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May 31, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Stolen Base Report

by Jeff Erickson

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We spend a lot of time analyzing closers and closers-in-waiting for rotisserie purposes, and justifiably so, given the scarce nature of what they do. Not as much time is spent on stolen bases, however. So let's give them a deeper look, not just from the perspective of who is and who isn't running, but also looking at who is and who isn't preventing the running game. The following is a breakdown of some of the top basestealers, some unlikely sources of speed, and some trends among teams stopping stolen bases.

Felipe Lopez has 16 stolen bases, but his last successful attempt was on May 11, one day after his four-bag game against the Nats. Since the 11th he has gone 0-for-3 in stolen base attempts. His recent lack of steals isn't due to a slump either--his on-base percentage after the 11th was .369, and today it sits at .373. Reds manager Jerry Narron has emphasized to the media on multiple occasions that Lopez is not what he considers a traditional base stealer, but rather "a guy that can steal a base," so long as he picks his spots. Lopez might not always have the green light, so don't be surprised if his production starts to decline a little. The Reds have two other guys with at least 10 stolen bases, in Ryan Freel and Brandon Phillips. Freel's playing time has taken a big hit with the emergence of Phillips and the return of Ken Griffey Jr. from the DL, and he has slumped badly (.274 OBP in May) at the plate. He'll likely correct his problems at the plate, but unless and until he starts playing more regularly, he's not going to be as reliable as he once was at providing stolen bases. Phillips, on the other hand, has run more (seven of his 10 stolen bases have come in May) as he's gotten more playing time, even as his production at the plate has started to taper off (.279/.326/.349). He hasn't been caught yet in 10 attempts.

Corey Patterson has played pretty regularly ever since David Newhan's injury and has put it to good use. He's 17-for-18 on the basepaths, he's improved his on-base numbers to passable-if-not-good levels, and is starting against both lefties and righties. Even before Brian Roberts came off the DL, Patterson was hitting down in the order, so his production shouldn't change much.

After stealing seven bases in April, Adrian Beltre is just 2-for-4 in stolen base attempts in May. His career-high in stolen bases is 18, but he hasn't had a double-digit stolen base season since 2001. He's had a sore hamstring lately, an injury that also bothered him last year. Look for his May numbers to be closer to the norm than the exception.

Willy Taveras only has eight stolen bases on the season, but five of them have come in his last 10 games and seven overall in May. He hasn't been more productive at the plate for the month (in fact, his OPS has gone down during May), but he has been running more often and more successfully.

Torii Hunter missed much of last year with an ankle injury and got off to a slow start this year. He has only four stolen bases on the season, after swiping 23 in 98 games last year and 21 the year before that. The good news is that he seems to be running more recently, with two stolen bases in his last 10 games. He had recurring soreness in his ankle in April, an issue that still might be present later on. We originally projected 20 stolen bases for Hunter, a number that we would lower if we were to project him again now.

Curtis Granderson last stole a base on April 23 and his last attempt came on May 14. We weren't expecting 30 stolen bases from him, but we were certainly expecting a lot more than the three he's provided so far. A few weeks ago he expressed his frustration with his lack of running, due to the attention other pitchers have paid to him when he's on base. At this point in time, Granderson is a player with good speed but not necessarily the instincts to run often.

The baserunner is just one part of the stolen base equation, though. It's also important to pay attention to which catchers are easy to run against, and which ones prove extremely difficult. The starting point for any catcher analysis in stolen base attempts has to be Mike Piazza. Even though he's played less than many other starting catchers, he's tied for second in stolen bases allowed, having given up 36 stolen bases in 40 attempts. Josh Bard hasn't done any better in throwing out baserunners (to be fair, though, he did catch Tim Wakefield a few times before coming over to the Padres), allowing 17 of 18 runners to steal successfully against him. If you're looking for an opposing team to have a stolen base edge against, it's the Padres.

The Padres' catchers aren't the only ones struggling to stop the running game. Here are a few other catchers that you should always start your rabbits against, and their respective totals:

Victor Martinez - 36 of 42
Michael Barrett - 44 of 54
Ben Molina - 25 of 29
Brad Ausmus - 21 of 25
Matt LeCroy - 20 of 21
Brian Schneider - 17 of 22
Dioner Navarro - 16 of 16
Todd Pratt - 14 of 15

On the flip side, some catchers have done an excellent job in stifling the running game. One new face on that list is Russell Martin with the Dodgers. While Dioner Navarro and Sandy Alomar Jr. have combined to allow 27 of 28 baserunners to steal successfully, Martin has thrown out five runners in 13 attempts. A number of the Dodger pitchers have problems holding runners, but at least Martin has stemmed the tide somewhat. The most effective catcher at stopping the running game, however, has been Ivan Rodriguez once again. In 40 games, he's faced only 15 attempts, and he's thrown out seven of those runners. Similarly, Yadier Molina has seen only 17 attempts, throwing out seven. Here are some others that have been effective against the running game:

Ronny Paulino - 17 of 28
Jason Kendall - 16 of 29
Ramon Hernandez - 15 of 34
Joe Mauer - 12 of 23
Brian McCann - 12 of 22

McCann's injury means that your top stolen base threats should be more successful than normal, given the comparison between him and Todd Pratt.

You can also find an edge in picking up stolen bases by identifying the opposing starting pitcher. Tim Wakefield is the obvious example--it's pretty intuitive that a knuckleball pitcher would have a hard time holding runners, and sure enough, he's allowed a league-high 17 stolen bases so far. Seeing a couple of San Diego pitchers at the top of the list shouldn't be a surprise, but there are a few names on the list that might be, starting with Freddy Garcia, who has had 15 stolen bases against him, against only one caught stealing. Randy Johnson has allowed 12 stolen bases when he's pitched so far, good for fourth overall on the list. One surprise for me is another left-hander, Jeff Francis on the Rockies, who has given up 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. The top reliever on this list is Rafael Soriano, who has given up seven stolen bases already.

These are just some of the trends you should be on the lookout for. At the end of the season, that extra stolen base or two might turn into a higher finish in the standings.

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From The Mailbag: Four... (05/31)
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