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The Rockies and their baserunning history

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

Let’s cut to the chase: baserunning is one of the most enjoyable parts of baseball. Watching people running fast in general is exciting, even more when there’s a payoff waiting for them at the end. The decline of the stolen base across baseball as front offices attempt to reach maximum efficiency is well documented, and it is obviously a shame that we’ve mostly lost one of the best things about this wonderful sport.

On the baserunning theme, we’re going to take a look at the Rockies’ history on the basepaths: their success rate and overall value by year, the best (and worst) baserunners in team history, and so on. Let’s begin.

The BsR Chart

We’re going to start off with the stat that best encompasses all aspects of baserunning: BsR. If you’re not familiar with the stat, here’s a detailed breakdown of it. In regards to BsR, here’s how the Rockies stack up, year by year, starting from 1993 and all the way up to 2021:

Right off the bat, the one thing that jumps out at me is the positive tendency represented by the grey line. In other words, the Rockies have gotten better on the bases in recent years. This includes a very good string of years from 2007-2010 where the Rockies put up 39.9 BsR as a team, third-best in the Majors, albeit miles behind the Phillies and Rays, both of which had BsR values in the 70s, which is unsurprising. Utley, Rollins, Victorino, Crawford, Upton, etc, are all among the best baserunners of the 21st century.

But anyway, the peak of Rockies baserunning, according to BsR, is the 2013 team, and it’s not hard to see why. They stole 112 bases and were only caught 38 times, after all. The next-highest values belong to 2008, 2021, 2020, 2007 and 1996. I’d also like to take a minute to highlight that the 2020 Rockies rank fourth on the list despite playing just 60 games, which is insane. They were the best baserunning team in MLB that shortened season by miles, of course.

The Raw Stolen Base Numbers

Now we’re moving to the plain ol’ SB totals. As you’ll see, a high number of steals doesn’t always correlate with a high BsR number...

In fact, if you overlay the two charts, you’ll find that despite the decreasing totals, the baserunning value has increased as a whole. This is thanks to improved efficiency, of course, but we’ll go over that later, and you don’t need an extra line to see that the raw totals have dropped off a cliff. For now, I’d like to take a look at the two big outliers: 1996 and 2004. First, ‘96.

The 1996 team had some speed demons on it. Six different players (Galarraga, Young Sr, Burks, McCracken, Bichette and Walker) stole 17+ bags, a feat no team accomplished in 2021, and three of them (Young Sr, Burks and Bichette) stole 30+, also a feat no team pulled off in 2021. But not only did those Rox have volume, they also had modern efficiency, as they stole 201 bases while only being caught 66 times. That, folks, is a 75.28% success rate, right on line with the MLB average these past few seasons. Oh, and the 201 total steals is by far the most in Rockies history, with no other team even breaking 150. Big shoutout to Hall of Famer Larry Walker, too, for stealing 18 bases (while being caught only twice) in 83 games. God, Larry was brilliant.

The 2004 team was the exact opposite. Only two players (Aaron Miles and Royce Clayton) stole double-digits, and they did it while going a combined 22-for-34 on their attempts. That’s bad. You know what else is bad? The fact that those two combined for exactly half of the Rockies’ 44 steals that season, by far a franchise low (removing the 60-game 2020 season). What’s worse? They got caught 33 times. 33! That’s a 57.14% success rate, the worst in Rockies history, narrowly beating out 1998’s 58.77%. Not only did the Rockies franchise hit rock bottom during 04-05, their baserunning production did as well.

We’re not done here yet. I have another chart for you fine readers:

The Success Rate

This is the success rate the Rockies have had in stolen base attempts, per year since 1993. This chart closely resembles the BsR chart from earlier, doesn’t it? Even the tendency is just about identical. A couple of nuggets here:

  • The Rockies cracked 70% just twice in their first 14 years of existence.
  • They haven’t reached an 80% success rate yet during a full season. 2008 comes the closest, at 79.21%.
  • They had just as many sub-60% seasons as they did above-70% seasons in those first 14 years.
  • Editor’s note: I wasn’t around to see that valley in the mid-2010s, and I’m kind of thankful for it. Low SB totals, and terrible efficiency to go along with it. I need one of the two to be good, at least.

This is getting too long, so let’s close this out with a list of the best baserunners in Rockies history.

The Best of the Best

Only eight Rockies have stolen 100+ bases while with the team. By raw total, they rank as follows:

Of the eight, the most efficient by miles is Willy Taveras, who was only caught 16 times against 101 successful steals for an 86.3% success rate (in 230 games, by the way), followed by CarGo (118 SB, 29 CS, 80.2%) and Trevor Story (100 SB, 30 CS, 76.9%).

Now let’s look at the top eight baserunners in Rockies history once again, but this time by BsR:

Now we start seeing some different names. CarGo and Story remain neck-and-neck at the top. Walker stays in the top 8, and so does Willy Taveras (again, in just 230 games!), but half of the list is new. Dexter Fowler, always underrated, comes in at fourth, and Clint Barmes and Eric Young Jr. go fifth and sixth. Matt Holliday, who isn’t tought of as a particularly great fielder or baserunner, ends up just ahead of Walker. Keep in mind, this is an accumulative stat. Kaz Matsui ranks 13th in just 136 games, and Sam Hilliard (!) ranks 16th in 144 games. Here is the full leaderboard, by BsR.

Hopefully this was a nice trip down memory lane for some of you. I know I enjoyed writing it, at least. It’s fun to go back and take a statistical look at years I wasn’t around for.

But wait... we aren’t done yet!

The Shameful Eight

Let’s have a little fun to wrap this up. Here are the eight worst baserunners in Rockies history by BsR:

Before you yell at me, yes, I’m aware. BsR being an accumulative stat does Helton dirty here, because he’s clearly not the worst on a rate basis (here is the leaderboard). In fact, Luis González managed an astounding -14.8 in just 291 games, one of the worst per game rates in the history of the franchise, and easily the worst amongst players with at least 200 games. Do you guys have any memories of any Luis González baserunning gaffes? He came before I even knew what baseball was, after all.

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Franco, Rays close to megadeal (source) | MLB.com

The final numbers are 12 years (the final a club option), $182M guaranteed, and a max value of $223M. A lot of money... and yet, he’ll probably be underpaid moving forward relative to the value he’ll be giving the Rays. This deal also confirms that Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr., the former especially, got absolutely robbed on their contracts. There’s a lot of predatory behavior with young Latino players, but that’s a big conversation for another time.

Why the Colorado Rockies should pursue Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki | Rox Pile

With the impending lockout (we all know it’s coming), Suzuki will sign soon. It’s always difficult to outbid the bigger markets for Japanese and Korean players, but Suzuki would fit the Rockies’ need for outfielders with power better than just about anybody else on the free agent market. They’d be really messing it up if they didn’t at least check in to see what the price might be.

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