Aggressive base running has been a hallmark of Mike Scioscia's since his first spring training with the club. Determined to zig while the rest of the league zagged, Mike put an emphasis on the classic NL style of going first-to-third and not shaming players for making outs on the base paths. This earned him plenty of praise from the media during their run to the World Series in 2002 and defined their decade of competitiveness, thanks to rabbits such as Darin Erstad, Chone Figgins, David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy.
Mike's clubs during the current decade have not been as blessed with such burners, yet he has not let that deter his players from continuing to run the bases with reckless abandon. LA Times beat writer Pedro Moura asked him recently about this subject:
"I think if you're going to be an aggressive base-running team — and I think we've shown that — there are going to be some outs you're going to run into," Scioscia said Thursday.
Some outs, of course, would be acceptable. But there has to be a break-even point, right? Unlike Scisocia's early years at the helm, we can now measure fairly accurately how base running effects a team's run-scoring. Like most run estimators, several sites measure base-running independently. For simplicity sake, I will only reference Fangraphs' metric BsR, since they have the most transparency in how they measure these runs (full explanation here). So how have the Angels performed on the base paths under Mike Scioscia?
Quick take from this chart? The widely-accepted reputation of the 2002 team as a great base running squad was well deserved. Conversely, our perception of the 2016 edition as knuckleheads on the base paths was spot on. Under Scioscia's watch, the Angels have been great at generating extra runs on the bases (2002, 2006, 2012) and have also had some costly seasons (2010, 2013, 2016).
During the Halos' golden age (2002-09), Scioscia's aggressive philosophy paid off, as the Angels were generally in the top half of the league in BsR. The 2002 squad set the tone, propped up by Darin Erstad (6.6 BsR), David Eckstein (5.7), and Adam Kennedy (5.6). Even sluggers such as Troy Glaus (4.8), Brad Fullmer (3.2) and Garret Anderson (2.8) made positive contributions on the bases. Only the notoriously lead-footed Benji Molina (-7.3) and Scott Spiezio (-3.4) were anchors to the team's base running prowess. Even Tim Salmon, that team's answer to Albert Pujols, was just barely below average (-0.9).
Earlier in the week, this topic was discussed in the HaloLinks comments, where Red Floyd was quick to point out that the base running success of the 2004-09 teams was largely on the back of Chone Figgins. An astute point (as always) by Mr. Floyd:
Mike Trout has done his best to carry the torch, particularly in his rookie campaign (when he was still a teen and the fastest man on the planet), generating 14.1 BsR, pacing MLB. In every other year since then, our "other" superstar has managed to wipe away that value with his ineptitude on the bases:
|Trout's BsR||Pujols' BsR|
Despite Trout's triumphant return to dominating the bases this year, the Angels posted their single worst base running season under Mike Scioscia's watch. Part of the problem was only three other players provided positive value on the bases this year: Kole Calhoun (1.5), Daniel Nava (1.5) and Rafael Ortega (0.5). Outside of Pujols, the biggest culprit for costing the team on the bases was Yunel Escobar, finishing the year at -5.8 BsR, a problem when you're the guy being paid to lead off. Even the mainstream media took note of Escobar's base running follies, causing some defensiveness from Scioscia:
"Some of it's cyclical. Some of it's inherent in some bad reads," he said. "In Yunel's case, I think he's run into some throws that have been right on the money."
"Not that we're burying our heads in the sand if somebody's out by 30 feet, but I don't think that's what you're seeing with Yunel. You're seeing some plays that have been close. We want our guys to be aggressive and not be deterred when there's a throw right on the money. I don't think there have been the kind of things that would raise concern where you would have to try to drastically adjust what one guy does."
Of course a manager should defend his players in public, but it also felt like this type of play was all too common with Yunel this season:
Escobar had just rounded first base by the time Correa gets to the ball. While it wasn't quite by 30 feet, which is apparently the bench mark for Scioscia, Escobar was still out by plenty. Not to take anything away from Correa, who makes a nice play here, but Escobar has the play right in front of him and could very easily have turned around after Correa plays the ball cleanly.
It wasn't just Escobar and Pujols dragging this team down on the bases, either. Despite less playing time, Jett Bandy (-3.5), C.J. Cron (-2.9), Gregorio Petit (-2.6) and Johnny Giavotella (-2.1) helped put the team in the red in BsR. While we shouldn't be shocked to find a slugger like Cron on the bottom of the list, it is troublesome to find seemingly fleet-footed players like Petit and Giavotella also bringing up the rear. Petit had only 203 PA before this season, but managed to keep his head above water with a 1.2 BsR over parts of four seasons with the A's, Astros and Yankees. Andrelton Simmons set a career high with 10 SB, against only 1 CS. Despite that excellent ratio, he still found himself with a -0.5, thanks to questionable decisions in taking extra bases. Yunel Escobar has never been a good base runner, but has been especially bad the last two seasons, coincidentally (or not) playing under managers who emphasize hustle on the bases over intelligence.
Now, it is important to note that none of this is of any great consequence. 10 runs equal roughly one win, meaning this year's Angels cost themselves about 2 wins with their atrocious base running, a mere blip in a season that saw them finish 21 games out of first place. Mike Trout alone earned the 2012 team at least one extra win running the bases and they still finished 5 games behind the A's.
However! Consider the 2015 team, which finished just one game shy of a Wild Card spot. They were middle-of-the-pack with regards to base running, despite the presence of Mike Trout, Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun. It should frustrate you to think that with a bit more efficiency on the base paths, they could have possibly scratched out one extra win to force Houston into a play-in game.
With a manager at the helm that places so much emphasis on base running, there is no excuse for this team to so frequently fall below the break-even point in that regard. Mike Scioscia preaches aggressiveness, even when he doesn't have the horses to play that style. Obviously, this team has bigger fish to fry than a handful of runs they cost themselves every year on the bases. But if Scioscia is to stick around, it would behoove him to shift the culture from "aggressive" to "head's up" when it comes to running the bases. With the Astros, Rangers and Mariners primed to remain competitive over the rest of his contract, the Angels will have to scratch and claw their way to a playoff berth, making each and every run that much more important.