The Indians keep winning, and it’s because of their baserunning

Everyone slept on the Tribe. Now they’re six wins away from a title 68 years in the making. And it’s all due to the little things.

The Cleveland Indians’ 2016 postseason run is baffling.

Five games, five wins, three of them by one run. No Carlos Carrasco, no Danny Salazar, no Michael Brantley — no problem. With manager Terry Francona pulling all the right strings, the Tribe haven’t faced a deficit in their last 43 innings.

A large portion of this success is attributed to Francona’s unconventional bullpen use, which has been documented ad nauseam by many (including this outlet). His quick leash combined with a proactive understanding of high-leverage situations has led Cleveland to a 1.60 team ERA and a perfect record.

Francona isn’t just a great in-game manager, either. Under his guidance, Cleveland has been one of the most fundamentally sound squads in baseball all year, particularly on the basepaths.

Perhaps this was no more evident than in the third inning of Game 2 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays. Knotted at one apiece after a Josh Donaldson double scored Darwin Barney the previous half-inning, Roberto Perez opened the Indians’ frame with a walk surrendered by unlikely 20-game winner J.A. Happ. Rajai Davis followed and grounded a ball weakly to short. Toronto got the force out at second, but Davis hustled and beat the throw to first.

Davis, the AL’s leading base stealer during the regular season (43), immediately garnered a pickoff throw from Happ. He took a larger-than-normal lead once again and took off on Happ’s very next delivery. Russell Martin‘s throw had no chance, and all of a sudden Cleveland had a man in scoring position with one out.

Davis wasn’t finished, though. Two pitches later, Happ threw a breaking ball in the dirt and it skipped up on Martin and fell a few feet away onto the grass. After hesitating slightly, Davis sprinted to third. He slid in feet-first, and despite a perfect recovery throw from Martin, beat Donaldson’s tag.

Three pitches, two bases and the ball hadn’t even left the infield.

Jason Kipnis became the second out of the inning. But it didn’t matter. Francisco Lindor came to the plate and promptly whacked a go-ahead single right back up the middle. Davis’ run would prove to be the difference, as the now-patented combination of Josh Tomlin, Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen held onto the 2-1 lead the rest of the way.

Speed kills. But so does intelligence on the basepaths. And Cleveland has showcased both in 2016.

As TBS continues to reiterate, no team steals third base more often or more effectively than the Tribe. On the season, Davis led the league with 13, while Jose Ramirez finished third with nine. Combined, Davis and Ramirez were only caught four times in 26 attempted steals of third.

Player Name Stolen Base Percentage Steals of 2nd Base Caught Stealing 2nd Base Steals of 3rd Base Caught Stealing 3rd Base
Rajai Davis 88% 30 4 13 2
Jose Ramirez 76% 13 5 9 2
Francisco Lindor 79% 16 3 2 2
Abraham Almonte 100% 7 0 1 0
Brandon Guyer 50% 0 1 1 0
Jason Kipnis 83% 14 3 1 0
Mike Napoli 83% 4 1 1 0
League Average 72%
Team Total 81% 104 25 29 6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/16/2016.

Generally speaking, the Indians led the AL in stolen base percentage. The feat is due in large part, not to the team’s speedsters, but to players like Mike Napoli, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana, all of whom swiped five bases or more this season. Baserunning is a team effort, dependent on good scouting of the opposing pitcher, as well as a keen understanding of which counts are most conducive to running. Credit third base coach Mike Sarbaugh and first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. for studying up and executing a gameplan day in and day out.

There’s only so much planning a player can do on the basepaths. When the ball is put in play, the success or failure of a potential outcome often boils down to instinct. This is when the Tribe shine.

No team in the AL took more bases on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches or defensive indifference than Cleveland. And no AL squad was more efficient in those situations, either.

Tm Run Scoring Percentage
Percentage of times a baserunner eventually scores a run.
Bases Taken
Bases advanced on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, defensive indifference.
Extra Bases Taken Percentage
Percentage of times the runner advanced more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double, when possible.
Does not take into account the location or type of the ball in play.
SDP 32% 131 50%
CLE 32% 186 45%
COL 34% 170 44%
CHC 31% 184 43%
WSN 31% 164 43%
   30% 4470 40%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/16/2016.

Paced by Jose Ramirez, the Tribe are opportunistic on the basepaths. In a small-ball sense, they manufacture runs by taking advantage of the little mistakes: booted balls in the outfield, sub-par arms and mental miscues on the diamond. Those unofficial errors add up over 162 games. And the Indians have capitalized as often as possible.

Player Name Run Scoring Percentage Bases Taken Extra Bases Taken Percentage
Jose Ramirez 34% 18 60%
Rajai Davis 45% 22 58%
Lonnie Chisenhall 27% 10 52%
Abraham Almonte 41% 7 50%
Coco Crisp 39% 2 50%
Brandon Guyer 25% 6 50%
Francisco Lindor 37% 13 49%
Tyler Naquin 31% 9 49%
Yan Gomes 30% 5 41%
League Average 30% 40%
Carlos Santana 25% 29 39%
Jason Kipnis 32% 23 38%
Mike Napoli 32% 23 33%
Team Total 32% 186 45%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/16/2016.

Savvy baserunning helped Cleveland post 4.8 runs per game during the regular season. As shown above, it’s already added tallies to the scoreboard in the playoffs, too.

Maybe it’s time to heap even more credit onto the Royals, after all. Ned Yost and his bunch might be sitting on the couch this October, but their unique formula (plus fielding + aggressive baserunning + dominant bullpen = wins) is still trending on the biggest stage.

The Tribe now head north, looking to clinch their first World Series berth since 1997. Their scuffling offense has been masked thus far by masterful pitching and timely long balls. But as long as they keep executing the little things, a date with destiny lies on the horizon.

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