B/R's 2021 MLB Skill Rankings: Trea Turner and Baseball's 25 Best Baserunners

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2021

B/R's 2021 MLB Skill Rankings: Trea Turner and Baseball's 25 Best Baserunners

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The task is simple: Name the 25 best baserunners in baseball.

    However, rather than look at steals or max sprint speed, I took a more analytical approach to compile my list.

    The first step was to decide which statistics best quantify baserunning.

    After some digging and debating, I landed on these four:

    • Base Running (BsR): An all-encompassing statistic for baserunning value compiled by FanGraphs and presented in runs above or below average.
    • Stolen Base Differential (SB-CS): A player's stolen base total minus the number of times he was caught stealing.
    • Infield Hits (IFH): Total number of hits where the ball didn't leave the infield.
    • Bunt Hits (BUH): Total number of hits on bunts.

    The question was how to use those statistics to best demonstrate the difference between Player A and Player B in terms of baserunning ability.

    On the following slide, I outlined my methodology and scoring system, and I encourage you to give that a read before diving in to the article.

Methodology

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    To narrow the list of candidates for inclusion, I trimmed the field to only players who have been worth at least 0.1 BsR since the start of the 2019 season.

    The resulting 277 players were graded based on the following point system:

    • 2 points for every 0.1 in BsR value
    • 1 point for stolen base differential
    • 1 point for every infield hit
    • 1 point for every bunt hit

    The goal was to expand on the solid BsR metric by rewarding statistical production in the form of steals and speed-based hits.

    No bias. No preconceived notions. Just a set of statistical parameters and a straightforward point system.

    The full data can be found here.

Honorable Mentions

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    Fernando Tatis Jr.
    Fernando Tatis Jr.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    These 25 players fulfilled the criteria and finished in the Nos. 26-50 spots in the rankings. They are listed alphabetically:

    • Willy Adames, TB
    • Nick Ahmed, ARI
    • Ozzie Albies, ATL
    • Cavan Biggio, TOR
    • Xander Bogaerts, BOS
    • Kris Bryant, CHC
    • Adam Eaton, CWS
    • Tommy Edman, STL
    • Joey Gallo, TEX
    • Leury Garcia, CWS
    • Brett Gardner, NYY
    • Paul Goldschmidt, STL
    • Kevin Kiermaier, TB
    • Scott Kingery, PHI
    • Ramon Laureano, OAK
    • Oscar Mercado, CLE
    • Yoan Moncada, CWS
    • Max Muncy, LAD
    • Jurickson Profar, SD
    • Roman Quinn, PHI
    • Danny Santana, FA
    • Jean Segura, PHI
    • Dee Strange-Gordon, CIN
    • Fernando Tatis Jr., SD
    • Tyler Wade, NYY

Nos. 25-21

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    Victor Robles
    Victor RoblesPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    25. Niko Goodrum, Detroit Tigers (164 points)

    Metrics: 6.9 BsR, 19 SB, 4 CS, 11 IFH, 0 BUH

    Goodrum has done a little bit of everything for the Tigers since breaking through as a 26-year-old rookie in 2018. He's played all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots, and he's shown some pop with 33 home runs the past three years. He also uses his plus wheels well on the bases.

            

    24. Garrett Hampson, Colorado Rockies (165 points)

    Metrics: 6.2 BsR, 21 SB, 4 CS, 12 IFH, 12 BUH

    Ranked seventh in sprint speed (29.6 ft/sec) last year, Hampson is still trying to break through as an everyday player in Colorado. His 12 bunt hits since the start of 2019 trail only Hanser Alberto (14), and he's shown a knack for stealing bases with an 84.0 percent success rate.

            

    23. Victor Robles, Washington Nationals (166 points)

    Metrics: 5.5 BsR, 32 SB, 10 CS, 22 IFH, 12 BUH

    Robles showcases his elite speed on the basepaths and in the field where he has developed into one of the game's premier defensive center fielders. The 23-year-old stole 28 bases as a rookie in 2019, but he was also caught nine times, so he's a work in progress in terms of using his legs in the most efficient way.

          

    22. Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers (168 points)

    Metrics: 6.3 BsR, 27 SB, 8 CS, 11 IFH, 12 BUH

    The No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft, DeShields stole 101 bases between Single-A and High-A in 2012 at the age of 19. A punchless .340 career slugging percentage has limited his playing time, but his 109 career steals still rank in the top 50 among active players. His dad ranks 50th on the all-time list with 463 steals.

          

    21. Starling Marte, Miami Marlins (170 points)

    Metrics: 5.5 BsR, 35 SB, 8 CS, 26 IFH, 7 BUH

    One of the more well-rounded offensive players to earn a spot on this list, Marte has a pair of 20-homer, 20-steal seasons. His 26 infield hits are tied for 11th since the start of 2019, and he'll be a major catalyst atop a young Miami lineup in 2021 after joining the team for the stretch run last year.

Nos. 20-16

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    Tim Locastro
    Tim LocastroJeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    20. Tim Locastro, Arizona Diamondbacks (172 points)

    Metrics: 6.5 BsR, 21 SB, 0 CS, 21 IFH, 0 BUH

    How fast is Locastro? His average sprint speed led the majors in 2019 (30.8 ft/sec) and 2020 (30.7 ft/sec), and he turned a staggering 22.8 percent of ground balls during that two-year span into base hits. He's a role player, but one capable of making a significant impact in limited action.

            

    19. Billy Hamilton, Cleveland (173 points)

    Metrics: 7.0 BsR, 28 SB, 8 CS, 9 IFH, 4 BUH

    A promising long-term piece in Cincinnati when he finished runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, Hamilton never developed the on-base skills to maximize his blazing speed. The 30-year-old ranks second among active players with 305 steals, but his career .296 on-base percentage has relegated him to a bench role.

           

    18. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays (179 points)

    Metrics: 8.1 BsR, 8 SB, 0 CS, 7 IFH, 2 BUH

    Lowe is a sneaky power threat who has slugged 37 home runs in 181 career games and checked in at No. 25 in our skill ranking of baseball's best power hitters. He has also made an impact on the bases despite lacking elite speed. A fundamentally sound player who can take an extra base can be more valuable than an 80-grade player with a low baseball IQ.

           

    17. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies (183 points)

    Metrics: 7.4 BsR, 13 SB, 2 CS, 24 IFH, 0 BUH

    The gap between Realmuto and everyone else at the catcher position in baserunning value is staggering. The next highest catcher in the rankings was Seattle Mariners backstop Tom Murphy, who tied for 159th. With 13 steals and 24 infield hits the last two years, Realmuto makes a legitimate difference with his legs.

           

    15 (tie). Manuel Margot, Tampa Bay Rays (187 points)

    Metrics: 6.6 BsR, 32 SB, 8 CS, 22 IFH, 9 BUH

    Margot swung a hot bat last postseason, homering three times in the ALCS, but stellar outfield defense and top-of-the-scale speed have been his standout tools since he was a top prospect in the Boston Red Sox system. The 26-year-old is an intriguing breakout candidate in 2021.

Nos. 15-11

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    Mike Trout
    Mike TroutAlex Gallardo/Associated Press

    15 (tie). Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers (187 points)

    Metrics: 7.3 BsR, 34 SB, 4 CS, 11 IFH, 0 BUH

    After winning NL MVP honors in 2018, Yelich put together the fourth 30-30 season in Milwaukee Brewers franchise history the following year. The 29-year-old has been an efficient base stealer throughout his career, swiping 128 bags at an 83.1 percent success rate.

            

    14. Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves (189 points)

    Metrics: 8.1 BsR, 15 SB, 5 CS, 17 IFH, 0 BUH

    A polished prospect coming out of Vanderbilt when he went No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft, Swanson does all the little things well. That includes baserunning. While he has never stolen more than 10 bases in a season, he makes the most of his middling athleticism with a high baseball IQ.

            

    13. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (191 points)

    Metrics: 8.4 BsR, 12 SB, 3 CS, 14 IFH, 0 BUH

    Even though he's built like a middle linebacker, Trout tied for 24th in sprint speed (28.9 ft/sec), and he's a smart baserunner who can go first to third as well as anyone in baseball. Stolen bases are no longer a significant part of his game, but his gaudy WAR totals are still aided by his baserunning.

           

    12. Kevin Pillar, New York Mets (192 points)

    Metrics: 7.8 BsR, 19 SB, 7 CS, 22 IFH, 2 BUH

    Pillar has tallied double-digit steals in each of his five seasons as an everyday player, excluding the shortened 2020 campaign. The 32-year-old has a career .299 on-base percentage—a big reason why he had to settle for a bench role with the Mets as a free agent this winter—but he can impact the game in a number of ways.

           

    11. Jon Berti, Miami Marlins (211 points)

    Metrics: 8.7 BsR, 26 SB, 5 CS, 15 IFH, 1 BUH

    A 29-year-old rookie in 2019 who joined the Marlins as a minor league free agent, Berti hit .273/.348/.406 with 17 steals in 20 attempts while playing five different positions. He drew 23 walks in 149 plate appearances last year and swiped another nine bases in 11 tries. Look for him to continue to turn walks into doubles for a Marlins team on the rise.

10. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland (216 Points)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Metrics: 8.6 BsR, 34 SB, 7 CS, 16 IFH, 1 BUH

    In eight MLB seasons, Jose Ramirez has tallied an identical number of home runs and steals with 127 of each, and he's stolen those bases at an 80.4 percent success rate.

    He has a .366 on-base percentage since the 2016 season, giving him ample opportunities to make the most of his baserunning ability. He's averaged 104 runs scored per 162 games during that stretch.

    The 28-year-old is not a traditional speedster, but add baserunning to the long list of things he does well.

9. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers (218 Points)

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Metrics: 8.9 BsR, 26 SB, 5 CS, 19 IFH, 0 BUH

    I've called Mookie Betts the most complete player in baseball on multiple occasions, and this reinforces that idea.

    Aside from having a batting title and a pair of 30-homer seasons, he can shake things up with his speed on the bases.

    After swiping 10 bases in 12 attempts during the regular season last year, he went a perfect 6-of-6 during the postseason, including four steals in the World Series. What would this list be if the guy who won America a free taco from Taco Bell didn't have a spot?

T-7. Mallex Smith, New York Mets (243 Points)

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Metrics: 9.1 BsR, 48 SB, 9 CS, 20 IFH, 2 BUH

    Mallex Smith led the majors with 46 steals in 2019 for his second straight 40-steal campaign. While he was caught 21 times in those two seasons, he still finished with a strong 80.4 percent success rate.

    The 27-year-old was exposed offensively in 2019, hitting .227/.300/.335 for a 73 OPS+ in 566 plate appearances while leading all qualified hitters with a 25.0 percent soft-contact rate.

    He'll have to play his way onto the New York Mets roster this spring after signing a minor league deal, but he could still be a weapon in a pinch-running role.

T-7. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies (243 Points)

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    Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    Metrics: 9.9 BsR, 38 SB, 11 CS, 17 IFH, 1 BUH

    Trevor Story turned in consecutive 30-homer, 20-steal seasons in 2018 and 2019 before leading the NL with 15 steals in 18 attempts last year.

    The 28-year-old is one of the most well-rounded players in the game, and if he weren't toiling away in Denver, he would likely receive far more national attention.

    He tied for 24th in sprint speed (28.9 ft/sec) last season, and he'll set his sights on the first 30-30 season of his career during a contract year.

6. Kolten Wong, Milwaukee Brewers (244 Points)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Metrics: 9.4 BsR, 29 SB, 6 CS, 21 IFH, 12 BUH

    Kolten Wong is best known for his stellar defense at second base, and that was likely the driving force behind his two-year, $18 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in free agency.

    That said, he's also a dynamic baserunner, and he hit primarily out of the leadoff spot for the St. Louis Cardinals last year.

    He stole 24 bases in 28 attempts in 2019, and he can also bust it out of the batter's box, as evidenced by his 21 infield hits and 12 bunt hits over the past two seasons.

5. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (248 Points)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Metrics: 9.0 BsR, 47 SB, 9 CS, 29 IFH, 1 BUH

    Baseball Savant has a statistic called a "bolt," which is defined as any run in which a player eclipses a 30-feet-per-second sprint speed on the bases.

    Here's a look at the bolt leaders since the start of 2019:

    • Trea Turner: 180
    • Adalberto Mondesi: 94
    • Tim Locastro: 88
    • Garrett Hampson: 76
    • Byron Buxton: 71

    There are only a few players in the game with 80-grade speed. Turner is one of them—and he takes full advantage of it.

4. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves (261 Points)

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Metrics: 10.3 BsR, 45 SB, 10 CS, 20 IFH, 0 BUH

    Will Ronald Acuna Jr. be baseball's next 40-40 player?

    The 23-year-old came close in 2019 when he launched 41 home runs and led the NL with 37 steals in 46 attempts. A significant uptick in his walk rate from 10.6 in 2019 to 18.8 percent last year should give him even more opportunities to wreak havoc on the bases.

    Acuna is one of only four players to appear on both this list and the best power hitter list in our skill ranking series, joining Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Brandon Lowe.

3. Jarrod Dyson, Free Agent (264 Points)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Metrics: 10.6 BsR, 36 SB, 4 CS, 13 IFH, 7 BUH

    Jarrod Dyson has made a career out of stealing bases and playing good outfield defense.

    He was an integral part of the Kansas City Royals teams that reached back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015, and he made a career-high 452 plate appearances in 2019 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    The 36-year-old is still looking for work this offseason, and he's slowed a bit with a 26.9-feet-per-second sprint speed last year that checked in below the league average for center fielders. That didn't stop him from going a perfect six-for-six on stolen base attempts, and his baserunning savvy will allow him to continue on as a useful bench piece if he finds a team.

2. Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals (280 Points)

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Metrics: 10.2 BsR, 67 SB, 15 CS, 17 IFH, 7 BUH

    The development of his on-base skills will determine if Adalberto Mondesi is a future star or the next Billy Hamilton.

    His 80-grade speed and tools are obvious, but a career .284 on-base percentage and 4.3 percent walk rate accompanied by a 29.7 percent strikeout rate simply won't cut it.

    As long as he's an everyday player, Mondesi will be among the front-runners to lead the American League in steals and a steady source of baserunning value, but he needs to refine his game to avoid being relegated to a bench role in a few years.

1. Jonathan Villar, New York Mets (290 Points)

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Metrics: 11.1 BsR, 56 SB, 14 CS, 22 IFH, 4 BUH

    The Francisco Lindor blockbuster trade and several other moves have hogged the headlines, but the New York Mets have quietly assembled a dangerous bench.

    Along with the No. 1 player on this list in Jonathan Villar, they also added Mallex Smith (tied for No. 7) and Kevin Pillar (No. 12). They should boost a team that finished tied for 22nd with 20 steals a year ago.

    One of the most aggressive baserunners in the game, Villar has a stolen base success rate of 78.7 percent for his career. That figure has ticked up to 80.0 percent over the past two seasons (and was 87.5 percent in 2018), and he'll likely have the green light in 2021.

               

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.