The game of baseball has changed so much over the years, but one thing remains constant: the importance of smart baserunning.
The San Diego Padres have had some great baserunners over the 51 years of the franchise’s existence. But who have been the best in Padres history?
Let’s find out.
First, the parameters. Baserunning skills go far beyond just stolen bases. FanGraphs has a Base Running statistic (BsR), which turns decisions made on the bases into runs above and below average, giving each player a score. We won’t take the BsR as complete gospel as we will also take into account stolen bases, runs scored, as well as FanGraphs’ other metric, UBR (Ultimate Base Running), which looks at non-stolen base plays on the basepaths. The only caveat is that it has only been tracked since 2000.
5. Enzo Hernandez (1971-1977)
Certainly not a name the average baseball fan or even the average Padres fan would know. But in the infant stage of the Padres franchise, Hernandez was a menace on the basepaths. He stole 37 bases in 1974 and had three other seasons of at least 20 swipes.
On the metrics side, Hernandez earns himself a 13.8 BsR, which is sixth-best in franchise history and better than the likes of Ozzie Smith, Mike Cameron, and Tony Gwynn.
Despite batting just .225 in those seven seasons for San Diego, Hernandez made himself valuable with his legs. In his rookie year, he hit a meager .222, yet scored 58 runs.
4. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001)
It would be utterly disrespectful not to put Mr. Padre himself on this list. Younger Padres fans might scratch their heads as their only memories of the first-ballot Hall of Famer are his late-90s self, out-of-shape, and slowed by nagging injuries.
However, for the majority of his career, he was one of the best athletes in baseball. The NBA’s San Diego Clippers drafted him on the same day the Friars selected him for goodness sake.
Gwynn averaged 34 stolen bases per season from 1984-1989, including a career-high 56 in 1987. The San Diego native also scored 119 runs that year, becoming one of just two Friars ever to steal 50-plus bases while scoring at least 100 runs.
The whole point of getting on base is to score, and Gwynn did that often, especially in the prime of his career. Some of the metrics were not around when Gwynn played, but he checks in with an 11.3 BsR, 13th best in franchise history. He is also the franchise leader in stolen bases with 319.
3. Gene Richards (1977-1983)
Richards is second behind Gwynn on the franchise’s stolen base list at 242, which is impressive considering he played 13 fewer seasons in San Diego than Gwynn. He is one of only two Padres with multiple 50 stolen base seasons. But as mentioned before, this is more than just about stolen base numbers.
Richards has the fourth best BsR in franchise history at 15.3, better than the previous two players on this list. He scored at least 90 runs twice. When considering another FanGraphs baserunning metric, Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), which estimates the ability of a player to steal bases better than the average player, it takes into account the number of times caught stealing as well.
Richards is second in franchise history with a 15.3 wSB, meaning he was the second-best pure base stealer in franchise history. He got on base consistently with a career .357 on-base percentage in those seven seasons in San Diego. For reference, that career mark would have been third-best on the 2019 Padres squad.
2. Will Venable (2008-2015)
Venable is undoubtedly the best overall baserunner and athlete the Padres have had in the Petco Park era. He does not have eye-popping stolen base numbers, with his career-high being 29 in 2010, but he was consistent. He had four straight seasons of at least 22 stolen bases.
What separates Venable from the pack is he is the franchise leader in BsR with a whopping 28, 10 better than the second place player in the Padres organization. Venable was a catalyst for the last Padres team with a winning record in 2010 with a 2.7 WAR and a 104 OPS+. He got on base for the big hitters like Adrian Gonzalez.
In 2013, Venable had a 20/20 season with 22 home runs and 22 stolen bases, becoming one of just 10 Padres with such a season.
1. Alan Wiggins (1981-1985)
The only reason why Wiggins is not the franchise leader in stolen bases is that he played just five seasons in San Diego. Had he played just a few more, he would have easily taken over first place. Wiggins was always a threat on the basepaths. He is third on the franchise list in BsR at 17.9 and third in stolen bases with 171.
Wiggins holds the franchise record for stolen bases in a single season with 70 in 1984. He’s also the franchise leader in the metric wSB, with 17.9. Between 1983 and 1984, Wiggins stole 136 bases and scored 189 runs. The Los Angeles native was a big reason why the Padres won the National League pennant that season.
His opportunistic base running put pressure on the defense every single game. It was more than just stealing bases, Wiggins was never afraid to go first-to-third on a base hit or try to leg out a hustle double or triple.
His mere presence on the bases presented issues for opposing pitchers and catchers. He amounted to a 7.1 WAR in 1983 and 1984 — some of that due to his aggressiveness and intelligence running the bases.
Brian Giles (2003-2009)- 13.8 UBR (leads franchise), 12.8 BsR (8th in franchise history), scored 189 runs in two seasons
Bip Roberts (1986-1995)- 148 SB (4th in franchise history), 104 runs scored in 1990
Cameron Maybin (2011-2014)- 15.2 BsR (5th in franchise history), 9.5 UBR (3rd), 40 SB in 2011
Everth Cabrera (2009-2014)- 18 BsR (2nd), 136 SB (6th)
Ozzie Smith (1978-1981)- 147 SB (5th)