May 6, 2011
Stolen Bases and You in 2011
Last month, I penned an article looking at early stolen base trends at the team level around the league. The inspiration? Poking fun at Royals manager Ned Yost for predicting the plodding Billy Butler was going to steal ten bases this season. Now that we have more data to play with, we can go back and revisit that data to see if those early trends are holding up (and which players are being affected by it).
Several managers have put the brakes on the running game more often now than they did early in the season. Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles by way of Anaheim, Seattle, and St. Louis have seen their stolen base attempts percentage go down compared to their early start. That means 20 of the teams have seen an up-tick in how frequently they are running.
The largest decline belongs to the aforementioned Royals, whose SBA percentage has dropped from a league-leading 21 percent down to a still-high 15 percent. They are joined by the Mariners, Orioles, and Angels, who all have seen their SBA percentage decline by five or more percentage points. Ichiro Suzuki is the most frequent base stealer of any player in that quartet of teams with ten, but nobody else has more than seven, and Adam Jones leads the Orioles with just four steals thus far.
Meanwhile, six different organizations have improved their SBA percentage by five or more percentage points: San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Diego, and Washington, who leads all teams with an eight percent improvement. New managers Don Mattingly and John Farrell have both sent runners more than twice as often as they did earlier in the season. Rajai Davis has benefitted from Farrell’s style, as he already has seven steals in just 54 plate appearances, and Aaron Hill had already tied a career high of six steals before landing on the disabled list. Matt Kemp has enjoyed Mattingly’s aggressiveness, as he is second in the National League with ten steals (but he is the only other Dodger that has more than five steals thus far).
You should recall that earlier this season the Tampa Bay Rays could not buy their way on to first base and had the lowest SBO percentage in all of baseball at just 15 percent. Since then, they have seen the largest increase and now sit at 22 percent. Sam Fuld was the obvious beneficiary of this, but a recent slump has put the brakes on his production on the basepaths. Even with that increase, Tampa Bay still has the lowest SBO percentage in the league while St. Louis paces the league at 28 percent.
Conversely, Cincinnati fell from 31 percent to 26 percent. Drew Stubbs already has ten steals this season, but only seven Reds have managed to steal a base. It remains somewhat comical that Jonny Gomes is second on the team with five steals in 112 plate appearances this season after stealing just eight bases in his previous 885 plate appearances. Ron Roenicke’s tendencies are a bit surprising given his pedigree as a Mike Scioscia disciple. Roenicke was very reluctant to run early as he sent runners just four percent of the time but has since doubled that frequency to eight percent.
The perfect combination of increased attempts and increased opportunities is only owned by a few teams right now: San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Milwaukee, Houston, Colorado, and Texas. Jason Bourgeios is the best example of this with Houston, as he is now just one stolen base shy of tying his 2010 season total of 12 in significantly fewer plate appearances. If Cliff Pennington can break out of his early season slump—and stop being thrown out so much—he could add to it as well. Pennington was 29/34 in stolen base attempts in 2010 but is just 5/11 thus far this season.
Both Orlando Hudson and Will Venable already have ten steals this season but Hudson now finds himself on the disabled list with Logan Forsythe up to replace him. Forsythe had 17 steals last season in Double-A when he was sent more often than in any other time of his career. Since the Padres struggle to score runs, Forsythe could be used in that manner again, assuming he can get on base.
I heard a comment on a broadcast yesterday that scoring in baseball is at its lowest point in 19 seasons, and Ben Lindbergh wrote about whether this was the year of the stolen base yesterday. If that is indeed true, it is not surprising to see the stolen base back en vogue as teams look to manufacture runs in new methods after relying upon the Earl Weaver three-run homer approach for so many seasons.
Coincidentally, it is those same Orioles that are running the least in the American League. The more things change...