Pittsburgh Pirates base running: Narrative vs. Numbers

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Jul 11, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; General view of the ballpark exterior before the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost the first two games of the “biggest series of the season” against the Cardinals and of course there’s a lot of panic, because as sports fans, it’s really easy to be reactionary. The facts are these, the Pirates are now seven games out of first place in the NL Central and that is really frustrating and upsetting. No one can deny that at all, but the one thing to be weary of is letting a narrative get in the way of facts.

The Pirates played a very sloppy game last night and as a result, I’ve seen a lot of sweeping generalizations about the Pirates and how they will do come October. The most specific thing I’ve seen mentioned is the Pirates are a poor base-running team, they make a lot of mistakes on the bases and that will cost them come the playoffs. The Pirates definitely do some head-scratching things on the bases, but are they really a bad base-running team? I decided the only way to determine this is to look up good old fashioned raw numbers. While stats are not the be all, end all, it’s still a good place to start to see where the Pirates rank in comparison to the rest of the league.

The stat I am going to use today is BsR, which is the base running component of Wins Above Replacement. (WAR) Before I dive into the Pirates BsR, I will explain what the hell it means. BsR is calculated similarly to WAR in that league average is set to zero for ease of use. Different numbers represent different levels of skill. Eight (8) BsR is considered excellent, six (6) is great, two (2) is above average, zero (0) is of course average, negative two (-2) is below average, negative four (-4) is poor and negative six (-6) is considered awful.

In determining where the Pirates rank, I will essentially average out the Pirates rankings by position. Outfield, first base, second base, short stop, third base, and catcher. I will only include starters or regular back-ups. I will not include pitchers as they’re almost all ranked zero because of inconclusive data. Lets hit the ground running and see how the Pirates fair as base-runners.

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