By Daniel Schultz, Jack Kruger, William Gregory, Michael Donahue, Daniel Galper, Abbi Pelky, and Jacob Zacharia
Photo: Baseball Hall of Fame
In the world of modern baseball, there are an abundance of statistics that give a variety of outlooks on any player you can think of. Be it a young, athletic superstar or someone that is relatively unknown to all but the biggest of baseball fans, there are a vast myriad of stats that have the ability to showcase specific aspects of a player’s game. The point of M-SABR All-Stars is to showcase statistics that may fly under the radar to most fans, but has a great deal of value when evaluating a certain part of a player’s skillset. To do this, the team at M-SABR creates a team composed of a full theoretical team of players that excel at that respective statistic. This year, we’ve decided to take a deep dive into FanGraphs’ BsR, which is used in the calculation of more well known metrics like Wins Above Replacement, and created a full team of the best baserunners in baseball, position by position.
Before we dive into the full team, it is important to outline exactly what BsR is. It is devised using three different statistics: weighted stolen base runs, UBR (Ultimate Base Running), and wGDP. Weighted stolen base runs, as the name suggests, combines a myriad of general stolen base statistics, foremostly stolen bases and caught stealing, and compares it against the league average to give an overall runs added as a base stealer. UBR, as a whole, takes into account how often a player advances an extra base while baserunning, gets thrown out in an attempt to take an extra base, or decides to stop at a base. By using these metrics, UBR gives a good representation of how many extra runs said player would typically cause as a result of baserunning with a ball in play. The last of the three statistics that go into creating BsR, wGDP, gives a general account of how good a player is at avoiding a double play. While this is also influenced by a player’s batting, a large part is influenced by a player’s speed on the basepath and thus it is included in the calculation for BsR.
BsR is given by totaling the sum of Weighted Stolen Base Runs, UBR, and wGDP. Therefore, it is a representation of how good a player is at all aspects of baserunning, specifically representing how many extra runs said player would typically add based on their baserunning. With that being said, who are the best baserunners in Major League Baseball? Well, on with the team!
LF – LAD Chris Taylor: 6.5 BsR
Dodgers utility-man Chris Taylor slots in at left-field with a BsR of 6.5, good enough for 8th in the league last season. Taylor had a very strong season at the plate last year with a 110 OPS+ and 113 wRC+. He also provided the Dodgers with important defensive versatility, playing six different positions across 148 games played. While Taylor’s bat and versatility draw most of the attention, his baserunning is also a huge part of what makes him so valuable.
Even though Taylor only stole 13 bases last year, he was able to finish in the top 10 of all players last year in BsR. Looking at the BsR formula, it seems like his elite BsR comes from his high UBR. Part of that base-running savvy is certainly aided by his sprint speed of 28.8 ft/second, which was good enough for 68th out of all base runners in 2021. However, what elevates Chris Taylor to having a top-ten BsR is his IQ on the basepaths that provides another level of value to his game.
CF – NYM Starling Marte: 12.3 BsR
Although he only has one all-star appearance to his name, Starling Marte has consistently had above-average seasons, and the 2021 season followed that pattern. He posted a line of .310/.383/.458 last season while spending time in both Miami and Oakland. He had career highs with 132 OPS+, 134 wRC+ and 5.5 WAR. He also improved his plate discipline last season, increasing his walk percentage by almost 4% to 8.2%. Marte had a great year at the plate, but his baserunning is another facet of his game that sets him apart.
It is no surprise that the 2021 stolen base leader found himself on the list of top BsR qualified players this season, but he also held the highest BsR in the league at a rating of 12.3. He was a whole 3 points higher than the next closest player in Fernado Tatis. While according to baseball savant Marte only ranked in the 83rd percentile in sprint speed at 28.4 ft/s, which is the lowest average sprint speed of his career, he was able to swipe 47 bags. Marte will be entering his 11th season of major league ball next year, and after coming off arguably his best offensive year it will be exciting to see if he can continue to fly around the base paths at such an amazing and efficient rate.
RF – SD Fernando Tatis Jr. 9.3 BsR
Fernando Tatis Jr. might just be the most well rounded position player in baseball. The young Padres star, who just turned twenty three, has already won two silver sluggers, finished placed top four in the MVP race in both of the last two seasons, can easily fit into either the infield or the outfield, and is the second best base runner in the majors, at least according to BsR. The former number two prospect in America (only behind Vladamir Guerrero Jr.) has long been on a fast track to superstardom, and it’s safe to say he hasn’t disappointed.
It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to suggest that Tatis is far and away the best base runner of all the potential options in right field. Last season, Tatis stole twenty-five bases while only being caught three times, making him one of the most efficient base stealers in the game. In addition, Tatis is one of the fastest players in the MLB, having a maximum sprint speed of 29.3 ft/sec, which puts him among the top thirty MLB players overall. There aren’t many players that are as good of baserunners as Tatis is, and he is a likely candidate to lead the entire MLB in BsR for years to come.
SS – KC Nicky Lopez: 8.2
In 2021, Nicky Lopez was a surprise to most baseball fans as in his first two seasons of his MLB tenure, he posted a -0.4 fWAR over a 159 game span. His lackluster first and second year seasons led Royals fans to doubt his future as a quality player. Following the sudden news of Adalberto Mondesi’s spring training injury, fans were extremely disappointed, but it ended up being Nicky Lopez’s coming out party.
In 2021, Lopez posted an Outs Above Average of 25 at shortstop, leading all of Major League Baseball. He increased his batting average from .201 in 2020 to .300 in 2021. However, Lopez has always been an extremely heads up and productive base runner. His defense and improved offensive skills were the shining focus of his revealing season, but many overlooked that Lopez’s 2021 BsR was fourth in all of Major League Baseball at a value of 8.2. Lopez was 21 for 22 in stolen base attempts and had a 79th percentile average sprint speed of 28.2 ft/s.
Lopez’s top-of-the-line BsR derives greatly from his UBR of 4.3. It attests to his high IQ, as he often makes the right decisions when he is on base. He gets the extra base when the opportunity presents itself, but he doesn’t get caught making careless decisions very often. Lopez’s base running smarts paired with his above league average speed is the reason why he is one of the best in MLB at a part of the game that, just like himself, often gets overlooked.
3B – CLE Jose Ramirez: 6.3 BsR
The star of the newly renamed Cleveland Guardians, Jose Ramirez had another great year in 2021. Putting up a solid .266/.355/.538 triple slash, Ramirez continued to be among the top hitters in Major League Baseball. In a disappointing, sub-.500 season for Cleveland, Ramirez continued to be a bright-spot, and as always, was must-watch TV.
While Ramirez’s prowess at the plate often steals the headlines, he finds himself on the BsR All-Star team due to his stellar baserunning. Finishing 2021 with an elite 6.3 BsR, Ramirez provides immense value to his team on the basepaths. Additionally, he does so without being the fastest guy on the diamond, as he ranked just 137th in the league in sprint speed per Baseball Savant. Like many other members of this All-Star Team, Ramirez racks up BsR by being smart on the bases and utilizing his high baseball IQ to make winning plays.
2B – ATL Ozzie Albies: 8.3 BsR
Ozzie Albies was an integral member of the 2021 World Champions. With a slash line of .259/.310/.488, along with 30 home runs, 103 runs scored, and 106 RBIs, it’s shocking that the Braves are only paying him $5 million a year. In addition to putting up solid numbers at the plate, Albies makes his presence known on the basepaths. After all, his steal in Game One of the World Series won free Doritos Locos Tacos for the entire country!
Ozzie Albies ran himself to a BsR of 8.3, good for third-highest in the league. His UBR of 4.5 was among the best and was a big contributor to his high BsR. With above-average speed, his 20 stolen bases accounted for over a third of the Braves steals this season. Being able to bat from the left side, coupled with a GB% of 31.4, give Albies an increased chance of reaching base. If he continues to produce like this, Albies will be a force in this league for years to come.
1B – ATL Freddie Freeman: 3.3 BsR
Freddie Freeman has undeniably been one of the most consistent baseball players in the last decade. Currently standing at 32 years old, the five-time all-star has only gotten better with his added experience. In his 12th season, Freeman went .300/.393/.503, showing absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Considering his tremendous hitting and defensive abilities, it makes sense that other crucial areas of his game get overlooked. Most notably, less tangible aspects like overall baseball intelligence and baserunning instinct should get more attention in Freeman’s case.
Although Freeman is obviously competing against some slow rumblers at the 1B position, he did lead all first basemen in BsR at 3.3 in the 2021 season. Most surprisingly, however, was that this rating came in at a surprisingly 31st place out of all MLB players. Freeman had 8 SB in the 2021 season, and has now racked up 53 total in his career. This subtle flash of speed is quite impressive and reinforces that Freeman is just an all-around outstanding player with no blatant weaknesses in any facet of his game. It will be interesting to see where he lands in free agency, but it would definitely be weird seeing him without a Braves jersey on.
C – PHI JT Realmuto: 5.5 BsR
JT Realmuto rarely started at catcher in high school, but the Miami Marlins drafted him as one in 2010. Like an NBA player that transitioned from guard to forward after a growth spurt, many of Realmuto’s skills developed in high school were rare at his new position. His natural athleticism allowed him to become the best all around catcher in baseball. He also uses that athleticism to consistently be one of MLB’s best baserunning catchers, however Realmuto took it to a new level in 2021.
No other true catcher came within 4.9 BsR of Realmuto in 2021. Almost all other catchers have a BsR below zero, but Realmuto finished with the 13th best BsR in all of baseball. Had Arizona’s Daulton Varsho played the entire season, he would have accrued more BsR than Realmuto, but he only played catcher in 41 of his 90 games. Realmuto played 86% of his 137 games at catcher. The only catchers to have a qualified number of plate appearances in 2021 were JT Realmuto and Salvador Perez.
Many expected Realmuto to become a familiar, less athletic type of catcher after signing a massive contract extension with the Phillies in 2019, but he has improved as a base runner every year of his career, with the exception of the shortened 2020 season. He stole a career high 13 bases and was 14th in extra bases taken percentage in 2021. JT Realmuto isn’t only an excellent baserunning catcher, he is one of MLB’s premier baserunners.
DH – LAA Shohei Ohtani: 2.5 BsR
The man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Shohei Ohtani. What an absolute historic season that was for him in 2021, and it will most definitely go down in the history books. Hitting 46 homers while also going 9-2 on the mound, without mentioning his 26 SB to top it off? Unreal. Ohtani also had the highest Barrel% in the MLB at 22.3%.
In terms of baserunning, Ohtani did not disappoint. In 2021, he had the fifth highest Speed Score in the entire MLB at 6.9. His sprint speed was 28.8 ft/s, which ranks him in the 92nd percentile of the MLB. Ohtani did get caught stealing ten times in total, but nonetheless still deserves a spot on this list due to his versatility and all-around domination.
Despite all this, the most stunning part might just be the sheer physical endurance that was required of him. Last year he pitched 130.1 innings mixed with a total of 639 PA, while appearing at some point in 158 games. I really hope that he is able to maintain this stamina in the future despite the physical and mental health toll that could potentially rise over time. Anyways, the man deserves to be paid. He currently only earns about $4.3 million per year and will become a free agent in 2024. It can be reasonably assumed that a long-term contract extension could soon be coming, ultimately locking him up as an Angel for the foreseeable future.
OF Utility – CLE Myles Straw: 6.1 BsR
Myles Straw makes it on the team as a classic contact-hitting speedster. His 30 bags stolen was tied for fourth in 2021. Another fun aspect to his game is his aversion to striking out. He ranks in the 94th and 97th percentile on Savant in chase and whiff rate, respectively. The ability to slap singles suits Straw well because he can put his wheels on display. Straw ranked 52nd in infield hits in his first season as a full-time player.
With 30 steals and a bunch of infield hits, it’s no wonder Straw ranked third in BsR out of true outfielders with 6.1. His underlying baserunning numbers continue to sing his praises. In 2021, Straw ranked 25th in all of MLB in sprint speed at 29.3 ft/s. That’s in the 96th percentile. He ranked in the top 20% of qualified hitters in run scoring percentage, and was in the top 30% of extra bases taken percentage.
Myles Straw may be the least recognized name on this list, but he was incredibly valuable in 2021. Most people would see his triple slash of .271/.349/.348 and wonder why Cleveland would trade for and start him during a stretch run, but combining Straw’s 98th percentile Outs Above Average in center field with a great BsR, Straw finished the season with 3.7 WAR. As a minimum player, he provides excellent value to the Guardians. On this team, he can be excellent in the field and on the basepaths as a fourth outfielder.
OF/IF Utility – KC Whit Merrifield: 7.4 BsR
Whit Merrifield is known for two main aspects of his game: positional utility and great speed. The Royals’ own Swiss Army Knife has played every position besides shortstop, catcher, and pitcher since 2017, and has played in every game over the last three seasons. Besides his versatility and durability, he also shines on the basepaths where he led the American League in stolen bases in 2017 with 34, led all of Major League Baseball in 2018 with 45, and led all of Major League Baseball again in 2021 with 40.
Merrifield’s 7.4 BsR showcases his elite baserunning, and can be attributed to his outstanding 5.7 wSB. With league average being 0, Merrifield’s 5.7 wSB value stands out and explains why his BsR is so high. wSB is an interesting statistic to look at, but it is important to note that it is not park nor opponent adjusted meaning that if Merrifield was thrown out by James McCann instead of Yadier Molina, he would not be penalized any differently. wSB and BsR are not perfect statistics (just as no statistic is perfect) but they give a broader picture into what type of base runner an athlete is and they do show that Whit Merrifield is elite to say the least.
Backup C – ARI Daulton Varsho 5.0 BsR
Arizona’s young catcher Daulton Varsho completed his first extended stint in the big leagues this past season. Varsho put up a line of .246/.318/.437, solid for a rookie. Varsho is also a very versatile asset as a defender as he spent time not only at catcher but all three outfield positions last season. He played 41 games behind the dish, 30 games in center field, and 12 games in each right and left field. If he wants to remain a catcher, he will have some work to do as he ranked in the 36th percentile in framing last year.
Having a catcher with speed is rare, and having a catcher with efficient speed on the basepaths is even more rare. Varsho posted a BsR of 5.0 in 2021, which as previously stated would have put him right behind JT Realmuto at 5.5, but because of his limited time at the position, Varsho was unable to qualify as primary catcher. His average sprint speed was 28.4 ft/s which landed him in the 84th percentile. He was able to swipe 6 bags on the year without being caught. If Varsho can improve his defensive ability at catcher, the Diamondbacks could have a rare advantage in baseball, a lightning fast catcher.
Corner IF Utility – FA Kris Bryant: 5.4 BsR
When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, Kris Bryant was remembered as the player who made the final out. With that play breaking a 108-year World Series drought, a lot of people overlook what he did on the basepaths that night. By tagging on a short fly ball to center, as well as scoring from first on a single to right, Bryant helped lead the Cubs to an 8-7 victory. In 2021, with both the Cubs and the Giants, Kris Bryant continued to be an above-average baserunner.
With a BsR of 5.4, Kris Bryant ranked 1st among third basemen in the National League. Regularly shifted to the left, his ability to knock the ball the other way presented him with many opportunities to reach base safely. When on base, Bryant was heads up and smart. He took an extra base 54% of the time and was caught stealing just twice on 12 attempts. Coming off a great year, with a BsR that was among the best, it only made sense to give Kris Bryant a spot on the bench.
Baserunning in modern MLB is all about efficiency. We no longer see the sheer volume of stolen base attempts with a player like Rickey Henderson, but the efficiency with which this team of players steals bags can still impact a game. How well will this team do?
As is tradition with M-SABR All-Star teams, we’ll calculate how this team would theoretically play in the upcoming 2022 season. To do this, we will first give the team a league-average pitching staff from 2021. That would be similar to the 2021 Seattle Mariners at 14.3 fWAR. Then, to make it a bit simpler, we will assume that the teams’ starters will play all 162 games with no injuries. Those players’ Steamer projections add up to 35.8 fWAR, which would edge out Houston’s 33.9 offensive fWAR for best in MLB. The 2021 BsR All-Star team projects to have a 50.1 WAR season in 2022. Extrapolated to a single-season team winning total, we project the team would win 98 games in a 162 game season and consistently contend for the World Series.
Baserunning statistics may be overlooked as a fun, but unimportant, part of the game. However, our calculations have shown that you can create a great MLB out of only baserunners. Obviously some of those players on the bench would have to play in real life, but they would be able to carry their own weight. Surprisingly, the BsR All-Star team may be a good template for team-building.
Categories: M-SABR All Stars