March 28, 2023

Jose Ramírez
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When the Silver Slugger finalists were announced last week, I took a minute to compare the stats between the candidates at each position. Judging by the comprehensive hitting metrics, like OPS, wOBA, and wRC+, it seemed, at first, like there were numerous close races — many too close to call. But when I turned my attention to Offensive Runs Above Average, several of the close races suddenly disappeared, with one player becoming the clear frontrunner. That can be the result of playing time considerations, but in these cases, it was largely because of baserunning. For example, José Ramirez, Rafael Devers, and Alex Bregman are neck-and-neck-and-neck when it comes to most measures of hitting, but by total offensive value, Ramírez has a commanding lead. There’s a similar thing going on between Xander Bogaerts, Bo Bichette, and Carlos Correa; they have nearly identical hitting stats, but Bogaerts is a markedly superior baserunner.

Once I looked at the baserunning stats, these once-close races hardly seemed close at all. Understandably, this got me thinking about what role baserunning plays in determining the Silver Sluggers. Is it one of the criteria voters are supposed to consider? That sounds like a simple enough question, and one that should have a simple enough answer. And yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Are Silver Slugger Voters Meant to Consider Baserunning?

The name of the honor and the design of the trophy suggest the Silver Slugger is purely a hitting award. We don’t typically consider running to be a component of slugging, and the trophy itself is a bat, not a cleat. On the other hand, defines the Silver Slugger as an award to recognize “the best offensive players at each position in each league.” That’s the best offensive player, not the best hitter, which is a meaningful distinction to make. Baserunning isn’t hitting, but it is offense. In this year’s official announcement of the finalists, the writers cited stolen bases several times.

Based on this information, it would seem baserunning is one of the criteria for Silver Slugger voting, even if that’s never made 100% clear. But it isn’t actually MLB that awards the Silver Slugger; it’s Louisville Slugger. So let’s take a look at what they have to say.

On the Louisville Slugger website, the Silver Slugger award is said to go to “the best offensive producers at each position in the field in both the American and National Leagues,” and it is meant to reward “overall offensive value.” This sounds quite similar to the description on But the Louisville Slugger website also offers some statistics that voters are supposed to use to make their decisions: batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Those three metrics, the triple slash categories, cover every major component of offense except for baserunning: hit tool, plate discipline, and power. Thus, it feels like a notable omission to not mention stolen bases. If Louisville Slugger wanted baserunning to have an impact on the voting process, they could’ve included a baserunning statistic among the examples they specified.

Then there’s the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory website, which further complicates matters. According to the “Silver Slugger Team” section, the award is said to be “decided by coaches and managers who vote for the players they’d most like to have on their team — based solely on their performance at the plate.” The explanation continues: “The coaches and managers consider a combination of offensive stats for the season along with their personal impressions of a player’s overall effectiveness wielding a bat.”

The use of the phrases “performance at the plate” and “wielding a bat” certainly implies the award doesn’t take baserunning into account. Indeed, these terms seem to be carefully chosen to differentiate between hitting and offense. This is the strongest evidence that baserunning isn’t among the criteria for the Silver Slugger after all.

Yet if that’s the case, it’s a little odd that Louisville Slugger or Major League Baseball wouldn’t just come out and say it. For whatever reason, it’s as if the criteria are intentionally a little unclear. That means there’s nothing stopping voters from considering each candidate’s baserunning ability, but nothing encouraging them to do so either.

Should Silver Slugger Voters Consider Baserunning?

If the voting guidelines are deliberately ambiguous, it is up to each individual voter to make their own decision. And as long as there’s no rule or instruction precluding voters from considering baserunning, I don’t see how they can choose to ignore it. For one thing, running is a major part of the game and deserves to be treated as such. There are awards for hitting, pitching, and defense; why should baserunning be left out?

More important, however, is the fact that baserunning and slugging are deeply intertwined. Batters must run the bases on every ball they hit into play. All else being equal, a fast runner is more likely to turn a groundout into a single, a single into a double, a double into a triple, and so on and so forth. Thus, all three triple slash categories already take baserunning into account to some degree, as do runs scored. Unless voters are only looking at walks, home runs, and exit velocity, they’re already taking baserunning into account. Why would they not just fully take it into consideration? It’s nearly impossible to separate hitting and baserunning, so why do it at all?

Do Silver Slugger Voters Consider Baserunning?

We could talk all day about whether or not Silver Slugger voting technically could or logically should consider baserunning. Ultimately, however, all that’s really meaningful is what the voters actually do. So do the managers and coaches who vote on the Silver Slugger assess baserunning when casting their ballots?

That’s the hardest question yet. The best hitters provide significantly more value with their bats than the best baserunners do with their legs. Thus, it’s hard to point out many obvious baserunning “snubs” — players who should have won if the voters considered baserunning but who lost because they did not. The fact that it’s so hard to find these snubs could indicate that voters do consider baserunning after all. On the other hand, it’s just as hard to find a good example of a player whose elite baserunning pushed him over the top.

There is one recent race, however, in which voters certainly weren’t thinking about baserunning, and it’s especially pertinent to the discussion at hand. Last season, Devers beat out Ramírez for the AL Silver Slugger at third base. It must have been a close vote, because the two had practically identical numbers in every offensive category:

2021 AL Silver Slugger Candidates at Third Base

José Ramírez 636 36 103 111 .266 .355 .538 .372 138
Rafael Devers 664 38 113 101 .279 .352 .538 .373 133

Well, almost every offensive category:

2021 AL Silver Slugger Candidates at Third Base

Player SB CS BsR
José Ramírez 27 4 6.3
Rafael Devers 5 5 0.1

Ramírez was far and away the superior baserunner, by traditional stats, advanced metrics, and the eye test. But Devers took home the hardware. To be perfectly frank, I don’t see how anyone could possibly look at their 2021 seasons and vote for Devers unless they were ignoring baserunning altogether. This one example doesn’t prove Silver Slugger voters always ignore baserunning, but it shows that they can and they have — and they might do so again this year.

Will Silver Slugger Voters Consider Baserunning in 2022?

Let’s return to the close Silver Slugger races of 2022, starting with third base in the American League. Ramírez and Devers had similarly great seasons yet again, and Bregman was fantastic, too. Just looking at the hitting stats, it’s hard to pick a winner between them:

2022 AL Silver Slugger Candidates at Third Base

José Ramírez 685 29 126 91 .280 .355 .514 .363 139
Rafael Devers 614 27 88 84 .295 .358 .521 .373 140
Alex Bregman 656 23 93 93 .259 .366 .454 .358 136

Once you look at the baserunning numbers, however, it’s clear who the deserving winner is:

2022 AL Silver Slugger Candidates at Third Base

Player SB CS BsR
José Ramírez 20 7 6.0
Rafael Devers 3 1 -1.2
Alex Bregman 1 2 -3.0

All in all, Ramírez was worth 36 offensive runs above average, Devers was worth 26.8, and Bregman 23.6. If Ramírez loses the Silver Slugger again this season, it’s a pretty clear sign the voters weren’t considering his baserunning at all. Thankfully for J-Ram, his impressive RBI total probably makes him the frontrunner this year anyway.

Now, here are the leading candidates for the shortstop Silver Slugger in the AL. Again, you’ll see they all match up pretty well as hitters:

2022 AL Silver Slugger Candidates at Shortstop

Xander Bogaerts 631 15 73 84 0.307 0.377 0.456 0.363 134
Carlos Correa 590 22 64 70 0.291 0.366 0.467 0.362 140
Bo Bichette 697 24 93 91 0.290 0.333 0.469 0.347 129

But on the basepaths, it’s a different story:

2022 AL Silver Slugger Candidates at Shortstop

Player SB CS BsR
Xander Bogaerts 8 2 4.7
Carlos Correa 0 1 -6.0
Bo Bichette 13 8 -2.7

Bogaerts isn’t quite the baserunner Ramírez is, so the difference in this race isn’t as stark. Even so, he has a sizeable lead over his competitors in offensive runs above average. He was worth 28.6 Off this past season; Correa was worth 20.7, and Bichette an even 20.

Finally, in the National League, there’s a catcher whose footspeed puts him well ahead of the pack: J.T. Realmuto. He isn’t just a good baserunner for a catcher, lapping his fellow NL backstops in terms of value provided on the bases; he’s one of the best baserunners in the game. He should be the favorite to win the Silver Slugger this year anyway, but if he loses to Will Smith or Willson Contreras, it’s further evidence the voters aren’t taking baserunning into account.

Take a look at how these three finalists compare by all the major hitting stats:

2022 NL Silver Slugger Candidates at Catcher

J.T. Realmuto 562 22 84 75 .276 .342 .478 .354 128
Willson Contreras 487 22 55 65 .243 .349 .466 .357 132
Will Smith 578 24 87 68 .260 .343 .465 .349 127
Travis d’Arnaud 426 18 60 61 .268 .319 .472 .343 120

…and then the baserunning stats:

2022 NL Silver Slugger Candidates at Catcher

Player SB CS BsR
J.T. Realmuto 21 1 6.6
Willson Contreras 4 2 -2.8
Will Smith 1 0 -3.6
Travis d’Arnaud 0 0 -3.6

Unsurpringly, Realmuto finished the season well ahead of the competition in terms of overall offensive value. His 24.9 Off towers over Contreras’s 15.1 and Smith’s 14.9, and it’s not hard to see why; the man can fly:

To wrap this all up, it remains rather unclear whether or not baserunning is supposed to factor into Silver Slugger voting. It’s similarly unclear if it actually does. Regardless, it really should be a part of the discussion, and if it isn’t going to be, we need to talk about that more. For now, let’s wait and see who wins this year, and then return to the discussion if the need arises.

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