We all know that the calling card of the Yankees is their power output. This team, as it’s currently constructed, is built to win games by hitting multiple homeruns in order to beat their opponents into submission. It is because of their power reputation that the base running facet of their offense is often overlooked. It’s hard to prove the team is full of speedsters but they accomplish this feat through a combination of base running fundamentals and good coaching. Let’s take a look at the data and make the case.
The basic statistics that most people look at when evaluating base running are stolen bases and caught stealing. If a team is near the top of the leaderboards in stolen bases and stolen base percentage, it would be safe to assume they are among the elite in overall base running. Where do the Yankees rank in those categories for 2020?
They ranked right in the middle for total stolen bases (for reference, the top team in the league was the San Diego Padres with 55 stolen bases). The top team in the league more than doubled the Yankees totals in stolen bases. Their caught stealing and stolen base percentage ranks were much better at 5th and 8th place respectively. When it comes to opportunity, they fall right back to the middle of the pack by ranking 15th in stolen base opportunities.
These stats tell us what we already knew from watching Yankee games. The don’t steal often but when they do they are usually successful. That could be a result of excellent coaching or superb base running instincts by the players or combination of both. No matter what the case, the Yankees are nothing if not efficient when it comes to stealing bases.
Taking the extra base
Base running isn’t just about stealing bases. If you want to give your team the best chance to score a run, you need to be able to advance station to station without collecting hits. In one way the Yankees were pretty average at doing it and in another way they were pretty great and doing it.
Their extra base taken percentage was right at league average (42%) and ranked them 16th in baseball. Nothing special there but in a smaller aspect of advancing on the bases, they really excelled.
For bases taken, the Yankees ranked first in all of baseball. That stat is a little misleading because it accounts for balks, wild pitches, and passed balls. All of those statistics have nothing to do with a runner’s skillset (except for the intangible idea of a baserunner “getting into the head” of the pitcher). It also accounts for advancing on fly balls which are definitely a positive action when trying to get a run into score. Still, the best way to score a runner is with power and that shows in the statistic that tracks how many runners score when a double is hit (1STDH on Baseball Reference). The Yankees ranked 2nd behind the Atlanta Braves with 20 instances where a double is hit and at least one run scores. That could be from first base to home or second to home but the it still says the team frequently hit balls that allowed their runners to advance more than one base in order to score.
Do they make outs on base?
Taking an extra base on a fly ball or stealing a bag is great way to set yourself up for a big inning. This doesn’t come without risk however. You can just as easily run yourself out of an inning if you get too greedy or reckless on the base paths. This is something the Yankees rarely did. They ranked 5th in all of baseball in making outs on the base paths. More specifically they only made seven total outs advancing to second or third base. When it came to “Do or Die Time”, they were only thrown out at home twice all season. Keep in mind, 2020 was only 60 games long but if you multiply the numbers by about 2.5x the totals are still pretty low for outs made on base.
In conclusion and depending on which statistic you choose to measure base running, the Yankees are either average or slightly above average on the base paths. A better way of phrasing it would be to say that the Yankees are not going to blow you away with stolen base numbers but they take extra bases often enough and will rarely make an out on the bases. In reality, this strategy has everything to do with their power numbers because you can’t run yourself into outs and take a solo homerun when you could have had a two or three run homerun. Suffice it to say, the Yankees are definitely now a station to station, slow team.