Baserunning: The Quicksand of the Chicago Cubs

I'm just going to come out and say it, the Chicago Cubs are BAD at baserunning. The worse thing about this statement is that there is very little hope of them getting better (at least in 2011).

According to the Bill James Handbook (2011 edition) the Cubs are the 7th worst team in baserunning. If we review the fundamentals of the game: pitching, hitting, fielding, baserunning - we see lonely baserunning at the end of the list. Most people don't even think about baserunning as a core function of a successful/competitive team or if they do, they think in terms of stolen bases. I disagree on both accounts.

This post will focus on four subcategories of baserunning:

  • 1st-to-3rd - this (successful moves/opportunities) provides the percentage of a player moving from first base to third base on a single

  • 2nd-to-home - this (successful moves/opportunities) provides the percentage of a player moving from second base to home on a single

  • 1st-to-home - this (successful moves/opportunities) provides the percentage of a player moving from first base to home on a double

  • Net Gain - Baserunning gain + Stolen base gain (zero is average)

Let's start by taking a look at the 2010 version of the Chicago Cubs...

The Cubs were not that bad in 2010. For the categories of 1st-3rd and 2nd-home on singles, they were competitive. However their 1st-home productivity was lacking. They had 82 opportunities to advance a runner from 1st-home - this was their 2nd largest opportunistic dataset for the 1st-home category from 2002-2010. Unfortunately, more opportunities does not equal more success.

Looking at these categories over the past 9 seasons, we see the Cubs not having enough consistency. The 1st-home category seems to be declining...

But these categories only measure the Cubs to themselves. To really see what is happening on the base paths, let's compare them to the NL Central...




I think the 1st-home category shows us the declining speed, technique and maybe even baserunning strategy of the Cubs. Their average 1st-home performance from 2002-2010 was 44%. Their 2010 percentage (37%) clearly shows under-performance not only against themselves but also against a division that was advancing runners from 1st-home 51% of the time (with the Cincinnati Reds at 60%). What we also see is two trends; the Cubs trending downward (since 2007) and the rest of the NL Central trending upward (since 2006). It seems as if the Cubs have some catching up to do.

While we're still on the subject, let's take a look at how the Cubs fair against some other teams in the league (I will submit a future post about baserunning during the the Cubs past playoff seasons v. their competition (Florida Marlins, LA Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks next week)...

(Side Note: Brad’s Tampa Bay Rays were the best team in Major League Baseball in baserunning from 2002-2010. Their 2010 season netted a gain of +196, this is approximately 6.5 times more than the Cubs past 9 seasons altogether (+31). Wow. Personally, this makes me like the Rays a little bit more and question Cubs management to the point of insanity).

(Side Note #2: As bad as the Cubs are from 2002-2010, the White Sox have been worse. I'll be comparing some of the baserunning and fielding attributes of the Cubs against the White Sox in future posts).

I’m not saying that successful baserunning leads to a world series championship. What I am saying is that baserunning is neglected by the Cubs. It's obvious. Effective baserunning can lead to a competitive advantage - the Rays are a perfect example of this model. The problem with the Cubs is that they neglect these other aspects of the game which doesn't provide them with a competitive advantage. To win a world series, you have to be competitive at all levels. Sure, there’s luck involved but if we quantify luck we can identify what we need to improve on…

Luck = preparation + opportunity

And if the Cubs do not prepare (train and develop) these other fundamentals (like baserunning), they will continue to be the same Cubs organization we're accustomed to seeing - one that is stuck in the sand.

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