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Chase Utley: Best Baserunner in MLB

October 12, 2011

One of the signature moments of this year's postseason so far was that incredible play during Game 4 of the Phillies-Cardinals divisional series in which Albert Pujols threw out Chase Utley as Utley tried to go first-to-third on a groundball to shortstop.  Despite being thrown out, you cannot fault Utley for trying to take the extra base on that play.  That was a great baserunning play.  Utley knew exactly what he was doing, and had the play pegged perfectly.  In any typical situation where the first baseman waits to receive the ball to get the out at first, Utley would have been safe at third.  Pujols had to make a truly great defensive play to get Utley out, making the split-second decision to pass up the sure out at first base to come off the bag, cut off the throw from the shortstop, and make a perfect throw to third base.

It is quite impressive that Pujols was able to make that play at all.  However, it becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that, according to the metric Baserunning Gain (which can be found in The Bill James Handbook 2012), Utley has been the best baserunner in baseball over the last three years.

Baserunning Gain is a measure of how often a player advances the extra base, or is thrown out trying to do so, as compared with what would have been expected based on league averages.  The top ten baserunners by this metric over the last three years combined are shown below.

Player
Baserunning Gain (3-Year)
Chase Utley
+77
Elvis Andrus
+76
Shane Victorino
+64
Ben Zobrist
+57
Ian Kinsler
+51
Michael Bourn
+50
Ryan Braun
+50
Brett Gardner
+48
Drew Stubbs
+47
Juan Pierre
+45


As great as Utley has been, Elvis Andrus is close on his heels.  After a shaky rookie season in 2009, Andrus has improved his baserunning tremendously, and may soon be able to lay claim to the title of best baserunner in the game.

More detailed baserunning information for the 2011 season will be available in the forthcoming Bill James Handbook 2012, available in stores on November 1, 2011.  You can pre-order a copy of the book by clicking here.

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