Pujols and Baserunning (Again)

Two recent statistical studies highlight Albert Pujols' standing as one of the better baserunners in the game.

I recently penned an article in which I was highly critical of Albert Pujols' baserunning. I founded that story upon personal observation of what I believed to be his excessively high level of risk-taking and his lack of use of his coaches while on the bases.

One thing I did not do, however, is to bring to the table strong statistics to back up my assertions. Looking at the traditional measurements - quantity of stolen bases or even success rate in steal attempts - seemed to be lacking.

Several weeks later, after researching and reviewing multiple sources, I must admit that these studies confirm that Pujols is, in fact, one of the better baserunners in the game, a conclusion that many readers and Cardinals fans had already drawn on their own. I still contend that Pujols can do better, but that same thing could be said about anyone.

Here are the details and links to these studies.

Source: PROTRADE – Extra Bases Above Average – Pujols #5

What started me on this journey was an article by Gabriel Desjardins at a new site called PROTRADE. Desjardins analyzed the 2002 through 2004 baseball seasons and identified who he labels "The Best Base-runner in the Majors".

PROTRADE's process looked at factors including where each ball was hit on the field and how often the player advances, called "Extra Bases Above Average". In that context, Pujols was ranked the #5 baserunner in the game, behind Carlos Beltran, Juan Pierre, Cristian Guzman and Tony Womack. Best Base-runner in the Majors

However, as I dug into that analysis, I felt it was missing something. Desjardins did not take into account when runners made outs trying to take extra bases. As a result, I felt the formula rewarded aggressiveness, but did not penalize overaggressiveness.

Desjardins and Jeffrey Ma, Co-founder and Vice President of Research at PROTRADE agreed with me, but had a ready explanation. Said Ma, "PROTRADE has developed more sophisticated baserunning metrics that account for advancing bases, staying put and making an out, and assess the role of the pitcher, hitter and outfielder in the outcome of the play, but we decided to present a simpler view of the situation."

Desjardins and Ma doubted whether these baserunners would have been caught enough times to be significant, anyway. However, they agreed to pull the numbers for me and the results seem to bear out their forecast.

During those three seasons, the totals from the top and bottom 20 players ranged from a high of 15 to a low of one. Both top and bottom-ranked players were caught about the same amount. Most frequently out trying to take that extra base were Miguel Tejada and Jose Valentin, followed by Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell and Torii Hunter at 14, and Chone Figgins at 12. Pujols was in the middle of the pack at eight, tied with the likes of Beltran, Ray Durham, Vernon Wells and Reggie Sanders. (It should also be noted that Sanders ranked 15th best in the EBAA rankings.)

As an aside, Desjardins has a new article up that ranks the best outfield arms in the game based on assists, using a similar methodology to the baserunning work referenced above. You'll definitely want to check that out, too, as Jim Edmonds is ranked #6 and Larry Walker is #9. Best Outfield Arm in the Majors

Source: Hardball Times – Incremental Runs – Pujols #26/#37

In this analysis, which is only about six weeks old, Dan Fox from The Hardball Times ranks Albert Pujols 26th in Incremental Runs scored during the years 2000 through 2004. He follows among others, David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, Womack, Walker and Miguel Cairo.

Fox' three-part article called "Circle the Wagons: Running the Bases" introduces a framework for evaluating baserunning in an attempt to determine the magnitude of the impact both good and bad baserunners have on their teams. In that article, he used play-by-play data from Retrosheet for the five seasons noted above.

Rather than recap the series here, check out all three parts yourself, as Fox refined his measures. If your are interested in this subject, they are worth the read.
link Part 1
link Part 2
link Part 3

Note that Pujols does not appear in the above stories, as Fox focuses on the top and bottom tens. But here, you can page down to the August 11 entry for the raw Incremental Runs data for hundreds of players, also sorted by year and team. link

In this ranking, taking into account park effects, Pujols drops to #37, but there are many, many behind him. link

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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