Corbin Carroll is having a marvelous season. After a 2022 cup of coffee in which he put up a 130 wRC+, he has improved in nearly every statistical category and leads all rookies in WAR by a wide margin. But while he has a 145 wRC+ (highest among NL rookies) and 41 extra-base hits, he isn’t just a one-dimensional slugger; the completeness of his profile is astonishing for a 22-year-old rookie. He’s amassed 7 RAA since his debut and is the only outfielder with three five-star catches this season, though his arm strength still has room for improvement. Most impressively, Carroll is possibly the most electric baserunner in the league and is producing value with his legs at a historic rate.
Carroll puts a lot of balls in play; his 19.8% strikeout rate and 8.4% swinging-strike rate are both better than league average. But perhaps the only remaining weakness in his game is in his batted ball distribution. He hits the ball on the ground nearly half the time, and while he’s good at turning his fly balls into homers, a considerable fraction of his air balls are popped up. In other words, many of Carroll’s batted balls are either hit straight up or straight down, with a big gap in the middle. His sweet spot rate ranks in the 16th percentile, and his line drive percentile is barely in the double digits. While Luis Arraez can practically walk to first thanks to his barrage of liners into the outfield, Carroll has to sprint for every base he can get.
Luckily for Carroll, his ability to fly out of the box is nearly unmatched. His average home-to-first time of 4.07 seconds is tied for second in baseball. And he can turn on the jets when he needs to; his 62 bolts rank second to only Bobby Witt Jr., who carries the disadvantage of having to start from the right-handed batter’s box. But Carroll doesn’t just use his speed to get on base (he has just six infield hits this year); he uses it to stretch his base hits as far as they can go. With his ability to rocket around the basepaths, any ball he puts in play can easily become a double or triple.
Imagine you’re an MLB outfielder. A batter hits the ball hard on the ground, past a diving shortstop. You run to cut the ball off before it gets past you and fire a strike to second base. How much time do you think you need to make that play? If your answer is anything longer than 7.5 seconds, then congratulations: Carroll has just stretched his single into a double off you. He had the three fastest home-to-second times in the majors in 2022 despite hitting just nine doubles, leveraging his 99th-percentile sprint speed to teleport around the bases.
Carroll has 20 two-baggers this year, bringing his career total to 29. Thanks to the magic of MLB’s video archive, we can watch them all. I wanted to see how many of those were “hustle doubles,” which I defined as a ball hit to left-center or right-center field that was picked up by the defender near or in from their starting depth — in other words, a ball in the gap that doesn’t get by the outfielders. Of these, at least six could be classified as hustle doubles, including this hit where he successfully tested the elite arm of Jackie Bradley Jr.
Let’s compare Carroll to the present-day king of doubles: Freddie Freeman. He has hit 29 this season alone and is on pace to lead the NL in doubles for the fourth time thanks to his 97th-percentile line drive rate and 99th-percentile sweet spot rate — the polar opposite of Carroll. Freeman amasses his doubles by smacking the ball over the head of outfielders to the wall and easily coasting into second even without premier speed; I watched all of his doubles, too, and only three were of the hustle variety. Carroll, on the other hand, can go for a double on nearly any ball that rolls into the outfield, even if it isn’t particularly well-struck. This season, his .370 slugging percentage on ground balls ranks 13th of 164 hitters and far surpasses the league average of .273.
Carroll doesn’t just use his legs to boost his slugging percentage; he also uses them once he’s already reached base. His 24 stolen bases rank fifth in the league, and while he doesn’t have the volume of Esteury Ruiz and Ronald Acuña Jr., he makes up for it with efficiency. While the new rules have made it easier for everyone to steal, his 92.3% success rate leads all hitters with at least 20 swipes. So while Ruiz has a 19-steal lead on Carroll, his advantage in weighted stolen bases (wSB) is just a single run.
While Carroll isn’t an outlier in steals, what truly separates him from the pack is his aggression in taking extra bases on hits. If his philosophy in the batter’s box is to try for second on every ball in play, his eyes are set on home plate whenever one of his teammates finds outfield grass. Per Baseball-Reference, he’s taken an extra base 70% of the time on singles and doubles, tied for second-best among qualified runners. Most impressively, his teammates have doubled ten times with him standing on first; Carroll has scored on every one of those hits. No other player has scored from first on more than seven doubles so far. UBR is a bit more scientific in converting bases taken on hits, flyouts, etc. into run values, and Carroll’s 3.8 ranks first in the league — more than Ruiz and Acuña combined. If Christian Walker has his first 100-RBI season this year (he’s on pace for 106), he’ll have Carroll to thank.
When considering UBR, wSB, and avoiding double plays (wGDP) in tandem, Carroll’s 8.3 BaseRuns leads the league by a wide margin. Ruiz is the only player in his stratosphere, and only a small handful of hitters are even half as effective on the basepaths as Carroll. Last year’s leader in BaseRuns, Tommy Edman, had 8.4, a number that Carroll has functionally matched in just 76 starts. But Carroll doesn’t just grade out well compared to his current big league peers; he’s also on pace for the best baserunning season of the century.
Best Baserunning Seasons in UBR Era
|2023 Corbin Carroll (Pace)||7.1||2.1||45/49||6.4||15.6||149|
|2012 Mike Trout||6.2||1.1||49/54||7||14.3||167|
|2008 Willy Taveras||2.8||1||68/75||10.3||14.1||54|
|2003 Carlos Beltrán||6.3||1.3||41/45||6.4||14||134|
|2004 Carlos Beltrán||5.3||1.6||42/45||7||13.9||128|
|2023 Esteury Ruiz (Pace)||3.6||1.8||78/93||8.4||13.8||85|
|2007 Juan Pierre||5.7||2.5||64/79||5.6||13.8||82|
|2009 Michael Bourn||4.4||2.6||61/73||6.7||13.7||100|
|2011 Michael Bourn||6.6||1||61/75||6||13.6||104|
|2010 Carl Crawford||4.6||3.8||47/57||4.9||13.3||135|
|2004 Scott Podsednik||4||0.7||70/83||8.2||12.9||76|
Since the advent of UBR in 2002, no one has combined speed and baserunning efficiency in the same way as Carroll has. It should be noted that the best speedster season ever was in 1986, when Vince Coleman stole 107 bags on 121 attempts and generated 15.7 runs, a post-integration record. But his value would have been much higher had UBR and wGDP existed at the time. In the current millennium, the days of the triple-digit base stealer are long in the past, and Carroll is still outperforming the guys who are pushing for 70 or 80.
What I find most impressive about the numbers here isn’t his historically good UBR or excellent base stealing efficiency, but the fact that he’s doing all of this while being one of the premier hitters in the league. Speedsters are often single-tool players without much offensive value; the aforementioned Coleman had a career wRC+ of 86 and was below average with the glove despite his extraordinary speed. Position players who are superstars both with the bat and with the wheels are incredibly rare; it’s fitting that rookie season Mike Trout is the only player on the BaseRuns leaderboard with a higher wRC+ than Carroll’s current figure. They’re also the two youngest players on the list by a wide margin. Of any rookie in the UBR era with even five BaseRuns, Carroll still ranks second in wRC+ to Trout. In other words, he is the closest player we’ve had to Trout since Trout; their abilities to swipe bags with ease, make any ball in play a nightmare for the defense, and charge toward home plate (Trout’s extra base rate as a rookie also ranked highly) are astonishingly similar.
Carroll’s quest to have the most electric rookie season of the past decade may be on pause, though, as he exited Thursday night’s game early after suffering a shoulder injury during a swing. The extent of the issue is currently unknown, but it would be unfortunate if it were serious enough to end his campaign here on the cusp of historical greatness on the basepaths. That said, this won’t be his final opportunity to set BaseRuns records. The new runner-friendly rules are here to stay, and his unrivaled aggression and lightning-quick speed will carry him the rest of the way.