The Tigers are a top base-running team



This is not a headline from The Onion. The Tigers are currently tied for fourth place among all MLB teams in Baserunning Runs, as measured by Fangraphs. This is after being ranked 30th in 2017, 28th in 2016, 30th again in 2015, and oh geez look now you made Mom cry right before Mother's Day. So how are they pulling this off?

Baserunning Runs is a total measurement of run expectancy in three areas: baserunning in general (taking the extra base, going first-to-third on a single, advancing on a sac fly, etc.), stolen bases in particular, and grounding into double plays. Every time a player gets on base, or advances to the next base, the run expectancy for that inning goes up, just as it goes down every time a player gets thrown out on the basepaths and adds an out while removing a scoring opportunity.

The Tigers posted negative numbers in all three categories every single year from 2015 through 2017 (they posted negatives in every category except stolen bases in 2014, when they were exactly league average in that category).

In graph form, it looks like this:




What this image tells us is that the category of general baserunning ("Ultimate Base Running" or "UBR" as Fangraphs calls it) has been the bane of the Tigers' existence (and maybe yours as well) for several years. They've not been good at taking the extra base, advancing on the sacrifice fly, scoring from second, and so on.

This image also tells us that you were not hallucinating all these years (except for you, Nigel, you need to lay off the acid), the Tigers actually have been, in fact, really bad at staying out of double plays.

But in 2018, things are on the upswing, and that has a lot to do with Ron Gardenhire preaching a message of aggressiveness on the basepaths. It's been very noticeable already, even early in the season. Tigers runners are going for that extra base, getting a little gutsy, doing what they can to advance -- JaCoby Jones was just thrown out in game against Tampa Bay last week, trying to tag up and advance to second on a John Hicks fly out.

Yeah, I know, that was probably a little too aggressive, but you take the good with the bad. And the overall result, by the numbers, has been good.

That aggressive attitude on the bases is also fueling those improved double play numbers. Keep an eye out for it next time you're watching a game: with a runner on first and less than two outs, that runner is very likely to be in motion when the batter makes contact. It makes turning that double play just a little harder, and for the first time in three years, the Tigers are posting above-average run expectancy numbers in a category that has typically frustrated all of us.

In a season where there won't always be a lot of things to cheer about, this improvement is worth celebrating. We as fans have complained for years about how bad the team baserunning has been. Now the Tigers are a Top Five MLB Team on the bases in the early going.

Cheers, kids.
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