James shines bright light on Tigers' baserunning woes

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers did a lot of things sub-optimally last season, but other than pitching, there was nothing they did more ineptly than running the bases.

They made 60 outs on the bases, 25 at home plate. They were picked off 19 times. We knew this. It was duly noted and reported upon throughout the season. But somehow, it doesn’t seem fully quantified until Bill James puts it through his statistical wringer.

In the new Bill James Handbook, he puts the Tigers baserunning woes in a different, perhaps more magnified light.

He tabulates bases gained — stolen bases, going from first to third or second to home on a single, etc. — to formulate a stat he calls net-bases gained. Needless to say, the Tigers fared poorly in this statistical analysis.

They ranked last in baseball, by a lot, at minus-107. The second-worst baserunning team was the Dodgers at minus-71. The Rangers led baseball with a plus-142.

Both the Tigers and Rangers had 321 chances to go from first to third on a single. The Tigers did it successfully 73 times, the Rangers, 115.

James points out the differential for the Tigers between runs created and runs actually scored was minus-76 — 765 runs created, 686 runs scored. Not good.

This is and has been a source of frustration for manager Brad Ausmus, who has emphasized and worked on baserunning far more than his predecessor Jim Leyland. The Tigers added some speedier players in 2015 — Anthony Gose, Yoenis Cespedes and a healthy Jose Iglesias — with no improvement.

Ausmus said late last season that baserunning, once again, will be addressed, but this time, he’s taking it back to Square One.

“There will be some things covered in spring training that we haven’t covered the last two springs,” he said. “There are little things that I think we have taken for granted that the players knew — like how you take a secondary lead. Little things you assume, maybe wrongly so, that they knew.

“We’re going to cover it, even if it sounds like basics to them. If it sounds like basics to 75 percent of the players, there’s still 25 percent that need to know.”

Ausmus said he is going to stress situations, when to take risks on the bases and when not to. He is going to stress getting better reads on balls hit to the outfield. Essentially, he’s going to take the Tigers back to baserunning 101 this spring.

“But at the same time, a lot of it is personnel,” he said. “Let’s face it, Victor Martinez isn’t going to go from first to third very often. Miguel Cabrera isn’t either. They aren’t fast.”

Point taken. Using James’ formula, the most ineffective baserunners last season were James McCann (minus-28 bases gained), Nick Castellanos (minus-25), Iglesias (minus-23), Cabrera (minus-22) and Victor Martinez (minus-22).

Of those, only Iglesias has average or better speed. Nobody said it would be an easy fix.