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April 8, 2011
April Stolen Base Trends
One week into the season is just about the worst time for anyone writing about fantasy baseball to come up with a topic. At current rates, Johnny Damon may strike out 176 times, Willie Bloomquist may steal 154 bags to break Vince Coleman’s single season record, and Edwin Jackson has a shot at breaking Nolan Ryan’s single season strikeout record. That said, it is not too early to start looking at trends, and a great place to start is on the basepaths.
Controlling the running game is a multi-faceted process, but most of the blame falls on the catchers for not throwing the attempted basestealers out. Unless, of course, Chris Young or Jeff Niemann are on the mound, in which case the pitcher is rightly blamed for being too tall and taking too long to transform from their set point to their release point in delivering the ball to home plate. Fairly or unfairly, we look at the catchers when other teams are too successful on the basepaths. In 2010, 28 percent of basestealers were caught red-handed: Yadier Molina and crew were the best at 42 percent, while Jorge Posada and company were the worst at just 15 percent. This season, there are still 15 teams in the league that have yet to throw out a base runner, but there have been just 139 stolen bases attempted as of the start of play yesterday.
A few weeks ago, we poked fun at the Royals after Ned Yost said that Billy Butler could steal ten bases this season, and used metrics such as Stolen Base Attempt (SBA) percentage and Stolen Base Opportunity (SBO) average to see how often Butler (as well as other players) had been running. Let’s apply those same metrics to the league as a whole, and compare how each team did in those areas in 2010 to how they are doing in this early portion of 2011:
Maybe we should not have laughed off Ned Yost after all. The club has been much more aggressive on the basepaths in their six games, running more than twice as often as they did last year. Several players already have two stolen bases, and even catcher Matt Treanor has joined in the fun. (Billy Butler has not yet tried to take a base.) This fun for the Royals did come at the expense of Jeff Mathis and A.J. Pierzynski, two backstops who do not have high success rates in throwing out runners. Still, it is nice to see Yost taking advantage of the opportunities presented to the club, and it will be interesting to see if the Royals remain this aggressive on the basepaths against other teams in the coming weeks. If they do, Chris Getz, Alcides Escobar, Mike Aviles, and Jarrod Dyson gain a little more value. As it is, Dyson is pulling off quite the Herb Washington impression, as he already has three stolen bases despite the fact he has yet to make an appearance in the batters’ box.
Kirk Gibson has Willie Bloomquist running just about whenever possible, as he leads baseball with five steals. Gerardo Parra, Kelly Johnson, and Ryan Roberts also chipping in are also chipping in to the Diamondbacks' cause. The spike with the Diamondbacks is mostly Bloomquist-driven, and that is going to settle down as his offensive number become more Bloomquistian, or when Stephen Drew gets back into the fold. Drew was a guy that I targeted in my own drafts because I thought Gibson would try this approach this season—I felt that Drew had an outside shot at a 20/20 season. Pay attention to this situation as the lineup normalizes and keep in mind that Justin Upton and Chris Young have not begun to run yet.
Eric Wedge is taking a similar approach in Seattle to make up for the lack of thump in that lineup. Both Ichiro Suzuki and Jack Wilson have three steals, and three other players have attempted a stolen base in this first week. The club’s SBA% last season under Don Wakamatsu was one of the better ones in baseball, but Wedge is being even more aggressive to date.
Terry Francona is hoping to use his shiny new tool, Carl Crawford, more often, but his team’s SBOs are down right now. Yet, Francona has been more aggressive with the opportunities the club has had on base (and those mainly came in Texas). Joe Maddon is still as aggressive as ever with the Rays despite the fact nobody is getting on base. Coming into yesterday, the White Sox had the biggest drop off in attempts from 2010 to this season, but stole five bases in yesterday's game against the Rays.
Those Rays catchers are part of the fifteen teams that have yet to throw out an attempted basestealer. They are the worst of the bunch at 0-for-12 on the season and just a paltry three for their last 27 (11 percent) dating back to last season. The duo of Jeff Mathis and Hank Conger for the Angels has been slightly better thanks to catching one of 12. If you are playing in a head-to-head or daily lineup league and have speed threats on your roster playing one of those two teams, getting them into your lineup would be very advantageous right now.
Oakland misses Rajai Davis like crazy already. The same could be said for Washington, as they decided the slower Rick Ankiel they acquired this winter was better than the speedy Nyjer Morgan they traded away. You may also notice that the Phillies have had a strong jump in stolen base opportunities this season, but have yet to capitalize on those opportunities: Charlie Manuel is not putting the team in motion any more frequently than he did last season. Compare that to the Reds, where Dusty Baker has seen his bunch have more opportunities to run and he has sent them more frequently.
The league’s overall SBA% was nine percent last season, and it is up slightly to 10 percent thus far (the SBO% has remained constant). Ned Yost, Kirk Gibson, Eric Wedge, Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, and Mike Scioscia are off to strong starts in forcing the action through the running game, but I am most interested to see how this new Royals track team acts moving forward, and what the Diamondbacks do as Young and Upton heat up and Drew gets back into the lineup. We will re-visit this situation at the end of the month to see how these habits are holding up and which stolen base threats could be in for even better seasons than initially projected.