clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The baserunning abilities of the 2016 Mariners

Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais both talked a lot about improving the Mariners baserunning going into 2016. How well have these plans been implemented?

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In 2015, as a team, the Mariners were not good at baserunning. They were lousy basestealers, they were not good at taking the extra base, and they had a rocky love affair with the TOOTBLAN. To illustrate these struggles numerically, here's a table showcasing their futility on the basepaths last season.

2015 SB (rank) SBA SBA% SB% XBT% TOOTBLANs
Mariners 69 (23rd) 114 (15th) 5.3% (16th) 60.5% (29th) 34% (29th) 122 (26th)
MLB average 84 119 5.4% 70.0% 39% 102

SBA% = the percentage of times a team attempted to steal a base when there was a runner on first or second and the next base was open; XBT% = the percentage of time a runner advanced more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double, when possible; TOOTBLANs = caught stealing+pickoffs+outs made on the basepaths.

The Mariners top-five SB leaders in 2015 were Austin Jackson (15 SB on 24 SBA), Brad Miller, (13 SB on 17 SBA), Ketel Marte (8 SB on 12 SBA), Logan Morrison (8 SB on 12 SBA), and Kyle Seager (6 SB on 12 SBA). When LoMo and Kyle are among your team leaders in stolen bases, things are probably not going super well. In aggregate, FanGraphs gave the Mariners the second worse baserunning score in MLB (only the Tigers were worse).

Enter Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais. These two gentlemen were well aware of the baserunning shortcomings that the Mariners possessed in 2015. After trading for Leonys Martin and signing Norichika Aoki (both top-30 basestealers between 2013 and 2015), it was clear that they had plans to make some changes. During spring training, Servais talked a lot about making the opposition uncomfortable and being aggressive on the basepaths. In a piece by Larry Stone published in March, Servais was quoted as saying:

"We talked all offseason about how this team is built. It’s a different team [...] I love home runs; everybody does. But there are other ways to score runs, and we have to do things a little differently to be consistent, because you can’t rely on the home run every night."

Servais, when talking about the Mariners and basestealing, also said:

"To be good, I think an 80 percent success rate is kind of what you’re shooting for. Some guys won’t be that high, others will be higher. But again, it’s a feel. It’s knowing when to anticipate a breaking ball, who is up to the plate, how is that guy getting pitched, to being into the game. That’s what great base-stealers do. Obviously it helps to be fast, but to have feel on the bases is really important."

So far, things haven't really followed this plan of action. The Mariners have successfully converted less than 60% of their stolen base attempts and they're in the bottom third of the league in stolen base attempts. However, this dip in baserunning production may actually be a symptom of a good thing; it's likely related to the fact that the Mariners have been able to rely on the long ball just about every night. They currently have the fifth most home runs in MLB (42 dingers; 1 every 28 PA). Their team wRC+ (108) ranks as the eighth best in MLB and four of their regular batters have wRC+'s north of 125. With so many hot hitters, it's not difficult to understand why Servais might be reluctant to send a  runner and risk running into an out on the basepaths. This is especially true when you recall that, once again, the M's have been pretty lousy on the bases. Below is the same table as the one above, but for 2016.

2016 SB (rank) SBA SBA% SB% XBT% TOOTBLANs
Mariners 11 (23rd) 19 (23rd) 4.5% (22nd) 57.9% (25th) 34% (27th) 21 (21st)
MLB average 16 23 5.5%% 69.6% 39% 20

These numbers do not reflect the massive team-wide changes/upgrades that Servais talked about implementing during the off-season. Leonys and Ketel have been good basestealers, but Aoki has proven to be a disappointment so far. (Additional note: Adam Lind is one of only five Mariners to attempt a stolen base in 2016.) Overall, there have been some marginal improvements (FanGraphs has the M's ranked 26th in baserunning so far), but Seattle still appears to be rather fond of making outs on the basepaths. Fortunately, they seem to have a greater understanding of this shortcoming and have cut their stolen base attempts by ~18% relative to 2015 (decreasing their SBA% from 5.3 to 4.5%).

As long as the Mariners keep hitting the seams off of baseballs, I'd be surprised if this approach changes. When they're scoring enough runs without pressing/trying to force the issue on the basepaths, the risk of Nori/Ketel getting throw out with Cano/Cruz/Seager at the dish doesn't really seem worth it. It's definitely fun to envision an M's team where Martin, Marte, and Aoki each steal 20 bases and drive the fans of opposing teams nuts by being super obnoxious on the basepaths. However, right now, that doesn't seem to be a likely future. That being said, I don't imagine that many Mariners fans will mind, so long as this team keeps scoring runs and socking dingers and being so damned fun to root for.

Go M's.