On the Astros: How has #BoBall worked so far?

Scott Halleran

New Houston manager Bo Porter wanted Houston to be better on the basepaths in spring training. How have they done through six weeks of this season?

This feature has become sort of a test for many of the concepts that cropped up in spring training. We've already looked at how the power addition has gone and how the team has executed in one-run games.

Now, we'll turn our eye to another one of Bo Porter's emphasis points this spring: aggressive baserunning. Remember when there was talk about how Houston had painted the inside of the bases and was working to make sure all the players knew how to hit each one every time? How they'd be running more, pushing teams more and hoping to force them into errors?

After one spring game, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow gave us a hashtag for the style: #BoBall.

First up, we have to decide what #BoBall is. It's not just running more, right? It wasn't that stolen bases were through the roof in the spring, it was that Porter was trying to make more aggressive use of his players in stretching doubles into triples, going first to third on balls or stretching the defense.

Houston is right about the break-even point for stolen bases this season at 72 percent efficiency. The Astros are also stealing bases at a clip of about one per game, which is slightly higher than last season, but not much. The Astros have been more successful than in 2012, yes, but they're a sight worse than they were as far back as 2011.

As much as some of you dislike advanced metrics, there is actually one which does this for us. Over at FanGraphs, there is a stat they track called Ultimate Base Running.

The concept is also simple. It's the reverse of the outfield arm component of Ultimate Zone Rating, a defensive metric that's measured by how many runs an outfielder prevents. If, say, Robbie Grossman fields a ball and keeps the runner from going first to third on the play, he's awarded credit in this category.

But, if said runner does get to third, said runner gets the credit that would have gone to the outfielder. The credit, incidentally, is in the form of runs. How many runs has Houston gained through positive base running this season through UBR?

Well, they're 23rd in the majors at -1.4 UBR so far this season. That means Houston's baserunning has actually cost them about a run and a half. Not very good, Bo.

Still, Houston has improved in this area. The Astros ranked 28th in the majors in this area last season with -8.5. In 2011, that UBR number was -4, so it's moving in the right direction.

The best Houston baserunners in UBR have been Jose Altuve, Carlos Pena, Robbie Grossman and Trevor Crowe. The worst have been Matt Dominguez, Carlos Corporan, Jason Castro and Justin Maxwell. Let's assume that JMaxx's number was a statistical anomaly, since he posted a positive number there last season, and those seven are sort of promising.

Altuve, Pena and Grossman all play regularly, so they should continue to run well. Add in a recent addition like Crowe and the baserunning off the bench should still be solid.

Luckily, we also have a visual way of seeing this, so it's not just the boring numbers we're seeing. Tim was good enough to make a gif of a play from this weekend. On Saturday, in the ninth inning of an eventual Rangers loss, Trevor Crowe stole second on a wild pitch by Joe Nathan. When the pitch got away from the Texas catcher, Crowe continued on to take third without slowing down or missing a beat.

Crowe1-3_medium

It was a nifty piece of baserunning and highlights the kind of aggressive approach Porter may be trying to get.

What is #BoBall? It's plays like Crowe made in that game last Saturday.

It's also working.

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