The Truth Behind Runners Left On Base

Apr 6, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman John Jaso (28) runs to third base after hitting a triple against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman John Jaso (28) runs to third base after hitting a triple against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Novelist John Updike once said, “A narrative is like a room on whose walls a number of false doors have been painted; while within the narrative, we have apparent choices of exit, but when the author leads us to one particular door, we know it is the right one because it opens.” In the early stages of the 2016 season, there have been countless of false narratives created and used to try and demonstrate a point. The latest being how the Pirates lead all of baseball in runners left on base, which is a true and factual statement. But it does not really tell the story of what the Pirates have done with runners on base, and using the statement “Pirates lead the league in runners left on base” takes one down a path that causes outcry, even though the Pirates are better than the raw number leads one to believe. The team also leads the league in times on base (including errors), so naturally the Pirates would rank at the top, if not near, in runners left on base. It just makes sense using logic. The best way to see how many runners the Pirates are truly leaving on base, percentages of runners left on to runners reached is the best way to judge and to compare.

Times on base, including error

Pittsburgh Pirates- 309

Chicago Cubs- 277

St. Louis Cardinals- 269

San Francisco Giants- 262

Arizona Diamondbacks- 261

Los Angeles Dodgers- 257

Boston Red Sox- 244

Toronto Blue Jays- 244

Houston Astros- 232

Apr 19, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) reacts during a fifth inning at bat against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Starling Marte strikes out and leaves more runners on base against the Padres; Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins- 231

Texas Rangers- 230

Colorado Rockies- 227

Washington Nationals- 224

San Diego Padres- 223

Seattle Mariners- 219

Atlanta Braves- 219

Milwaukee Brewers- 217

New York Mets- 217

Baltimore Orioles- 216

Kansas City Royals- 216

Miami Marlins- 216

Oakland Athletics- 210

Chicago White Sox- 208

New York Yankees- 207

Detroit Tigers- 206

Cincinnati Reds- 202

Philadelphia Phillies- 201

Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim- 198

Tampa Bay Rays- 195

Cleveland Indians- 193

The Pirates have had an outstanding 309 batters reach base, which in their 19 games played, equates out to be 16.26 runners per game, an outstanding mark. The St. Louis Cardinals rank second in runners per game, with 14.94 and the Chicago Cubs are third with 14.58 runners per game. The Pirates are averaging 1.32 more runners per game than the Cardinals and 1.68 more runners per game than the Chicago Cubs. These marks are outstanding and really show what this offense is about. The offense that is first in average at .294 and first in on-base percentage at .381 is highlighted even more so by the amount of runners they get on base. But the supposed problem stems from the amount of runners they are leaving on:

Runners Left On Base ( team LOB per game multiplied by games played, rounded to nearest whole number):

Cincinnati Reds- 94

Cleveland Indians- 105

Colorado Rockies- 106

Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim- 110

Baltimore Orioles- 111

Philadelphia Phillies- 112

Tampa Bay Rays- 113

Seattle Mariners- 116

Detroit Tigers- 116

Milwaukee Brewers- 119

Texas Rangers- 120

Oakland Athletics- 123

Apr 3, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco (25) slides into second base with a double as St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jedd Gyorko (3) looks for the throw during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Kansas City Royals- 124

Washington Nationals- 125

Chicago White Sox- 125

New York Mets- 126

Houston Astros- 126

New York Yankees- 126

Miami Marlins- 127

Boston Red Sox- 128

Atlanta Braves- 129

San Diego Padres- 131

San Francisco Giants- 133

Toronto Blue Jays- 133

Arizona Diamondbacks- 140

Los Angeles Dodgers- 140

St. Louis Cardinals- 140

Chicago Cubs- 143

Minnesota Twins- 151

Pittsburgh Pirates- 170

The Pirates are hitting .293, ranking third, and have an on-base of .384, ranking second, with men on base this season. Their apparent struggles with runners on does not match the data provided, especially considering when their 88 runs scored with men on ranks third in baseball compared to their 95 runs scored total, which ranks three spots lower at number six. I believe that the biggest reasoning of the concern of how many runners the team has left on came from the early season struggles with runners in scoring position, when they had a relatively low batting average in balls in play. The team has improved their numbers with runners in scoring position as their baBIP has started to regress towards the mean, as their .276 average ranks ninth, .387 on-base third, .410 slugging 14th, and their 83 runs scored ranks third. As other teams baBIP’s start to regress to the mean like the Pirates has, the Bucs numbers will only continue to grow stronger.

The hysteria that the team leaves too many runners on base can be disproved by looking at how many of the runners that reach on base are runners left on base. Dividing out runners left on base by times on base, answers this question. It is truly the only way to look at raw numbers, the proportions gained leads one down to the correct door, and that door is correct because it opens and exposes the truth.

Runners Left On Base Percentage

  1. Cincinnati Reds- 46.56 percent
  2. Colorado Rockies- 46.70 percent
  3. San Francisco Giants- 50.76 percent
  4. Baltimore Orioles- 51.39 percent
  5. Chicago Cubs- 51.65 percent
  6. St. Louis Cardinals- 52.06 percent
  7. Texas Rangers- 52.21 percent
  8. Boston Red Sox- 52.45 percent
  9. Seattle Mariners- 52.93 percent
  10. Arizona Diamondbacks- 53.64 percent
  11. Houston Astros- 54.30 percent
  12. Cleveland Indians- 54.38 percent
  13. Los Angeles Dodgers- 54.49 percent
  14. Toronto Blue Jays- 54.51 percent
  15. Milwaukee Brewers- 54.81 percent
  16. Pittsburgh Pirates- 55.03 percent
  17. Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim- 55.56 percent
  18. Philadelphia Phillies- 55.68 percent
  19. Washington Nationals- 55.77 percent
  20. Detroit Tigers- 56.28 percent
  21. Kansas City Royals- 57.42 percent
  22. Tampa Bay Rays- 57.97 percent
  23. New York Mets- 58.05 percent
  24. Oakland Athletics- 58.54 percent
  25. San Diego Padres- 58.70 percent
  26. Miami Marlins- 58.79 percent
  27. Atlanta Braves- 58.93 percent
  28. Chicago White Sox- 60.11 percent
  29. New York Yankees- 60.86 percent
  30. Minnesota Twins- 65.39 percent

The Pirates ranking 16th when dividing out runners left on base by times on base should be a comforting sight, as it is a far ways off than the team ranking last in runners left on base when looking at only raw numbers without applying anything to them. But just like everything else in baseball, all these teams will regress towards the mean, with the potential for a few outliers, and as long the Pirates team keeps showing what they have at the plate all season, including with men on and runners in scoring position, the Pirates should start to find themselves on the positive side of the mean, and continue to plate runs at a high rate. The door has been opened to see, and the reactions of ‘the Pirates lead the league in runners left on base’ should come to a halt, as they are about middle of the pack in terms of percentages.

*Numbers from baseball-reference play index and