Kenny Karst, USA Today

SF Giants: Let's Look at Baserunning

The big news over the weekend was that Vince Coleman was coming aboard the coaching staff to help improve the club's process on the bases, and potentially help out some of their younger players in the minors that have some speed. How could this addition help the big league club in 2017?

Coleman debuted in the majors the year that I was born, so my recollection of him is pretty much non-existent. However, one look at his Baseball Reference page and you can see that he eclipsed 100 stolen bases in each of his first three seasons in the bigs and totaled at least 65 swipes in his first six, averaging 92 a season. After his age 28 season in 1990, Coleman never played more than 115 games (1995), which hurt his overall stolen base totals. Even so, the Giants newest addition to the coaching staff finished his career with 752 stolen bases, ranking sixth all time. If there is one coach that can teach the art of the stolen base to someone like Wynton Bernard, who could be in the outfield mix in San Francisco, Nick Hill, a 2016 draftee who Baseball America grades as a 70 runner on the 20-80 scale, Bryan Reynolds, whose 55 run tool could lead to a modest amount of steals, and Steven Duggar, another outfielder that could enter the mix in 2018. 

Outside of Bernard, none of these players will be in the outfield mix without some injuries to the current mix of Pence, Span, Mac/Parker and a fourth outfielder, but learning the craft isn't going to happen overnight either. 

What I wanted to do in this piece was take a look at the Giants baserunning stats from last year and compare those to their career numbers to see if they'll be able to improve much at all in their decisions on the bases. So first, let's take a look at the current projected starting eight and how they've fared. The first column is their BsR score from last season, followed by their career high and their career low. At the bottom we'll average them all out. 

*The definition of BsR per FanGraphs is as follows: Base Running (BsR) is FanGraphs’ all encompassing baserunning 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. For a more in-depth look at BsR, here is the link to their definition page. 

2016 High Low
Span 2.8 7.5 ('09) 1.9 ('14)
Panik 2.2 2.2 ('16) 0.5 ('15)
Posey -3.1 -1.8 ('15) -4.6 ('12)
Pence -2.7 6.2 ('14) -6.6 ('09)
Belt -2.8 2.5 ('13) -2.8 ('16)
Crawford 3.4 3.4 ('16) -1.4 ('15)
Parker 0.3 0.3 ('16) 0.2 ('15)
Nunez 2.8 (inc. Twins) 2.8 ('16) 0.9 ('15)
Totals +2.9 23.1 -11.9

Some of the big takeaways here are that the club will improve slightly over their -2.0 mark last season as a team the more that these eight are on the field. If Williamson beats out Parker for the left field spot, he'd take off 1.9 from their total, making them basically an even base running team. With many of their qualities being close, Parker's ability on the bases and the fact that Mac still has options could play a big role in the decision-making process this spring. 

It's also worth noting that Pence's best year on the bases came in his last full healthy season. Granted, he's aged in that time so we may not be expecting such excellence, but we could see at least average skills if he's healthy. 

With Nick Hundley almost assuredly getting the backup catcher spot, and Trevor Brown potentially making the club as a third catcher/utility infielder, that leaves one outfield spot and one extra bench spot open, assuming that Bruce Bochy goes with an eight man bullpen to start the season like he tends to. In the backup role, Hundley rated a little below average last season (-1.7), but if he's subbing in for Posey that could actually represent an upgrade on the bases, while also theoretically saving Buster's legs and improving his own metrics. Brown rated at -1.6 last season across 75 games, but the same theory holds true here if he's in for Posey. If he's taking over for Panik or Crawford, that is definitely a step backwards. 

There has been quite a lot of chatter about Michael Morse becoming a big threat off the bench and potentially securing a left field platoon with either Parker or Williamson, but his base running, and his defense, are well below average. If he's used just for his bat, then his addition to the roster would make sense, but he'd have to be lifted for a pinch-runner if he doesn't hit the ball into McCovey Cove, which would further deplete the bench late in the game. 

The focus on being better on the bases makes sense, but it doesn't necessarily make a team great all on its own. The San Diego Padres led baseball in BsR with a cumulative 24.8, while the Milwaukee Brewers led baseball in stolen bases. What the Giants are hoping to do by adding an emphasis here is to improve on a facet of the game that they can have more control over than say, home runs.

I'd wager that the thinking in the front office goes something like this: We may not be able to hit as many home runs as we'd like to with our ballpark and current roster construction, so instead of trying to make our players hit more home runs, we'll make them better on the bases, which could have an even bigger impact overall than an extra 20-30 homers. It's all about opportunity, and there are more base hits in just about every game than there are home runs. That opportunity could lead to better results for the Giants in 2017. 

Giants Farm Top Stories