For the fourth consecutive season, and the fifth time in six years, the Orioles have the fewest stolen bases in all of Major League Baseball. Does that make them bad at base running? No. If anything, it may keep them from being even worse at it than they already are.
What brings the subject of base running to mind is the latest dopey thing that Manny Machado did on the bases. On Monday, in the Orioles’ series opening 7-4 loss to the Yankees, Jonathan Schoop grounded into a fielder’s choice that resulted in Machado being forced out at second base. All normal there.
But had Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorious even attempted a return throw to first base, it’s likely that New York would have been given a double play by default. Why? Because Machado slid sideways into second base, leaving his dangling legs out of the baseline to collide with Gregorious’ shins. Everyone knows MLB recently changed sliding rules to stop such an approach to the bag. For Machado to do it is just dumb.
Fangraphs has a statistic, as they always do, to encompass the overall value of a player’s base running. It’s called BsR. To keep it simple, zero is average, anything positive is good, anything negative is bad. As a team, the Orioles have a -14.5 BsR, the worst mark in Major League Baseball.
Orioles Base Running in 2017
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BsR takes into account classic stats like stolen bases and caught stealing, but also includes less obvious things like taking an extra base on a hit, grounding into double plays and TOOTBLANs. That makes it easier to understand why Machado, the team leader in stolen bases (he only has nine in 13 attempts), has such a poor -2.1 BsR.
Machado is the “King of the TOOTBLAN”, as Camden Depot outlined last year. But more than anything, it seems that he just doesn’t have a great grasp on the fact that he’s not very fast. So when he gets a poor jump or runs when he shouldn’t, he’s likely to get thrown out.
Since Moneyball became a well-known approach to professional baseball, experts have suggested that right around the 70-percent success rate is when stealing bases becomes worthwhile. As a team, the Orioles have swiped 29 bags in 40 attempts, which is a 72.5-percent success rate. The fact that they run so little as a team lessens the importance of their successful stolen bases, but 72.5 is still a nice percentage.
But beyond bone-headed mistakes and limited stolen base opportunities, the thing that hurts the Orioles is that they are just a slow team overall.
MLB’s Statcast has an interactive graph for foot speed in baseball during an all out sprint (max effort). According to them, the average foot speed of a Major League player this year is 27 feet per second. The fastest player in the league is the Twins’ Byron Buxton (30.2 ft/s), and the slowest is the Angels’ Albert Pujols (23.0).
The Orioles have four players above average: Craig Gentry (28.5), Joey Rickard (27.5), Tim Beckham (27.5) and Adam Jones (27.1). They also happen to be the only four Orioles with positive BsR’s. The problem there is that Gentry (injured) and Rickard are part-time players and Beckham has only been in Baltimore for a month. So, for the season, the O’s are even slower than they first appear
In Baltimore, the least fleet of foot is a tie. Nope, not J.J. Hardy (26.2); he’s fourth slowest. The two slowest players on the Orioles this season have been Chris Davis (!!!) and Welington Castillo, both with a snail-mocking 25.1 feet per second pace.
Speed isn’t everything, but it matters
As you have probably heard a million times, speed alone does not steal bases or get into scoring position. That’s true. A player cannot simply be fast and expect to be good on the bases. But it sure does help a whole lot.
Fast guys like Buxton (9.3 BsR) or Billy Hamilton (10.2) are more successful. It doesn’t matter whether or not they read a ball properly off the bat or guess right on a pitcher throwing home, though they usually do, because they have the physical ability to both outrun their own mistakes and make opposing teams pay for theirs.
No one on the Orioles is even in the stratosphere of a Buxton or a Hamilton. That leaves them with average runners like Machado, who think a little too highly of their abilities, or below average runners like Mark Trumbo and Seth Smith who have to be conservative because they know all too well how slow they really are.
They are who we thought they were
None of this information is a surprise. The Orioles are bad at “manufacturing” runs because they lack the personnel to do it. They know this, which is why the players rarely steal and instead the O’s rely on home runs, of which they have 212 this season, second-best in baseball.
But with an offseason coming up in which Baltimore could see lead-footed players like Hardy, Castillo and Smith leave town, it would be nice to see them replaced with some slightly quicker options if available. Not because we should want to watch the Orioles steal bases. We shouldn’t. But because would it kill a guy to go from first base to third base on a single to right field?