Lyle Spencer

Off to the races: Speed on bases vital to winning formula

D-backs lead way with top baserunning production

Off to the races: Speed on bases vital to winning formula

The D-backs stunningly upgraded their rotation with Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, their defense last season saved more runs than any in the game, and their offensive production was surpassed by only the Rockies in the National League.

Clearly, there is a lot to like about Arizona's chances in an NL West race that should also feature the three-time reigning division-champion Dodgers and the Giants, who have won three World Series championships since 2010.

Perhaps the most overlooked of the D-backs' assets is their extraordinary baserunning. They can run circles around the Dodgers, Giants and most every other team in the Majors.

In Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, the D-backs have stars flying around like rookies trying to impress the manager. Going first to third, second to home and first to home, Goldschmidt and Pollock ranked among the game's best in 2015 with 32 and 30 bases gained, respectively. They set a tone of aggression that runs throughout Arizona's lineup.

Goldschmidt's RBI double

Middle infielders Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed and newcomer Jean Segura and outfielder David Peralta also are threats. Owings gained 30 bases, Ahmed 18 and Peralta 11. Segura, who stole 44 bases in 2013 and 25 in 31 attempts last season, had a net gain of 22 bags for the Brewers.

With 212 bases taken while running into only 34 outs, the D-backs led the Majors in volume and efficiency.

Hitting into 35 fewer double plays, the Rangers had the game's best net gain of 142 bags, according to the Bill James Handbook. But in terms of pure baserunning, the D-backs ruled.

Arizona's net gain of 110 bases led the NL by 32 over Cincinnati. The Reds finished third in the Majors on the wheels of Billy Hamilton, the Majors' premier baserunner. Those two teams were 1-2 in net gain in steals with 58 and 44.

The Giants' net gain of 18 bases was fourth in the division, tied for 12th in the Majors. They'll get a boost from new center fielder Denard Span, an elite baserunner when healthy, and a return to healthy form by Hunter Pence.

Span on labrum tear, new team

The Dodgers were minus-71. This is something that new manager Dave Roberts -- author of one of history's most famous thefts in a Red Sox uniform -- will try to rectify. Only the Tigers (minus-107) were more inefficient.

One club figuring to quicken the pace is the Nationals, who tied the Giants and Red Sox with 18 net bases gained after leading the Majors in 2014.

Under ultra-aggressive manager Dusty Baker, Washington has added whirlwind Ben Revere, the sport's No. 2 overall baserunner in 2015.

Revere steals second in 8th

Dividing time between the Phillies and Blue Jays, Revere had a net gain of 44 bases, trailing only Hamilton's 67. Two-time Major League stolen-base king Dee Gordon of the Marlins was only plus-20, the result of getting caught stealing 20 times and running into six outs.

Revere is united in Washington with baserunning guru Davey Lopes, who left the Dodgers' coaching staff frustrated by the team's timid baserunning.

"Speed is a constant -- it doesn't go into slumps," said Lopes, who had a career 557 steals, including 47 at age 40. "An aggressive mindset on the bases can carry over into other areas of the game. There's more to it than the numbers; it becomes an attitude. It was like that when I was with the Phillies."

It was under Lopes' tutelage that Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth took flight. The Phillies led the Majors in stolen-base percentage from 2007-10, including a record 87.9 percent in '07.

The American League East has its share of burners. The Blue Jays were fourth in the Majors with 74 bases gained and the Yankees were sixth at plus-56. With Mookie Betts and Brock Holt leading the way, the Red Sox were fifth with 186 bases taken, but they ran into 44 outs. Toronto trailed only the Rangers and Angels in bases taken with 197.

Five of the top 11 baserunning teams came from the West: the Rangers, D-backs, Astros (fifth, plus-60), Padres (10th, plus-29) and Rockies (11th, plus-28).

Full seasons by plus baserunners Carlos Correa and Carlos Gomez should lift Houston into a match race with Texas. The Rangers showcase Delino DeShields (plus-35) and Elvis Andrus (plus-21), with new left fielder Ian Desmond (plus-25 with the Nationals) adding another sprinter to the relay team.

Correa does damage on the bases

The Angels throughout the Mike Scioscia era have been the game's most aggressive team in going first to third. That title was claimed last season by the Rangers, whose 115 advances were 27 more than the Angels. A dismal stolen-base success rate of 60.5 -- the Blue Jays led at 79.3 -- dropped the Angels to 16th overall.

The always aggressive World Series-champion Royals were fourth in the Majors in net stolen-base gain but only ninth in overall bases gained at plus-41, as they ran into 43 outs. The Indians (plus-54) and Cubs (47) were seventh and eighth.

Increased playing time by blinding Jarrod Dyson (34 bases gained) alongside Lorenzo Cain (35), Alcides Escobar (26), Eric Hosmer (23) and Alex Gordon should increase the Royals' efficiency on the basepaths, where games can turn in a heartbeat.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.