No, Seager and Saunders probably are already a 4-WAR player and a 3-WAR player, even without baserunning upgrades. WAR uses three-year park effects, which means that they're undercompensating for whatever is happening at Safeco this year. This means that the entire Mariners offense is undervalued by offensive WAR, especially the guys (Seager, Saunders and Montero) getting hit hardest by Safeco.
John Dewan, in the public area at BJOL, writes
The Bill James Handbook 2013, which will release on November 1, will include a new section on career baserunning. A baserunning gain is the total of all types of extra baserunning advances minus the penalty for baserunning outs against expectations, including both stolen bases and all other baserunning situations. Among active players with a minimum of 1,000 games played, Ichiro Suzuki leads the way with +371 Net Gain, which is the cumulative total of all gains minus penalties in his career. As a frame of reference, think of it this way: a baserunner gets one "gain point" for each extra base taken, and loses about three "gain points" for each out on the basepaths. With a +371, Suzuki has a lot of extra bases taken despite the occasional out on the bases.
When the Yankees traded for Suzuki, his defensive upgrade over the Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones platoon received the majority of the headlines. However, the Yankees also upgraded on the basepaths. Neither Ibanez nor Jones has a positive career total, and neither has the speed they once had. Suzuki has done little to help his new club offensively, but he can still contribute off the bench as a pinch runner.
Here is the top-five in career baserunning:
|Best Career Baserunners|
Unsurprisingly, Suzuki, Carl Crawford, and Juan Pierre are second, third, and first in career stolen bases among active players, and Jimmy Rollins is not far behind in sixth.
On the other end of the spectrum, Paul Konerko and Juan Rivera managed to beat out a trio of catchers for the worst career baserunners:
|Worst Career Baserunners|
It has been three years since Rivera had his last solid season, and the Dodgers have spent their way out of needing to give him playing time. Meanwhile, Konerko continues to hit well enough into his late 30s to make up for his poor fielding and baserunning.
Note: Totals are career totals for active players since we began collecting this data in 2002.
Bases taken while running are usually worth, depending on the situation, +0.25 to maybe +0.30 runs. Baserunner kills, such as John Jaso has come to specialize in offensively, are usually worth -0.70 to -0.80 runs, depending. Here is a run expectancy chart and here's one that isolates the gain and loss for you in each situation.
I used to think that SB's were worth 0.30 runs and CS's worth -0.60, based on Pete Palmer's first chart about a thousand years ago. But come to look at the RE matrix a little closer and you can see why it's better to weight a "baserunner kill" as worth three stolen bases. For example, leading off the inning with a walk you're at +0.94 expected runs; swipe second, and you're at 1.17 runs, a gain of 0.23 runs. But get killed at 2B and the run expectancy is down to 0.29 -- you've lost 0.65 runs. That's an x3 multiplier, not an x2.
So in retrospect, Ichiro's odd conservatism on the bases turns out to be several yards ahead of the curve. (However, his tendency to let an out go by, before stealing the base, did not help the Mariners.)
Counting not only SB's and CS's, but also 1st-to-3rd bases, James' and Dewan measure Ichiro as being THE most deadly baserunner of his decade. And by a long ways. Carlos Beltran is in the top 5 in the entire game - and Ichiro is 20% ahead of him. Imagine a player whose AVG was 20% higher than the #5 AVG in the league for a decade - say, .375 vs .313.
At +371 bases in ten years (2002-2011), those 37 net bases are fully one every fourth game - about 9.5 runs per season. The Fangraphs system credits Ichiro with a piddling 2.1 runs per season for his legs.
What happens if you posit +9.5 yearly runs on the bases instead of +2.1 runs for Ichiro? His WAR for the decade goes from 53 to 60, moving him ahead of Barry Bonds into #3 in baseball. While Ichiro was at 60, only fifteen players were over 40 for the decade. Mike Piazza, Vlad Guerrero and Todd Helton have fewer than 60 WAR for their careers. Half of Hall of Famers do.
We watched a clinic out there.
Ichiro had several multi-hit games this week for the Yankees and his NYY line is up to .291/.318/.411 in 47 games, closing in on 1/3 of a season for them. He is swinging at drastically fewer pitches outside the zone than he was in Seattle, is contacting many fewer of them, and is hitting the ball much harder. My guess is that he'll stay around .300/.325/.400 for several years now, if he plays for an elite team.
.300/.325/.400 is fine for a leadoff hitter. However you slice up the UZR, an old Ichiro is still +10 runs defensively over the Nelson Cruzes and Nick Swishers of the RF world. If he's still getting 5-10 runs on the bases, and is about league average OPS'ively, he's a leadoff hitter who is helping a good team win. If a GM pencils in that 5-10 runs on the bases, then along with the 10 runs with the glove, Ichiro may project to be the only 40-ish player in the game who could slog along at 3 WAR per season.
It was not realized, for a long time, what the problems were with UZR. If Fangraphs' baserunning numbers have issues also, then it could be that Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Trayvon Robinson are being short-sold for their running production.
Saunders is at 2.2 WAR this year; Seager's at 3.3. It's possible that Saunders is already a 3-WAR player, Seager a 4-WAR player.