Running Like There’s No Tomorrow

By Robbie Knopf

When all else fails, run.

The Rays’ offense has been in shambles all season because of injuries. In order to stay afloat, they have needed to get everything they possibly could out of the players they did have in the lineup. An enormous part of that has been stolen bases and baserunning. So far this season, the Rays have stolen 70 bases, most in the American League in third in baseball. They are the only MLB team having three players who have stolen at least 15 bases, and those three are stealing them at incredible rates. Desmond Jennings is 15 of 16, B.J. Upton is 15 of 18, and Elliot Johnson is 15 of 19. In 2011, the Rays led the league in stolen bases but at the same time also leading the league in caught stealings, not stealing bases at a very high rate of just 71%. This year, the Rays have changed that. They have stolen bases at a 75% clip, above the 73% MLB average and 74% AL average, and rank in the top third of baseball in stolen base success rate after finishing 21st in 2011. For some perspective, the Rays have stolen 70 of 93 bases through 86 games in 2012. Through 86 games in 2011, they stole 71 of 103. The Rays are stealing just as many bases but running much more efficiently than they did last season.

But baserunning isn’t just stolen bases. The Rays are in a virtual tie for second place in the AL with a 42% extra base taken percentage (XBT%), meaning the percentage of the time Rays baserunners went 1st to 3rd on a single or 1st to home on a double. Desmond Jennings is at a ridiculous 71%, Matt Joyce is even higher at 73%, Elliot Johnson is at 53%, and B.J. Upton is at 47%. Minimum 200 PA’s, Joyce ranks second in baseball while Jennings is sixth. 6 Rays minimum 100 PA’s are above the league average. The Rays also rank second in the AL with 87 bases taken on wild pitches, passed balls, flyballs, and etc.

All this baserunning prowess has helped the Rays score 30% of their runners, just below the 31% league average, and their 4.22 runs per game is not far below the 4.33 league average, despite an offense that doesn’t strike fear into anybody. The Rays offense is hopefully going to get better as the season progresses as Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce return from injuries. But with key contributors out, the Rays are doing everything they can to maximize run production, and while they would love to score more runs, they are holding down the fort thanks to their outstanding baserunning.