A Look At The Pittsburgh Pirates Base Running

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 20: Joey Cora #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates wears his helmet with the words "P.R. Never Gives Up" during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 20, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 20: Joey Cora #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates wears his helmet with the words "P.R. Never Gives Up" during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 20, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Base running is an area of the game that often gets overlooked, often taken for granted while the mistakes are overwhelming obvious and remembered.  Part of that falls on the third base coach, who can have aggressive sends or be too passive at times.

Last Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies, third base coach Joey Cora sent Colin Moran on a single to right. He was thrown out without ever reaching the plate and was tagged out before reaching the right-handed batters box.

Without calculating the break-even, that one seemed like a bad send (Harrison is a projected .269 hitter and a single scores Moran from third).  Considering how far Colin Moran was out by, the send seemingly was well below the break-even point.

The Pirates have had three third base coaches under Clint Hurdle: Nick Leyva (2011-13), Rick Sofield (2014-16), and Joey Cora (2017-present).  I was curious on how the league did in extra base taken percentage compared to the Pirates, ie how much better or worse are the Pirates at taking the extra base compared to the league.  That really boils down to how much better or worse are the Pirates third base coaches at sending runners.

Baseball-Reference has base running data for all batters on first when a single is hit and how often a runner goes to third, when a double is hit how often they score, and so on.  An extra base is defined as taking two bases more than where you started; runner goes first to third on a single, scores from first on a double, and scores from second on a single.  An opportunity is how many times a runner is on first and a single or double occurs or when the runner is on second and a single is hit.

Below are the total league numbers and taken percentage each year (2018 data is as of games completed July 7th):

YearExtra Base TakenExtra Base OpportunitiesTaken%
Grand Total4961612357640.15%

Now a look at how the Pirates have done each year:

YearExtra Base TakenExtra Base OpportunitiesTaken%

Breaking that down by base coach:

CoachExtra Base TakenExtra Base OpportunitiesTaken%
Grand Total1665420539.60%

In Sofield’s last year as the Pirates third base coach the Pirates ran into outs and weren’t really successful in attempts, prompting the change to Cora, who has been around where the league has been in taken percentage.

To calculate outs, I subtracted off extra bases taken and station to station (single moving first to second, double moving first to third, and single going second to third) from the opportunities.  Looking at the league average amount of outs and league average number of opportunities along with the Pirates shows:

YearLeague OutsLeague OppPirates OutsPirates Opp

This year the Pirates have had more outs trying to take the extra base than the league while having fewer opportunities; showing just the taken percentage doesn’t tell us anything more than when the extra base is taken, the coach can always hold the runner.  And look at 2016, the Pirates ran into 29 outs trying to take an extra base on a ball in play.

But because of the unequal amounts of opportunities, here’s a breakdown of outs per opportunity:


Under Leyva, while the Pirates were just around the league in terms of aggressiveness (taken percentage), they ran into less outs than than the average team, save Leyva’s first season.  Much of the same in Sofield’s first year, but the rate kept climbing all the way up to 4.7 percent in his last year, or two percentage points higher than the league.

In Cora’s first year they ran into outs at the same rate as the league, and they’re just a tad above the league, putting up two extra stop signs, two extra runners being safe, or one of each puts them at the league number, which consistently hovers around 2.5 percent.

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Outside of 2011 and 2016, the Pirates haven’t run into many outs on the bases on a per opportunity basis, and overall on taking the extra base they have been around the average as well.  The one year that truly stands out is 2016 when the Pirates ran into 29 outs, 80 percent higher than the league, and that happened to be Sofield’s final season at third.  Through a year and a half, Cora seems to be average when it comes to succeeding when sending a runner to get that extra base.

*Numbers as of July 7th