June 30, 2011
League-Wide Stolen Base Woes
Editor's Note: This article originally ran yesterday, June 29. Thanks to reader qwik3457bb for pointing out an error in the data, which altered some of the analysis. The error has been corrected and the analysis has been corrected to match.
At two different points this season, I have referenced stolen base tendencies in the league this season compared to what teams did last season. Earlier this month, I also showed how teams are increasingly successful season by season compared to their contemporaries in previous decades. Now that we are at the midway point of the season, it seems like a good time to check in and see how teams are doing on the running game in 2011. The results are rather surprising.
Once again, two metrics come in handy when looking at team behaviors on the basepaths, Stolen Base Attempt Percentage (SBA%) and Stolen Base Opportunity Average (SBO%). SBA% represents the percentage of times a runner will attempt to steal second base while SBO% shows the percentage that the runner has the opportunity to execute that stolen base attempt.
Toronto should jump off the page to you because their stolen base attempts have increased dramatically in 2011, so much so in fact that they have already eclipsed their entire 2010 stolen base total at this point in the season under John Farrell’s more aggressive style. After Toronto, it should come as a bit of a surprise to see the New York Yankees as the second largest gainer as far as attempts, but they are running more and it is coming from unlikely sources. Eduardo Nunez, Russell Martin, and Francisco Cervelli account for 27 percent of the team’s stolen base total this season. Conversely, nobody’s behavior has been affected more than the White Sox.
Ozzie Guillen has traditionally been very aggressive with the running game but this season, it just has not been there thanks to the massive struggles from Juan Pierre and Alex Rios. Their opportunities are still there as a team, but the attempts have nearly been cut in half as three of their four highest on-base percentages belong to the slow A.J. Pierzynski, the slower Carlos Quentin, and the slowest Paul Konerko. 23 of the 30 teams in baseball are attempting steals of second base more frequently in 2011 than they did last season despite the fact that half of the league has had fewer opportunities to do so this season.
It is obvious the White Sox are not going to match their total of 160 stolen bases from last season, but can the other 29 teams do so? The schedule is now 50 percent percent played out so the pace column on the table below shows the expected stolen base totals for teams for the rest of the season, assuming they continue their current stolen base trends.
That puts 19 teams on pace to exceed last year’s total which points to teams compensating for the declining power numbers in the league. On one end of the spectrum, we have John Farrell pushing the pedal more often with the Blue Jays than Cito Gaston did last year. Rajai Davis and Corey Patterson have combined for 30 steals despite the fact that neither can get on base even 30 percent of the time while Aaron Hill, Jose Bautista, and Travis Snider have added another 20 steals this season. On the other end of the spectrum is the mess on the south side of Chicago. Last season, Ozzie Guillen had the team looking like to the go-go Sox of 1959 as the team swiped 160 bases. This season, they’ve become the no-go White Sox as Juan Pierre is the only player on the team with double-digit steals, but he is just 10 for 19 on the year. He and Alex Rios combined for 102 steals last season; they have 15 so far this season as both are having miserable seasons at the plate. In between, we have new full-time and/or first time managers Kirk Gibson, Don Mattingly, Ron Roenicke, and Clint Hurdle on pace to exceed last season’s totals.
With the increased frequency of steals comes the increased frequency of teams giving away outs in the form of pick-offs. Already this season, 260 runners have been picked off, which is on pace to blow away the 390 that were picked off in 2010 and the 404 in 2009. Improved pick-off moves can sometimes lead to more balk calls, but that is not the case this season as 95 balks have been called in the league so far, putting pitchers on a pace to just barely exceed the total of 182 balks from last season.
Hitting may be down overall, but teams are attempting to make up for it on the basepaths. Last season, the 30 teams combined for 2,959 stolen bases, but this season, teams are on pace to exceed last season’s total by nearly 11 percent. 35 players swiped at least 20 bases in 2010, and at this midway point, 51 different players are on pace to steal 20 bases this season. Home runs are tougher to find this season, but stolen bases are not.