For those of you who aren’t loyal devotees of Fangraphs or maybe just are scared by sabermetrics in general, there is a shiny new stat they’ve rolled out for all of us to enjoy: Ultimate Base Running. For an idea of exactly how this stat is calculated, read this, but otherwise just trust me when I tell you it is a stat that measures a player’s overall base running skills in terms of running the bases on balls in play (but NOT taking into account stolen bases and caught stealing). In other words, it is an advanced metric perfect for the Scioscia era.
For years, we have heard all about how Scioscia loves for his Angels to run the bases smartly but aggressively. But up until now, we haven’t had a stat that could actually show one way or another if his strategy was actually being implemented properly. Sure, we have all kinds of anecdotal evidence at our disposal (i.e. Torii Hunter constantly getting thrown out at third), but UBR gives us a measure to use for all those instances in which a base running mistake or smart decision was made in an imperceptible way.
So now that we have UBR, let’s take a look and see just how good the Halos have been at pressuring the defense like Scioscia thinks they are doing:
2002 - 3.3, This is the first year UBR is available and obviously the year the Angel baserunning philosophy made headlines. 3.3 is a good score, but only the 11th best in the majors.
2003 - -5.7, Wow, a negative UBR just one year later. That score but them as the 25th best running team in the league. Talk about a World Series hangover.
2004 - 7.6, Now that’s more like it. This placed the Angels as the fifth best UBR team.
2005 - 0.7, Meh.
2006 - 12.7. The best score ever for the Halos and second best in MLB.
2007 - 9.6, Not as good, but still the third best UBR in 2007.
2008 - 4.2, The decline is beginning even though this still places the Angels in the top six in the league.
2009 - 4.1, Just a tiny step down.
2010 - 2.7, By my recollection, this middle of the pack score is shocking since I think most fans recount the 2010 Angel team as one that repeatedly shot themselves in the foot on the bases.
2011 - 2.4, Keep in mind that UBR is cumulative, so a 2.4 score after 50 games is a pretty nice pace, but only nice enough to make them the ninth best team in the league.
I think the overall takeaway here is that, for the most part, Scioscia’s mantra of pressuring the D and taking extra bases whenever possible has mostly worked out to the Angels’ advantage. The names may have changed, but the results are generally the same, which speaks to how much priority the Angels have placed on base running even when they’ve altered their offensive philosophy at the plate.
But what I’m really interested in is this season and, thus far, I like what I see. The Angels have almost already surpassed their performance from last season and we aren’t even a third of the way through the season. But I also see a great deal of room for improvement, which can only help the Angels. I’ll explain that in a bit, but let’s first take a look at the more notable individual scores.
To nobody’s surprise, Speedy Petey Bourjos leads the Angels in UBR as an individual at 1.7. That should certainly make people feel better about his slump since it shows that he can be a big contributor to the offense when he actually does figure out how to get on base.
Further down the list, we see Torii Hunter sitting at a nice neutral zero. This is great news since Torii was -0.9 last season and a constant threat for a base running blunder, so the fact that he isn’t hurting the team is a real win.
For all of those folks that like to make fun of Mark Trumbo for being a lumbering goon, guess what? He’s not. The Angels have insisted he moves well for a man his size and his 0.8 UBR, which is third-best on the team, suggests that is true, or that he is at least smart about knowing when to leg it out.
And then there is Jeff Mathis, who has a -0.9 UBR, which is actually kind of staggering since he only plays part-time and obviously doesn’t get on base very much. I didn’t think it was possible for Mathis to be a worse offensive player, but it turns out he found a new way. Can we just release him, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?
Now for that alleged improvement. Noticeable lacking from the top of the Angel UBR leaderboard is Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis who both have slightly negative UBRs of -0.4 and -0.1, respectively.
I would venture to guess that Aybar’s penchant for brainfarts has done him in through the early parts of the season which is odd since he seems to have made huge strides in becoming a very dangerous base stealing threat. Despite his undiagnosed case of ADD, Aybar has generally been a quality base runner, regularly posting high UBRs, peaking at 4.0 last season (a top 20 MLB rating). Like UZR, UBR is likely prone to short sample size fluctuations, so I would hope that Aybar gets his act together and starts making improvements which should give the Angels a shot in the arm.
The same idea applies to Maicer Izturis, just on a smaller scale. He isn’t as fast as Aybar, but he is smarter. I have little doubt that he’ll push his score to other side of zero before long. Those two becoming value added runners is crucial too since they both are now entrenched in the top two spots of the order in some combination. It is great and all that they are getting on base at solid rates, but that gets negated if they aren’t running the bases well.
Just how much actual value better base running from Aybar and Izturis can actually add remains to be seen, but given how impotent the Angel offense has been this season, every little bit helps and this is an area where help is not only possible, but likely and that is great news for the Halos.