There has been a large number of things that have contributed to the Braves’ success this season. The Braves’ defensive prowess has been noted by quite a few folks at this point, they have gotten meaningful production from up and down the lineup from young and old, and many of the young pitchers they have thrown up on the mound have done well for stretches this season.
However, one thing that is clear to those that watch Braves games, but is important to quantify has been the team’s speed and willingness to use that speed this season. Not only has it been an important part of the team’s success this season, but it could be a crucial part of the Braves making a deep postseason run.
Coming into Tuesday, the Braves currently have three players in the top 25 in all of baseball in terms of average sprint speed. Ronald Acuna Jr. ranks 17th with 29.6 ft/sec, Dansby Swanson comes in at 21st with 29.5 ft/sec, and Lane Adams (in an admittedly small sample) comes in at 25th at 29.4 ft/sec. Both Acuna and Dansby have used their impressive speed to take extra bases and expand their range in the field all season long and Adams has settled in as the team’s best pinch runner. If that is where it ended, that would still be impressive.
However, some of the players that are not among sprint speed leaders have still done good work with their legs. Ozzie Albies surprisingly only sits at 75th in baseball in terms of average sprint speed at 28.7 ft/sec, but he has certainly posted speeds higher than that and has been one of the more exciting players on the base paths in baseball while taking extra bases with his helmet flying off and making plays all over the field while playing second base. Ozzie’s base running alone has accumulated 4.7 base running runs above average according to Fangraphs.
Ender Inciarte, whose speed is far from elite as he currently sits at an average of 27.9 ft/sec, has shown that one need not be crazy fast to provide real value as a runner. He has long been an elite defender in center field using strong first step quickness and great routes while showing a strong willingness to steal bases (28 on the season) and take extra bases seemingly every time he gets on base.
What does this all mean for the team? Well, on the season it has translated to the Braves being the sixth best team in baseball according to BsR (Fangraphs’ baserunning statistic) with 8.8 baserunning runs above average. The team is in the top 10 in baseball in stolen bases, but arguably more importantly is that the Braves are among the hardest teams in baseball to get to ground into double plays. They are currently tied with the Indians (another really good team this season in terms of baserunning) for third in terms of fewest double plays hit into with only the Cardinals and Twins being better.
Going into the playoffs, the Braves’ speed gives the team multiple ways to win ballgames. The Braves certainly have enough power in their lineup in Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Johan Camargo, and others to win slugfests if need be (the Braves have the 13th best ISO in baseball), but their speed not only helps out defensively, but it allows them to generate runs where other teams couldn’t. The Braves will undoubtedly be facing some elite pitching in the playoffs, but this lineup’s ability to generate runs via steals, taking extra bases, and scoring on plays that others wouldn’t dare to try to run on could be what sets the team apart in October.
What will be interesting is if the Braves continue to be as aggressive on the base paths in the postseason. The Braves have certainly been aggressive this season (some of the doubles this team has hit would have been singles for 95% of teams in the league), but one wonders if some of that aggressiveness will be tempered given the stakes in the playoffs. Getting caught stealing or trying to take third from first on a sharp grounder doesn’t have the same impact during the regular season as the playoffs and other teams are most certainly going to be getting balls back into the infield with a bit more urgency against Atlanta. However, for the Braves to make deep run this postseason, it will be necessary for the team to stay true to who they are here as it is one of the things that sets them apart.