In the Cardinals’ 6-4 win over the Pirates Monday night, St. Louis had a baserunner score on a wild pitch but another run into the third out of an inning at third base. In a season that has elicited many questions, how much has the team’s baserunning factored into its disappointing record?
If the 2010 campaign has one representative image, it may be Albert Pujols getting thrown out on the bases. Earlier in the season, the Cardinals were among the worst in baseball in Equivalent Base Running Runs (29th in MLB on May 27). But as the year ends, they’ve improved to league average and are now 13th in MLB , despite a net negative of -1.9 EqBRR. (Curiously, one of the reasons for the turnaround was getting rid of Ryan Ludwick, who weighed down the Cardinals with a -4.3 EqBRR.) Still, team baserunning isn’t what it was last year or during its 100-win seasons earlier in the decade:
In the seasons in which the Cardinals tallied the most wins — 2004, 2005 and 2009 — they were reliable baserunning teams. Even so, whereas sharp baserunning may have been a key to those successful seasons, it’s not necessarily a make-or-break factor. After all, the first-place and soon-to-be division champion Reds are worse than the Cardinals with -2.3 EqBRR.
Another way to assess baserunning is to check total outs on the bases (OOB). And to be sure, the Cardinals have made the second-most outs on the bases in the National League. Since OOB is a counting stat, though, it’s possible that one of the reasons that the Cardinals have made so many outs is that they’ve simply had a lot of baserunners. Indeed, the only NL team that has lost more runners on base is the Reds, the no.-1-hitting team in the league.
The only baserunning stat in which the Cardinals were truly awful in 2010 was stealing bases, which they accomplished with only 66% success, 13th in the senior circuit. Even then, we see that the Reds weren’t much better at 68%, and dismal teams like the Marlins, Brewers and Astros are all in the league’s top five.
So the mediocre baserunning can’t explain all of the team’s demise. Surely it hasn’t helped matters, but it’s likely only one of several factors that have worked in concert to bring down the Cardinals’ once-promising season. As the Reds have shown, if you want to be a careless baserunning team and still win, you’d better get on base a lot.