To say that the Braves didn’t have much team speed before trading for Nate McLouth would be an understatement. The various broadcast teams covering the Braves have made a big deal about his speed since then, focusing especially on his stolen base success.
I have to commend them for this, particularly the FOX team of Sciambi and Simpson, who continually noted that Nate had been caught precisely once in his career on a catcher’s throw. Success rate is a huge factor in the value of stolen bases because you really don’t add any run value to the team unless you’re successful at least 70% of the time. If you’re not, you have no business running.
I’m bringing this up today because McLouth was caught by a catcher for the second time in his career last night. He was caught at third when Bobby Cox sent both Nate and Kelly Johnson with two strikes on Chipper Jones at the plate. McLouth had already stolen second during Johnson’s at bat and was thrown out easily at third by Geovany Soto.
Baseball Prospectus has the best method I’m aware of for evaluating baserunning contributions, called Equivalent Base Running Runs, or EqBRR (they love their acronyms). They define it as: “the number of runs contributed by a player’s advancement on the bases, above what would be expected based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities with which the player is presented.” I thought we’d look at Nate McLouth’s career today. He came up with the Pirates first in 2005 but didn’t play a full season until last year. Currently his career success rate is 91.7%, 67-for-73.
However, steals aren’t the only component of baserunning, and BP accounts for the rest of it, too. EqBRR is made up of five components, including “ground advancement,” stolen bases, “air advancement,” “hit advancement,” and “other advancement.”
Just to provide a little perspective, since 2005, 228 players have recorded a total EqBRR of 1 or higher, which isn’t a lot of runs. Only 29 players have an EqBRR of 10 runs or more, amounting to roughly one win above their expected run contribution. A total of 378 players have an EqBRR of -1 or lower, including 30 at -10 or lower.
Some surprising names on the list: Chone Figgins at the top of the list isn’t a big surprise, but perhaps Marcus Giles at #16 is (ahead of Rafael Furcal). Giles is apparently very good at out and air advancement compared to others with similar speed. The names at the bottom are less surprising, with McCann and Kotchman among the worst, and Bengie Molina at the very bottom with -23 runs. Bill Hall has been the worst stolen base decision-maker, with -9.4 SB runs and +1.5 in the other categories. He is 36-for-62 (58%) in stolen base success since 2005.
McLouth ranks 10th on the list, with 20.3 runs above expected and a fairly normal spread across the various categories. He runs well and makes good decisions, and that would seem to be confirmed by the numbers.
The chart below compares McLouth’s run contribution to the rest of the top 25 by category. Nate is on the outside in green, and the others are on the inside in blue.
Nate’s prolific stolen base success makes up for his odd inability to advance more often than not on ground balls. His “other” success (wild pitches, passed balls, etc.) is also a bit of an outlier among the top 25.