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August 22, 2014

Raising Aces

Police and Thieves

by Doug Thorburn


The pitcher is only partly responsible for preventing the stolen base, as the process also involves the catcher, the infielders, and the baserunner himself. This reality is a major part of my personal disdain for the slide step, given the importance of pitcher timing and how that is disrupted when a pitcher compromises his delivery in an attempt to thwart the running game. That said, there is certainly an ability to limit opposing base-thieves that varies from pitcher to pitcher, including one's pace to the plate and the quality of a pitcher's pickoff move. These differences are better understood by examining those players who are at the extreme ends of the stolen-base spectrum.

We will be looking only at right-handed pitchers for the purpose of this analysis, as to avoid the additional variables that come into play with a southpaw on the mound. Let's start with the worst pitchers in the game with respect to policing the basepaths this season before we move onto those hurlers who keep runners handcuffed to first.

I encourage the readers to bust out the stopwatch and manually time these deliveries in the images provided. All times are measured from the moment the front foot lifts from the ground through the instant it comes back into contact with the dirt (aka leg lift to foot strike). In addition, the times are given in ranges to reflect both the bounds of human error and the variability inherent in individual pitcher timing. All statistics are through the games of August 19th.

Tyson Ross
2014: 27/33 SBs in 166 2/3 IP, 81.8%
Career: 51/67 (76.1%), one steal every 9.6 IP


The 28 steals that Ross has surrendered this season are the most in the majors, and his vulnerability to the running game is at least somewhat due to a slow delivery that manifests from both the windup and the stretch. He eschews the slide step when opposing runners are in position to steal, sticking with a regular leg lift while maintaining a similar timing pattern. Putting the stopwatch to his stretch delivery, Ross gets from leg lift to foot strike in 1.00 to 1.05 seconds, which is a relatively standard time for a pitcher who is throwing from the windup but is considered to be on the slow side from the stretch. It is worth noting that Ross has been similarly effective from both the windup and the stretch in 2014, giving back about 50 points of OPS when pitching with only first base occupied and a timing disparity between the two motions on the order of 0.10 seconds.

A.J. Burnett
2014: 26/33 SBs in 171 IP, 78.8%
Career: 319/406 (78.6%), one steal every 7.9 IP


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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (08/22)
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