The baserunning question of the past week — Who is the best baserunner on the Twins — sounds like an opinion question. But there is now a factual answer, or at least an answer based on facts gleaned from play-by-play records of the games.
And the answer is not who you think he is, dear readers.
The 20 people who responded converged on two of the five choices offers. Eight apiece picked Joe Mauer or Denard Span — 40 percent for both. Three (15 percent) selected Alexi Casilla; one (5 percent) said Nick Punto (above). Carlos Gomez, traded during the week, got skunked.
But according to Baseball Info Systems, as published in the freshly-released Bill James Handbook 2010, it's Punto. Narrowly over Span, by a lot over Mauer.
Baserunning data traditionally have been limited to stolen bases and "implied" stats, such as triples and runs scored. The BIS analysis, in addition to stolen base rates, tracks how often each player goes first-to-third or second-to-home on singles and first to home on doubles, how often they move up an extra base, how often they get doubled off or thrown out, and even their tendency to ground into double plays.
Punto emerged this year with a net gain of 27 bases — 17 from baserunning, 10 from basestealing. Span's net gain was 24 bases (21 and 3), which, as I grasp the formula used to reach the final numbers, is close enough to be a virtual draw. The gap, even if precicely accurate, doesn't amount to a full run.
Casilla is +7 (-4 and +11) and Gomez is +9 (0 and 0). Both are held down by their part-time status; given their flaws as a baserunner (Casilla) and basestealer (Gomez), neither reaches the Punto/Span level.
And Mauer? A net deficit of a base (-3, +2). Which, for a catcher, is quite good. Mike Redmond, in a fraction of his playing time, was -14.
(Just picking a few other catchers out of the chart: Russell Martin, who has been known to hit at the top of the Dodger lineup, was -9; the World Series catchers, Jorge Posada of the Yankees and Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, were -17 and -12, respectively; Yadier and Bengie, the flying Molina brothers, combined for a -43. Much-hyped rookie Matt Wieters — Mauer with power, as he was billed last year at this time — was -18 in half a season. Just 23, and he runs like a Molina.)
This is quite the change for Mauer, who was a +19 in the 2008 season. The system is a bit different, which might be part of it; but he's another year older now too, and there may have been a deliberate effort to avoid taking chances with him.
That Punto didn't rate with the respondents isn't overly surprising, considering that our final memory on him on the bases is of him getting trapped off third base in the concluding game of the playoff series with the Yankees. It probably doesn't help any to know that he was thrown out on the bases just once (other than caught stealings) during the regular season.
Fresh poll up.