By Evan Brunell
On Tuesday, Fangraphs unveiled a new statistic titled Ultimate Base Running. The calculation of UBR is similar to how the efficiency of outfield arms are calculated for use in Ultimate Zone Rating, one of the best freely available metrics to measure defense. Here's Fangraphs on how its calculated:
Whatever credit (positive or negative) is given to an outfielder based on a runner hold, advance, or kill on a batted ball is also given in reverse to the runner (or runners). There are some plays that a runner is given credit (again plus or minus) for that do not involve an outfielder, such as being safe or out going from first to second on a ground ball to the infield, or advancing, remaining, or being thrown out going from second to third on a ground ball to SS or 3B.Enough with the mechanics of the statistic. Let's take a look at the season leaders are in UBR. Keep in mind two things: First, UBR is a cumulative statistic. That is, the more you play, the more your UBR will change, so those who haven't played much this season will rank low on the leaderboard in part due to lack of playing time. Next, it's too early to judge the effectiveness of UBR. The defensive statistic of UBR tends to need three full seasons of data to get anything usable for defensive judgement. It's not yet clear if UBR can be relied on immediately or if more time is needed. Still, this data is a leap forward in player evaluation, as baserunning skills (not to be confused with speed or stealing) were one of the few remaining hurdles to clear to get an overall look at a player's effectiveness.
Runs are awarded to base runners in the same way they are rewarded to outfielders on “arm” plays. The average run value in terms of the base/out state is subtracted from the actual run value (also in terms of the resultant base/out state) on a particular play where a base runner is involved. The result of the subtraction is the run value awarded to the base runner on that play.
Here are the top 10 baserunners in 2011 according to UBR, plus their career marks in parentheses. Data only goes back to 2002, so an asterisk will denote one season of missed data. For example, Ichiro Suzuki receives one asterisk as he played in 2001. Keep in mind that while this list can help strip out strong baserunners from those who bumble their way around the bases, it's still a list influenced by speed. Going second to third on a fly ball is easier when you run like Usain Bolt.
- Nate McLouth (pictured), Braves: 2.8 (12.5)
- Alex Rios, White Sox: 2.8 (14.5)
- Melky Cabrera, Royals: 2.7 (-0.2) -- So not only as Melky Cabrera completely turned his career around by becoming a better defender and rediscovering his stroke, he's positing a positive UBR for the first (and only) time in 2006. Maybe he really has screwed his head on.
- Alexei Ramirez, White Sox: 2.5 (10.3)
- Alex Gordon, Royals: 2.4 (6.5)
- Aaron Rowand, Giants: 2.2 (15.7*) -- Rowand was actually especially bad last season, with a -2.8 mark. And yet, with roughly a third less at-bats to date, he's already almost mirrored his negative mark from last season positively. That's a big jump in limited playing time.
- Brian Roberts, Orioles: 2.2 (11.6)
- Danny Espinosa, Nationals: 2.2 (2.8)
- Michael Bourn, Astros: 2.1 (13.9) -- Bourn had a 5.8 mark in 2009, which placed him fifth. Chone Figgins ran away with the top spot at a 7.9 mark, but Bourn has racked up strong numbers consistently the last few seasons. He may not hit for much power or even average, but he does everything else.
- Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: 2.1 (24.0*)
And now, your trailers, a list that is wholly unsurprising:
- Paul Konerko, White Sox: -4.4 (-44.2*****)
- Casey McGehee, Brewers: -4.1 (-4.2)
- Brett Wallace, Astros: -4.0 (-4.0)
- Chipper Jones, Braves: -3.6 (-4.4********) -- A lot of missed seasons for Jones, but the trend is clear: he used to be a decent baserunner... until his knees went to hell.
- David Ortiz, Red Sox: -2.8 (-40.5*****) -- Ortiz is the anti-Larry Walker, who was hailed for his baserunning acumen despite lack of speed. Ortiz and a few other guys on this list are considered the slowest runners in the game, so it's not much of a surprise.
- Ryan Howard, Phillies: -2.8 (-22.5)
- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: -2.5 (-27.2****)
- Alfonso Soriano, Cubs: -2.4 (3.9***) -- Soriano posted his first negative mark in 2006 (discounting missing 1999-2001 numbers), his last season before joining the Cubs. In five seasons with Chicago, he's only posted two positive marks.
- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: -2.1 (-12.8)
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals: -2.1 (-19.0)
- Juan Pierre (43.6)
- Chone Figgins (41.7)
- Jimmy Rollins (33.6)
- Carlos Beltran (30.5)
- Rafael Furcal (28.6)