FROM JJ—Examining the Blue Jays 2016 base running struggles

(Originally appeared on Jays Journal on August 20, 2016)

Effective base running has been a season-long issue for the Blue Jays, what’s behind it?

Another game, another key base running mistake from the Blue Jays. Last night it wasJose Bautista misreading a bloop to shallow left and getting doubled off at second. Of course, there were more prominent reasons why Toronto didn’t win last night, but every gaffe adds up. And there seems to have  been a number of running gaffes lately.

The mistakes haven’t been so glaring all season but the Jays have experienced a pronounced drop-off from their excellent base running of 2015.

According to Fangraphs’ all-inclusive Baserunning Runs metric (accounts for stolen bases, steal attempts, extra bases taken, getting thrown out, etc), the Blue Jays are 22nd in the league with -5.6 BsR. That mark stands in stark contrast to their 2015 10.2 BsR. The Jays have experienced a decline in most offensive categories from 2015 to 2016 and their exploits on the bases has been no exception.

With base running they’ve sunk from a top ranked team to a bottom third club whereas the Jays’ offence, while not nearly first ranked, is still in the upper echelon overall.

Have good base runners suddenly turned into below average ones? Has there been a change in philosophy? Poor coaching decisions? A combination of all three?

The Jays are certainly stealing less. But they’re also stealing less efficiently. They had 88 team SB in 2015 (11th in MLB) and 52 team SB in 2016 (24th in MLB) with a few games to go. Their SB% in 2015 was 79.2% and has dropped to 69.3% in 2016.

Incidentally, Billy Hamilton (58 SB) and Jonathan Villar (60 SB) both have more stolen bases individually than the Blue Jays have combined this season.

The Jays this year are missing the stolen base totals of Jose Reyesand Ben Revere but have added Melvin Upton’s. Also, Kevin Pillarhas stolen 11 less bags this year and at a less efficient rate. That helps explain the fewer stolen bases but why have so many Jays dropped off with the other aspects of base running in 2016?

The Jays’ BsR leader from 2015 was Pillar with a stellar 8.1 mark but this year, still the team leader, he has dropped to 2.2 BsR. Josh Donaldson has dropped from 4 BsR to 0 BsR, Jose Bautista from 2.3 BsR to a 2016 team low -2.9 BsR, etc.

The spread from the top BsR mark on the Jays in 2016 to the bottom is actually quite narrow. Toronto ranges from Pillar’s above-average mark to Bautista’s definitively below-average one. No one’s been too great or terrible. In 2015 it ranged from Pillar’s sensational total to Russell Martin‘s poor/awful -4.6 BsR. The difference is that the entire spread in 2016, while narrowed, has slid significantly.

So what’s the problem? The coaches are the same and the roster is similar in makeup. Could it be that the significant downturn in production at the plate from 2015 to 2016 has lead base runners and coaches to be overly aggressive in an attempt to compensate? Perhaps this is the key. The timely hits and 10-run outbursts aren’t nearly as plentiful this year and so to push that crucial run across, runners are testing the limits and making riskier decisions. It’s understandable but it needs to be reined in. It’s hurting more that it’s helping.

Running often gets overlooked as component of team success but consider that the 2016 Jays have 15.8 fewer base running runs than 2015. That’s roughly 1.5 less wins (assuming 10 runs per win) from poorer running. That is certainly not insignificant, especially considering the Jays’ current situation.

(Visit Jays Journal for more of my work and articles from other great Jays bloggers)

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