On Tuesday, we went over the five best defensive players of the past decade. Today, we will focus on the best base runners of the 2010’s. Base running is, sadly, a vanishing art. Stolen base attempts have fallen leaguewide for five consecutive seasons, each registering as the fewest attempts since the league expanded to 30 teams in 1998. This decade peaked with 4,540 attempts in 2011 but saw only 3,112 this past season. These five players stuck out for their anachronous base running prowess.
5. OF Mike Trout, Angels
Trout ended the 2019 season with exactly 200 career stolen bases. Since his rookie year in 2011, only 10 other players have racked up 200-plus swipes: Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Rajai Davis, José Altuve, Jarrod Dyson, Starling Marte, Elvis Andrus, Ben Revere, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jonathan Villar. Trout has also done it incredibly efficiently, going 200-for-236 for a lusty 84.7 percent success rate. Among the aforementioned 11 players, only Dyson had a better success rate (84.9%). Trout was three percent more efficient than the next-best player, Ellsbury (81.5%). It’s not all about the stolen bases, though. According to Baseball Reference, Trout has added 34 runs above average with his legs, more than four times better than his fielding runs above average (eight). From 2015-19, the years for which we have Statcast data, Trout has the 11th-best sprint speed for players with at least 500 “competitive runs” at 29.3 ft/sec. He ranks ahead of the likes of Davis, Gordon, and Starling Marte. The league average is 27 ft/sec. Trout, who is an eight-time All-Star and three-time MVP, truly does it all. He may be the most complete player we have ever seen.
4. OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Betts, like Trout, does it all. Along with being one of the best hitters and best fielders in the game, Betts has consistently ranked among the best and most efficient base runners. He’s 126-for-151 (83.4%) in his career stealing bases, peaking with a 30-for-36 performance in 2018 when he took home the AL MVP Award. FanGraphs ranks him eighth in base running runs above average at 42.8. Betts’ legs also helped him rack up extra-base hits. He had four seasons with at least 45 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases. Since 2010, the only players with more seasons are Starling Marte (six), Trout, Ian Desmond, Altuve, and José Reyes (five each). Other players tied with him at four are Brett Gardner, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos González.
3. OF Brett Gardner, Yankees
Gardner created the most runs with his legs in the 2010’s (62.3), per FanGraphs. He was a full two runs ahead of Hamilton, even. A very rough translation is 10 runs equals one win above replacement, so Gardner added more than six wins with just his legs over the past decade. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up. While Gardner had a couple of explosive years on the bases, swiping 47 bags in 2010 and a league-high 49 the next year, he was mostly just consistent and efficient.
2. SS Trea Turner, Nationals
Turner played for only half the decade (and he dealt with injuries, missing even more time), but he is among the very best runners to have played this decade. FanGraphs ranks him 28th among players since 2010 with 28.2 runs above average from base running. To get where he might have ranked over a full decade, if we double that to 56.4, he would have trailed only Gardner, Hamilton, and Trout. Turner is 159-for-189 (84.1%) swiping bags over his brief career, outstanding efficiency. He’s the fastest runner per Statcast, though he moves down the list as our sample size shrinks. Tim Locastro (30.7 ft/sec. in 106 completive runs), Byron Buxton (30.6; 432), and Magneuris Sierra (30.3; 120) rank ahead of Turner (30.3; 821). He’s only 26, so he still has plenty of prime base running years ahead of him to really ramp up his totals. If Turner can stay healthy, by the end of the 2020’s, he has the chance to be one of the best base runners of all time.
1. OF Billy Hamilton, Reds/Royals/Braves
Hamilton, who debuted in 2013, hasn’t been much with the bat, registering a .297 on-base percentage and .326 slugging percentage across more than 3,000 career plate appearances. When he has gotten on base, though, he has been a nuisance. The speedster stole at least 56 bases in four consecutive seasons from 2014-17 with the Reds. Overall, he has stolen 299 bases and been caught 69 times for an 81.25 percent success rate. According to FanGraphs, he has added the second-most value with his base running among all players dating back to 2010 – and remember, he didn’t debut until 2013 and didn’t play regularly until ’14. Humorously, Hamilton is one of 19 players since the year 2000 with at least 3,000 plate appearances and more triples than home runs. Hamilton has 36 triples and 21 homers. As for his measured speed, among players with at least 500 “competitive runs,” Hamilton is third at 30.0 ft/sec. behind Turner and Delino DeShields. They’re the only players to have averaged 30+ ft/sec.
Honorable Mention: Jarrod Dyson, Rajai Davis, Elvis Andrus, Dee Gordon, Jacoby Ellsbury, José Altuve.