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The Rangers secret weapon: baserunning

The Rangers have quietly been the best baserunning team in baseball in 2022

Boston Red Sox v. Texas Rangers Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Texas Rangers are currently 12th in the majors in runs scored per game, at 4.43, compared to a league average of 4.26 runs per game.

The Rangers are doing this despite being 27th in the majors in OBP, 21st in slugging and 23rd in wOBA. They are also doing this despite not being doing exceptionally well in critical situations — per the Fangraphs “Clutch” stat, the Rangers are 12th in the majors this year, and are a little better than average as far as “clutch” goes.

So how is the Ranger offense doing it? In perusing the numbers, odd though it may seem, it appears that a lot of it has to do with the Rangers being an excellent baserunning team this year. In fact, in looking at the Fangraphs data, it would appear that the Rangers are the best baserunning team in baseball in 2022 — by a wide margin.

In terms of Fangraphs’ Baserunning Runs* — BsR — the Rangers are at +11.5 runs due to baserunning. Not only is that the highest market in the majors, it is almost double the next highest team on the list, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are at 6.2. Only the Dodgers, Cardinals, White Sox and Brewers are above 3.0 among the rest of the league, with the median mark being 0.05 (because the 15th place team is at 0.1 and the 16th place team is at 0.0). The worst baserunning team, in case you are interested, is the Detroit Tigers (-9.2), with the Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins all at -7.0 or worse as well.

* Baserunning Runs are calculated by added net runs added by stolen base attempts, double plays, and overall baserunning events. If you want to see the details as to how that’s determined, you can read about it here.

One may ask, does 11 runs really make that much of a difference? The Rangers have scored 208 runs overall, after all, and have played 47 games, so it seems like a drop in the bucket. But if we were to back out those runs and treat the Rangers as a neutral baserunning team, at 0 BsR, that would drop the Rangers’ average runs scored on the season to 4.19 per game — below the league average, and at 17th in MLB.

How are the Rangers doing it?

The first thing we tend to think of in regards to baserunning is stolen bases, and the Rangers have been terrific at that in 2022. The Rangers are 36 for 45 in steals this year, which puts them first in the A.L. and second in the majors in total stolen bases. Their 80% success rate is above the league average of 75%, and their 45 steal attempts has them tied with the Cardinals for second in MLB (behind, weirdly enough, the Tampa Bay Rays, who have attempted 46 stolen bases this year despite not being thought of as a stolen base club).

When we dive a little deeper, we see something interesting. The Rangers are second to the Cardinals in stolen bases — St. Louis has 39 — but St. Louis has far and away the most steals of second base, with 37. The Rangers have 28 successful steals of second in 36 attempts, making them one of nine teams that has between 26 and 30 successful steams of second base. The Rangers’ 36 attempted steals of second base has them sixth in the majors in attempts at second.

The Rangers have stolen third base eight times in nine attempts so far this season — the most success steals of third base in the league, and tied with Tampa Bay for the most attempts. MLB as a whole has just 75 steals in 95 attempts of third base in 2022 — the Rangers have over 10% of all the successful steals of third this year.

What makes this even more significant is that the Rangers are near the bottom of the league in stolen base opportunities — instances where there is a runner on first or second with the next base open. Texas has just 608 SBOs this year, per B-R — 28th in MLB, and well below the average of 659. The average MLB team has run on 4.8% of their stolen base opportunities in 2022. The Rangers have done so on 7.4% of their opportunities.

The Rangers have also avoided hitting into double plays this year. Now, part of that is due to the same reason they have so few stolen base opportunities — when you are 27th in the majors in OBP, you’re going to have a lot fewer baserunners, and thus fewer GIDP opportunities. Nevertheless, the Rangers have hit into a measly 22 GIDPs this year — six fewer than the next closest club, and well below the league average of 34 GIDPs. Fewer GIDPs means fewer outs on the bases, which means more runs.

In looking at extra bases taken, once again, the Rangers are among the league leaders. For MLB as a whole, baserunners have taken an extra base 43% of the time on a single or a double. Rangers baserunners have done so 50% of the team — fourth in the majors, behind the Royals, A’s and Cards.

As a result, the Rangers have been one of the most efficient teams in baseball at getting runners home — 34% of the baserunners the Rangers have had this season ahve come around to score, tied for third in the majors, and about 10% higher than the 31% league average. This is even more impressive when we take into account how underwhelming the Rangers’ hitters have been overall — its a lot more likely you will bring a baserunner home if you have a good offense, as is evidenced by the Dodgers leading baseball with a 37% rate.

When we look at the leaderboard for individual players on Fangraphs, we see that the Rangers are well represented, with Marcus Semien, Eli White and Adolis Garcia ranking 5, 6 and 13 overall in MLB. Just as important, the Rangers don’t have any terrible baserunners dragging the team down — five Rangers have negative baserunning numbers, per Fangraphs, but they are all at either -0.1 or -0.2. To put that into context, Josh Bell is already at -5.2 this season, and there are 72 players at -1.0 or worse in baserunning.

To put how good the Rangers’ baserunning has been this year in perspective, since 2012, there have only been 38 teams who have put up more than 11.5 BsR in a full season. One of them was Chris Woodward’s first Rangers team, interestingly enough enough, and another was the 2015 Rangers, whose +21.6 is the third best team baserunning figure in that span, trailing just the 2016 Padres (24.8) and the 2013 Mets (23.0). The only other team at +20 since 2012 was the 2014 Twins, and there are only ten teams, total, in that span with more than 16.0 BsR.

The Rangers are on pace to put up a +39.6 BsR this year. Since WWII, the only team that has had more than the 2016 Padres’ 24.8 figure was the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays, who were at an incredible +37.6 (and, of course, got bounced in the ALDS by Cliff Lee and the Rangers). I am not expecting the Rangers to keep up this pace all season, of course. But were they to do so, they’d have a chance of making history.