Opinion

Don’t sleep on Xander Bogaerts’ baserunning

Xander Bogaerts is one of the best baserunners in baseball

Featured image courtesy of: (Sept. 27, 2017 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)

There has been a lot of talk about Xander Bogaerts, the hitter, lately. For good reason, as he is coming off a season in which he posted a three-year low in wRC+ with a mediocre 96 mark. After establishing a baseline the previous two seasons as an above-average bat, the 96 wRC+ may appear dubious. With that said, it really is not. The 25-year-old suffered a hand injury on July 6th that stifled his offensive abilities. If you need proof, the devil is in the details or, rather, in this table.

AVG OBP SLG wRC+
April 3-July 6 .308 .363 .455 114
July 8-Sept. 30 .232 .321 0.340 74

His strikeout and walk rates were very similar in both spans. Actually, he walked almost three percent more post-hand injury. He was hampered by the injury, unable to make the same quality of contact he once could. In fact, in the month of July, he compiled a 16 wRC+. As the months wore on, he improved that number, getting better the farther removed he was from the infliction.

You should get the point now. Bogaerts’ tale of two halves had an evident cause. Consequently, we should expect an improved offensive campaign from him next year. Did we just resolve world conflict? Perhaps.

Anyway, lost in this hitting-centric narrative is something that Bogaerts has improved upon every year. It is  less sexy than Silver Slugger awards but it is there and valuable. The slick shortstop has become one of the best baserunners in baseball.

I would not blame you if you blinked and missed it (I am freaking hilarious), but Bogey’s contributions on base paths have gone unheralded. I am here to change that. Not all heroes wear capes.

How best to make the unheralded heralded? A table! Within this table, you will be able to see the progression of Bogaerts from a timid, risk-averse base runner to a complete burner on the base paths. Enjoy!

PA SB CS BsR
2014 594 2 3 0.8
2015 654 10 2 3.7
2016 719 13 4 6.1
2017 635 15 1 8.3

Before we discuss the implications of these numbers in detail, it is probably wise for everyone to understand what BsR calculates. As such, I have included this snippet from the Fangraphs’ glossary about BsR.

Base Running (BsR) is FanGraphs’ all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average. It is the combination of Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR) which are all available on the leaderboards and player pages.

Now that we have appropriate knowledge, we can persist. Bogaerts set a career-high in stolen bases and BsR in 2017. Amazingly, he also set a four-year low in caught stealing, only getting stopped in his tracks once. Each year he has swiped more bags, improving annually from the two stolen bases he accumulated in 2014.

As much as I am impressed with his stolen bases, I am absolutely enamored with his BsR numbers. Like with stolen bases, he has gotten better in this category every single year. Plus, it is an all-encompassing stat, taking into account all the various components of a player’s baserunning.

However, we need to contextualize those numbers in order to understand where Bogaerts compares to the rest of the league. At present, all we know is how he has compared to his past self. So, here you go: among 144 qualified players, the X-man’s 8.3 BsR in ’17 placed fifth in all of baseball. He was right ahead of Christian Yelich and right behind Dee Gordon. Meanwhile, his teammate Mookie Betts compiled a 9.2 BsR, placing third in all of baseball.

Among shortstops, Bogaerts was the best baserunner in baseball last year in terms of BsR. He even beat Trea Turner, who stole 46 bags, in this category. To be fair, Turner did place second among shortstops. He just could not usurp Xandy.

Unfortunately, I do not have access to a lot of valuable information regarding the individual components of Bogaerts’ improved baserunning. Whether that stems from inaccessibility or lack of effort on my part, is certainly debatable but I tried semi-hard to find that information and did dig up some stuff!

He did not gain much of his value from avoiding ground ball double plays, posting a -0.2 wGDP (Grounded into Double Play runs above average). Bogaerts did gain value, however, from his stolen bases and lack of times he got caught, with his 2.2 wSB (Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing runs above average). Lastly, where most of his value came from was his league-leading 6.3 UBR.

Here is the always reliable Fangraphs’ glossary on what UBR is:

Ultimate Base Running (UBR) is a component FanGraphs uses to account for the value a player adds to their team via base running on non-stolen base plays. Much like UZR and wRAA, this run value is determined using linear weights, with each individual base running event receiving a specific run value. Base running isn’t a huge part of the game, but taking the extra base and avoiding outs of the bases can add a few runs a year.

Even though I do not have the stats, I can conclude that Bogaerts was likely one of the most skilled player in extra bases taken. Meaning, when he was on first base, he was probably more likely than most players to leg it out to third base successfully than the majority of baserunners. Ditto from second to home or first to home. I used to be able to find this information through the Washington Post’s MLB stats database but I could not find it this time around. Oh, well.

Finally, a lot of people associate successful baserunning with Usain Bolt speed. While it certainly helps to have the legs of an Olympic racer, it is not necessary to be a good baserunner. Reading the ball off the bat (instincts), getting quality leads and generally being intelligent on the base paths are just some of the things that makes a good baserunner, outside of speed.

This is not to say Bogaerts is slow by any means. In fact, his 2017 Baserunning Sprint Speed of 28.3 (ft/sec) ranked 10th among 49 shortstops. He is an above-average runner relative to shortstops, who tend to be faster than other positions anyway. The league-average Sprint Speed, courtesy of Baseball Savant, was 27 ft/sec, a number Bogey is fairly far ahead of.

He is pretty dang fast. He just is not Billy Hamilton or Trea Turner with his legs. His baserunning prowess is more contingent on his intelligence than pure athleticism, which explains why he has improved every single year. With age, that is probably more likely to stick than speed, so that is cool, too.

The dominant conversation has been about Xander Bogaerts, the hitter, but we cannot ignore Xander Bogaerts, the baserunner. He is one of the elite players on the base paths and deserves recognition for the strides he has made over the years in this department. Even with a near-broken hand, Bogaerts can still add praise-worthy value on the base paths. Just try not to blink the next time he gets from first to home plate on a ball hit to left-center field. It is worth something.

 

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