Pittsburgh Pirates: Will They Improve on the Basepaths in 2012?

Tim MorelandContributor IIApril 2, 2012

Chase D'Arnaud constantly hustles around the bases
Chase D'Arnaud constantly hustles around the basesJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

Over the past four seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been one of the worst baserunning teams in the majors.  Foregone opportunities have cost the team a couple of wins per year: not enough to blame for the losing records, but enough to cause concern.     

Best and Worst Pirates Baserunners in 2011

Before doling out the blame, some players deserve mention for going above and beyond on the basepaths last season. 

  1. Chase D’Arnaud – What D’Arnaud lacked in offense, he tried to make up for with pure hustle.  One team-leading stat sums up the value of having D’Arnaud on the basepaths last season: he scored 47 percent of the time he was on base, compared to the league average of 29 percent.  This was made possible by D’Arnaud’s insistence on taking the extra base more often than not, and succeeding every time.  Despite his aggressiveness, D’Arnaud was smart, getting caught only twice on 14 steal attempts.
  2. Jose Tabata – Tabata’s baserunning value came less on steals, which was right at the break-even success rate of 70 percent, and more on his ability to snag an extra base on hits and fly outs.  He went first to third and second to home on numerous occasions throughout 2011.
  3. Honorable Mentions: Ronny Cedeno, Neil Walker and Alex Presley – Other than Presley, these guys are not base-stealers.  Still, they provided value with smart baserunning, always knowing when to advance and when to hold.

As hinted at earlier, the Pirates’ baserunning last season was awful.  The five guys above are off the hook, but these five should hang their heads in shame.

  1. Andrew McCutchen – Last year was an anomaly for McCutchen.  A great baserunner in his first two seasons, the young stud was poor in 2011.  This was most visible in his stolen base numbers: 10 fewer stolen bases than in 2010, while still getting caught the same number of times.  He also scored less-frequently from first base on doubles.  It is unlikely that McCutchen has lost a step, so his baserunning value should rebound considerably in 2012.
  2. Ryan Doumit – 2011 was a tremendous year for Doumit at the plate, but he clogged the bases more than normal.  Since taking the extra base at a rate of 47 percent in 2008, Doumit has become less aggressive each year.  In 2011, Doumit took the extra base only 11 percent of the time.  For a team like the Pirates that lacks power, it can be difficult to score runners that advance the minimum number of bases at a time.
  3. Dishonorable Mentions: Pedro Alvarez, Derrek Lee and Lyle Overbay – These guys were all base-cloggers that got on base enough to make that hurt.

2012 Prediction: A Big Improvement in Pittsburgh

After several years of disappointment, 2012 projects to bring Pittsburgh back to league average at baserunning. 

McCutchen will prove last year was a fluke.  Jose Tabata and the middle infielders will provide above-average value.  The addition of Nate McLouth provides the Pirates with a quick fourth outfielder. 

As well, Pittsburgh will experience some addition by subtraction: the losses of Derrek Lee and Ryan Doumit purge the team of their worst baserunners.  For the first time in four years, baserunning will not be a liability for the Buccos.