The Cardinals have historically struggled on the base-paths, can Fowler right the ship?
It’s true that the Cardinals finished the season 17.5 games back of the Cubs from the division lead, but it is also true that they were only a game away from making the playoffs. There’s no telling what happens once the Cardinals make it to the playoffs, so we’re left to look at the smallest details that may have cost the Cardinals that one game. According to fangraphs, the Cardinals lost 19.6 runs below average on the base-paths alone, and it’s pretty easy to believe that a couple of those runs could have saved some wins.
How bad is it?
It’s difficult to quantify baserunning outside of caught stealing, but advanced statistics did not like the Cardinals at all. They had a dreadful 58% stolen base percentage (league average of 71%) and they made 61 outs on the base paths (league average 55). The Cardinals were below league average in extra base taken percentage, which is when a player takes an extra base on a single or two extra bases on a double. Despite an OBP barely above league average, the Cardinals were top 5 in outs made at 3rd and home, the two worst places to make an out on the base-paths. Also, the Cardinals lost 8 runs last season due to bad baserunning, good for bottom five in the league. Only Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Brandon Moss have added runs due to their baserunning and Wong has the lead with 2 runs added.
Baserunning is not exactly the sexiest aspects of offense. That doesn’t change the fact that it is very important and the Cardinals are not very good at it. Not only did they perform poorly among all of those statistics, but baserunning outs are demoralizing for a team, so there’s no telling what other impact these mishaps had. There is no doubt that a few baserunning mistakes cost the Cardinals more than one win this year, and Mozeliak knows this. That’s why when he addressed outfield needs this offseason, he was specifically looking for speed and defense.
How is Dexter Fowler’s baserunning?
Baserunning is often more dependent on the manager’s play style rather than the player himself. However, if you’re an exceptional runner, you’ll be good on the base-paths no matter which team you play for. Fowler has consistently posted positive baserunning numbers on all three of his teams. In fact, his best year was last year with the Cubs where he saved 6.2 runs above average on the base-paths, better than the top three Cardinals combined.
Baserunning is an especially potent weapon for Fowler because he excels at getting on base. His .393 on base percentage was 6th highest in the majors, and he took the 8th most walks out of any player. Fowler isn’t exactly a burner, but he’s quick enough to keep pitcher’s on their heels and he makes good decisions. He stole 13 bases this year and was caught only 4 times, good for 76%. He also excels at taking the extra base when he needs to, which he did 63% of the time last year.
Can Fowler answer the Cardinals baserunning problems?
Fowler will make the Cardinals better offensively, defensively, with base running, and in the clubhouse. I'm pumped. Welcome to St. Louis.
— Total Cardinals Move (@Total_CardsMove) December 9, 2016
Like baserunning, the answer is complicated. There’s been a precedent set for this before, and that was the 2015 season with Jason Heyward. Heyward is an exceptional baserunner, and he’s also the only Cardinals player to steal more than 20 bases in the Matheny era. That year, the Cardinals finished with a SB% of 64 and .8 runs saved above average. On the surface, it seems like Heyward improved their baserunning by a substantial amount, but there are hidden variables to be found here. Jhonny Peralta got a significant amount of playing time in 2015, and he contributed 6.6 runs below average on the base-paths. Peralta barely played last year, yet the Cardinals were still able to lose 19.6 runs on the base paths. This does not bode well for their 2017 season, where Peralta is likely to have an increased role.
Ultimately, I expect the Cardinals baserunning issues to continue. Fowler is a good baserunner, but he’s also just one guy. As Joe said in the Trumbo article, signing one player isn’t going to save the defense, and it’s also not going to save the baserunning. That doesn’t mean Fowler is useless when he gets on. Fowler by himself will definitely improve the amount of runs the Cardinals can get from the base-paths, and with him on board, the Cardinals could definitely squeeze out an extra couple of wins with his legs. The overall statistics probably won’t improve, but Fowler will reduce the number of times Cardinals fans facepalm and wonder “what was he doing there?”
Photo Credit- Tommy Gilligan USA Today