On The Basepaths: Assessing The Houston Astros Base Running


The Houston Astros are 32 games into the 2015 season and they are doing what many people expected. They are hitting lots of home runs and they are striking out a lot. One area that analysts did not talk about before the season was Houston’s base running abilities.

When it comes to swiping bags, the Houston Astros have been a bit of a revelation. They do have some speed – specifically from Jose Altuve, Jake Marisnick and George Springer. Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar have some wheels, too, though they don’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase it since they are primarily backups. These guys are a great compliment to the power hitters that fill the rest of the Astros’ lineup, and Springer is one of the few players that has both power and speed.

So, about those steals. The Astros lead the American League in stolen bases with 36, and are second overall in Major League Baseball behind the Cincinnati Reds who have 39. The next closest AL team is the Detroit Tigers with 29. Among the clubs who have stolen 20 or more bases, Houston ranks fifth in stolen base percentage at 80% (9 caught stealing).

Who leads the team in steals? The guys who were mentioned above:

  1. Altuve – 11 (4 CS)
  2. Springer – 10 (1 CS)
  3. Marisnick – 9 (2 CS)
  4. Villar – 3

This spread is much different than in 2014, when Altuve lead the team with 56 stolen bases, Villar had 17, Dexter Fowler had 11, and Robbie Grossman had 9. The 2014 club finished second in the AL with 122 SB, and they were fourth overall. As you can see, Altuve accounted for nearly half of the team total, whereas in 2015, three guys are sharing the workload.

If the team keeps up this pace, they’ll finish with 182 stolen bases, far surpassing anyone’s expectations. Altuve is on pace to match 2014, with about 56; Marisnick is on pace for 45; and Springer, if he only misses seven games, could get around 57.

But there’s more to the Houston Astros’ base running than just steals. According to the FanGraphs Ultimate Base Running (UBR) stat, Houston ranks second in the AL and sixth in MLB with a rating of 2.2. Comparatively, in 2014 the team had a -1.5 rating which was 17th overall. UBR measures the “value a player adds to their team via base running…which is determined using linear weights, with each individual base running event receiving a specific run value.”

Since you’re probably wondering who leads the team in UBR, here goes (you might be surprised):

  1. Colby Rasmus – 0.9
  2. Springer – 0.5
  3. Luis Valbuena – 0.3

Clearly the Houston Astros are a much improved team overall on the base paths. Not only are they stealing more bags, but they are performing better terms of smart base running. These are two more factors in the early success of this club, proving that there is more than just home runs and strikeouts to this year’s Houston Astros.

Next: The Astros' Chris Carter Conundrum

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