At the beginning of November, I tossed out a trusty poll to gauge the feeling of the general public on the Red Sox baserunning ability:
I'm curious about the general perception of this topic so I thought, polls are fun. Were the 2022 Red Sox good base runners?— OverTheMonster (@OverTheMonster) November 4, 2022
The results were about what I was feeling and expected, so it would appear public perception was generally in line with my hypothesis that this was an area for the Red Sox could very much improve.
The impetus for the poll was a simple question from our dear leader Dan Secatore about where to find some baserunning stats for his piece on how Jarren Duran can find himself again. While helping Dan with his research, I ended up going down a massive rabbit hole that much like Alice In Wonderland herself, had me questioning my very reality. Were the 2022 Red Sox actually good at base running? There were so many things about the 2022 season that were frustrating, and one of those things was making a bunch of bone-headed outs on the base paths. I can think of more than a few from just Alex Verdugo himself. But were those just isolated incidents? Psychologists say trauma tends to stick with us more than the good times so maybe this is one of those cases where I’m just remembering the worst of the Red Sox.
What ended up surprising me the most, was that the Red Sox tied for third in the majors in making the fewest outs on the bases, with just 34 (this tied them with the Milwaukee Brewers, behind only the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners). An additional interesting observation about this stat is that it appeared to have no correlation to a team’s overall success. I already mentioned Seattle, but right behind the Red Sox in fourth were the Phillies, both of whom were playoff teams last season. At the bottom of the list, however, were the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Atlanta Braves — three more playoff teams. Regardless of whether or not it translates to full-season success, just the fact that the Red Sox, in reality, were making so few outs on the bases was mind-boggling.
In the words of the great Billie Mays, but wait there’s more! The Red Sox were also tenth in bases taken with 139. That is advancing bases on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, and defensive indifference. That sure seems like smart base running. They were also tied for second in the majors in Run Scoring Percentage (percentage of times a base runner scored a run) at 32%. They were also above league average in going from first to either third or home on a single, first to home on a double, and second to home on a single. And to add a cherry on top of this baserunning sundae, they led the majors in going second to third on a single, and first to third on a double.
Now, with some of these stats, not everything credits the base runner. Going first to third on a double, for example, seems intuitively more of a credit to the hitter advancing the runner than the runner getting there safely. But the Red Sox as a team were clearly very good at judging where balls were going to land relative to the opposing team’s fielders and advancing as far as they could. Collectively, they were a smart baserunning team. I absolutely underestimated in them in this, and should give them credit for being good at something in a season full of downers.
Another interesting takeaway I had from this rabbit hole was the gap in opportunities versus attempts to steal a base. The Red Sox were fifth in the majors in stolen base opportunities (that is, times when a runner was on first or second with the next base open) at 2,345. But they were just 25th in stolen base attempts, only attempting 72 attempts on the season. I should note that, while the gap in the actual numbers themselves is massive, every team in the majors had a similar gap — it was more the gap in rankings that struck me; their high ranking in opportunities didn’t translate to a high ranking in attempts. Even when they did attempt steals, though, they weren’t great at them, converting at a just 72% rate, which was 3% below league average. So one could dispute that being cautious in stealing bases was the smart move there.
Overall, the conclusion from all these numbers was that, in a very subtle way, the 2022 Red Sox were quite good at baserunning. In a season with so many pain points, it was easy to focus on the negatives — especially when they occurred in such pathetic fashion, as many of their baserunning blunders appeared to do. But the reality was that those blunders were rare, and I think we put too much emphasis on the weight they carried representing the team’s ability as a whole on the base paths.