -7.6
29 CHA 238 -6.45 61 0.09 166 1.76 295 -2.88 39 -0.33 799 -7.8
30 OAK 220 -6.18 54 1.81 255 -4.62 346 0.19 39 -0.23 914 -9.0

There are a lot of numbers there, because what Prospectus has attempted to do is add up the relative value of all aspects of baserunning, including the number of extra bases taken on hits, outs made on the basepaths and the like, not just merely looking at stolen base success rates as an indicator. The key for the Brewers’ success in this department this year has been players advancing extra bases on hits, like Segura was attempting to do, and on ground balls fielded, like the Schafer situation.

Obviously, it’s never ideal when a player is thrown out on the bases, but when a team takes on added risk over the course of a season in attempting to gain an extra advantage here and there, it’s inevitable that things are going to go wrong from time to time. Even when teams are cautious there will be times when they end up making a foolish out on the basepaths. That’s just a part of the game for everyone, and sometimes the bad outcomes will stack up and seriously hurt a team in a given game, like Monday night.

It’s really important to remember that even “obvious mistakes” like Schafer attempting to advance to third on a ball to his right, that they are a product of the team’s overall aggressive approach. Baseball is a game where players have to make split second decisions, and the Brewers have clearly chosen to get their players to push the limits of what might and might not work in that split second. The coaching staff isn’t going to like that sort of choice, and they’ll surely try to correct it so it won’t happen again in the future, but they also understand that it’s the sort of thing that will happen from time to time when you push players to test their limits.

Ultimately, if the Brewers weren’t doing as well as they are in terms of adding runs on the bases, it would probably make sense to restrict the players more in their adventures on the bases. As things stand, though, they’re doing well enough that they’re generating positive value out there. It’s not always going to look pretty, and the team certainly should try and clean up what they can without seriously limiting the freedom the players have been given to this value, but they are adding value that we can quantify here.

Who knows, they may also be adding that “confidence” value Roenicke mentioned way back when he got the job. Such things are impossible to measure, and thus prove, but it does make a certain amount of sense that there would be value in pushing players in that way. If it helps keep guys engaged, interested, and focused over the course of 162 games to tell players that it’s on them to go out and make things happen as opposed to passively accepting what comes along, that can’t be a bad thing.

So yes, it’s going to be frustrating when the team makes needless outs on the base paths. Especially when those outs go as far as the outs on Monday did in helping the team lose a game. Just keep in mind that those outs are a product of an overall strategy and there are tangible numbers that say it’s working out just fine for the team overall.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Vin B says: July 8, 2014

    This is great, Ryan. Fangraphs’ base running is similarly high on the Brewers with a base running score of 4.7 which is good for 4th in the Majors.

    I will, however, take exception to your conclusion about the mistakes they made in yesterday’s game. A 2 run flip due to base running mistakes is huge! It absolutely cost them the game.

    I am all for the aggressive approach. But when opposing teams start to adjust for that approach, for example by having the 2nd baseman essentially hold the runner on second, you have the adjust back.

    Brewers have taken a similar approach at the plate as their team walk rate has consistently risen each month 6.4% in April, 7% in May, 7.4% in June.

    • BrewersWorldSeries says: July 8, 2014

      Agreed, the article was really interesting, and took some of the edge off of last night’s brutal loss. I can live with Gomez getting picked off 2nd, and even Segura trying to stretch it to third. But every time I see a runner try and advance from 2nd to 3rd on a ground ball hit in front of them, I almost blow a gasket. I hope Schafer got a talking to…

    • Ryan Topp says: July 8, 2014

      It’s not a 2 run flip, though. It’s a PROJECTED 2 run flip. I mean, if we take the projections as gospel, they should have scored that tying run anyway at some point, since they were expected to score 1.5 more runs in those situations and scored none.

      But yes, they need to try and clean up some of this stuff. Players and teams should always be looking to improve on things. My point was just 1) they’re not as bad as everyone seems to think 2) that you have to crack a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.

    • Vin B says: July 8, 2014

      On further thought, I don’t mind the Segura or Schafer out as much. Maybe they learned something from this but they did seem to have a specific reason for thinking they’d be able to advance. It didn’t work out but so what?

      Using the “chance of 1 run” table in that Tango link, having runners on 1st and 3rd with 0 outs has 87 % chance of 1 run being scored as opposed to 64 with guy on 1st and 2nd. Certainly worth going for it again if the situation is appropriate.

      The Gomez pick off is the one that ticked me the most. I don’t think he was trying to steal 3rd and he knew Utley was RIGHT there. What’s that extra step of lead getting him? Gomez would score on pretty much any hit from 2nd anyway.

      • Ryan Topp says: July 8, 2014

        Yeah, pickoffs are generally bad, especially when the player is being held like that. I get why players push it, so that they can score that run on a single, but it just seems so silly to ignore the fact the guy is right there like that.

  2. Nicholas Zettel says: July 8, 2014

    It’s interesting to see that the run expectancy after the plays still theoretically gives the Brewers bats enough ammo to tie or win the game. I think people will always, always amplify baserunning mistakes because they’re so much easier to remember than the successes (especially when the team is scuffling).

    If the team were simply hitting better all around, fans might simply look around the mistakes as other runs are scored through other means.

    • Ryan Topp says: July 8, 2014

      Absolutely.

      Baserunning stuff is always tricky this way. A guy takes a stupid, crazy risk and it works and it’s barely noticed most of the time. It doesn’t work, people go berserk. Especially when there are other factors, like you mentioned losing and struggling to score.

      Just the way it is, I guess.

      • Josh says: July 8, 2014

        Especially on Segura’s play. A 1-2 WAR right field arm and Segura would have made it to 3rd 80% of the time. What I want to know with the segura play especially is why he hesitated between 1st and 3rd twice! Another reason why statistics don’t always give you answers.

  3. dbug says: July 8, 2014

    One of the great dangers of advanced statistical analysis is that it doesn’t account for real people making adjustments. Data has to inform decisions, not dictate them. To blindly follow statistical models is no better than following the traditional “Book” when it comes to baseball strategy. I wonder how many players are interested in this sort of analysis, ultimately they are the ones that need to understand it, because a coach can’t help with split-second decisions.

    • Ryan Topp says: July 8, 2014

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. I don’t expect players to know or care how the team stacks up like this. They don’t need to, there really is no point for them doing so anyway.

      The point of the numbers is just that, relative to other teams in the league, the Brewers are among the best at adding value on the base paths. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to improve or things to clean up. There are, obviously.

      I’m just trying to point out that this narrative about them being a lousy baserunning team isn’t backed up by the facts available to us. Yes, they make more mistakes than the average team, but they make so many more plays that they offset the downside and end up on the net positive side.

      • dbug says: July 8, 2014

        Maybe my comment was more appropriately a seconding of Vineet’s comment about having to adjust to the other team’s adjustments. If I were player I would try to take advantage of whatever I could by use of statistics, but the context of the statistics isn’t static. (that sounds confusing). I agree you with you, the Brewers make a lot of mistakes, but they are bound to do so when they take a lot of calculated gambles.

        If a player knows there he can tag up and score and high percentage of the time, that’s great and he should use that knowledge to his advantage, but he also has to keep in mind that the normal high percentage goes down significantly if Puig is the right-fielder. That’s one of those cases where you have a good idea that the percentages are in your favor, but context might lead you to deviate from what is statistically the good play. There is some sort of balance there that it seems like the Brewers just haven’t quite mastered.

  4. Bryan Lookatch says: July 8, 2014

    Did anyone actually watch each of these plays? The Gomez pickup wasnt aggressiveness, it was stupidity. the 2B was literally STANDING on 2b when Gomez got picked off. that was a classic example of his arrogance and cockyness not aggressiveness.
    With Segura, watch the replay, he was loafing into 2b, then made an ill advised decision to try for 3rd. if he was running full speed the whole time he would have likely been safe at 3rd. Again – the problem here wasnt aggressiveness, it was the lack of effort from 1st to 2nd that set up his getting thrown out at third. Ive seen him loaf a few times in the basepaths this season (same for Gomez, most famously vs Pitts).
    lastly, Shaeffer has to understand the time and place for being aggressiveness. That was little league 101 in terms of base running. he CANNOT get thrown out on that play at third and he put himself in a position where the odds were high that he would have. NEVER MAKE 1st out at 3rd, and yet he did, on a LOW probability play.
    I like the jist of what is said in the story and generally agree, but each of these plays was a specific bad play or decision that did not related to aggressiveness. It related to poor effort, arrogance, or just dumb choices. Let’s hope last night was the low point for the season. an extraordinarily tough loss.

  5. ACE says: July 8, 2014

    I understand the “aggressive” approach to baserunning is RR’s style…so I totally understand Segura trying to go 1st to 3rd on a ball hit to right. But, getting picked off second when Utley is literally standing there waiting for a throw, and trying to advance to third on a ball hit to short are mental mistakes- not aggressive baserunning. With that pretext: wouldn’t the games in Cinci over the weekend have been a better initiative for this article than last night’s game? 2 runner thrown out at home, Aramis thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, etc.

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