ST. LOUIS: Colby Rasmus #28 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts to being caught stealing second base against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium in St. Louis Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Reds 4-2. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
As you might have heard in September, the St. Louis Cardinals set a National League record by grounding in 169 double plays last season. Not that it wound up hurting them much. There was more, though; it wasn't just the double plays that cost the Cardinals a ton of baserunners.
... according to current edition of The Bill James Handbook (available here), the Cardinals' baserunning troubles went well beyond their penchant for double dips. The Cardinals, according to the measures Bill James uses, were the worst baserunning team in the majors. They had a "net gain" on the bases of minus-66, 15 worse than the next closest club (Pittsburgh Pirates, minus-51). James and his staff come to that conclusion by adding the bases lost because of poor running and double plays (45) to those lost trying to steal a base (21). The best baserunning club in the majors was the Texas Rangers, the club the Cardinals defeated in the World Series. The Rangers had a net gain of plus-113, grabbing 60 extra bases through running and 53 extra bases through outright theft.
As Goold notes, the Cardinals were able to make a huge number of outs on the bases because they had a huge number of runners on the bases ... which of course is an exceptionally good thing.
If the Cardinals can get on base as often in 2012 as often as they did in 2011 and hit into substantially fewer double plays ... well, then they'll really have something. Well, they could also get caught stealing less often. And the double plays weren't just about having runners on base.
The Rangers were in 1,178 opportunities and grounded into 135 double plays. The Cardinals were in 1,156 opportunities and grounded into 169 double plays.
The Rangers also killed the Cardinals in steals. Texas stole 143 bases and was caught 45 times; St. Louis stole 57 bases and was caught 39 times.
Those last two numbers are actually sort of wild, 57 and 39.
Those numbers are by no means historic; in 1953, the St. Louis Browns stole 17 bases all season (and were caught 34 times, presumably often on busted hit-and-run plays). The Tigers stole only 49 bases in 2011 ... but on the other hand, they were also caught only 20 times.
The evidence does not suggest the Cardinals were bad baserunners; they were plenty good at going first to third, second to home, first to home. They didn't run into a bunch of outs while trying to take extra bases. They just hit into a ton of double plays, and weren't any good at stealing.
The new manager might change the latter; getting Albert Pujols out of the lineup should change the former, some.
A lot of things went right for the Cardinals in 2011, and some of those things won't go so right in 2012. But they can probably pick up a few runs, here and there over the course of the season, by not losing more runs than anyone else on the bases.