In writing about the Cleveland Indians for a piece on their improved offense, I was surprised to learn they rank second in the majors in FanGraphs' baserunning runs above average, a metric that evaluates how many runs a team has gained above or below league average via its baserunning skills (which incorporates not just stolen bases and caught stealings, but things like how often you take the extra base and outs on the bases).
The spread from the No. 1 team to the No. 30 team is 38 runs, or nearly four wins of value. It can be a big deal. Let's take a closer look at the best and worst teams.
1. San Diego Padres (+21.6 runs)
Key stats: The Padres are third in the majors in steals with an excellent 78 percent rate and lead the majors in taking the extra base 51 percent of the time (the MLB average is 40 percent).
Key contributors: Wil Myers (+6.5 runs), Travis Jankowski (+4.1 runs), Melvin Upton Jr. (+3.8 runs). Jankowski is one of the fastest players in the majors, but Myers has been the big revelation here with 21 steals (and just four caught stealings) while taking the extra base 64 percent of the time compared to a career rate of 50 percent entering the season. Kudos to Andy Green for pushing aggressiveness with the right guys.
2. Cleveland Indians (+15.8 runs)
Key stats: The Indians lead the AL with 97 steals (14 more than the Astros) while leading the majors in success rate. They're second to the Padres in taking the extra base 47 percent of the time.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (+12.5 runs)
Key stats: Fifth in steals, 43 percent extra-base rate, only nine games thrown out at home (MLB average is 13, Brewers lead with 21).
4. Washington Nationals (+10.6 runs)
Key stats: Tied for fourth in percentage of extra bases taken (44 percent) and fifth in bases taken on things like wild pitches, passed balls and fly balls. A big improvement from last year, when the Nationals ranked 22nd in the majors at -2.1 runs.
Key contributors: Danny Espinosa (+4.8 runs), Anthony Rendon (+2.6), Daniel Murphy (+2.4). Murphy is the surprise, but he's scored from second on a single eight out of 11 opportunities and from first on a double seven out of 10 times. They rank high even though Wilson Ramos (-5.0 runs) is one of the slowest runners in the game and Bryce Harper is tied for second in the majors with 11 outs on the bases (not including caught stealing).
5. Boston Red Sox (+10.5 runs)
Key stats: 65 for 81 (80 percent) in steals, take the extra base 43 percent of the time. Some of this is a matter of opportunity, as the Red Sox have had the most baserunners of any team.
26. St. Louis Cardinals (-11.5 runs)
Key stats: Just 27 steals with 18 caught stealing, 17 outs at home, 38 percent extra-base rate.
27. Detroit Tigers (-11.6 runs)
Key stats: They're 49 for 68 in steals (an acceptable 73 percent), but take the extra base just 33 percent of the time, worst in the majors. They're actually improved from last year, when they ranked last in the majors at -27.3 runs.
Key contributors: Victor Martinez (-7.5 runs), Miguel Cabrera (-7.2), J.D. Martinez (-3.6). Martinez and Cabrera are rated as the two worst baserunners in the league in value added (or in their case, value lost since they rarely take the extra base).
28. Los Angeles Angels (-14.4 runs)
Key stats: Second-most outs on the bases (51) behind the Rangers, poor 64 percent stolen base rate.
29. Seattle Mariners (-16.9 runs)
Key stats: Just 34 steals with the worst success rate (58 percent), take the extra base just 37 percent of the time. Scott Servais had vowed to improve the team's baserunning (they were 29th last year), but you can't teach speed.
30. Oakland Athletics (-17.0 runs)
Key stats: Take the extra base just 38 percent of the time, near the bottom in bases taken on wild pitches, passed balls and fly balls.
Key contributors: Billy Butler (-5.2 runs), Jed Lowrie (-4.2), Yonder Alonso (-2.3). Butler is probably the worst non-catcher baserunner in the majors. His career rate of taking the extra base is just 20 percent (he's actually at 22 percent this year after an 11 percent mark in 2014-15).