The slide step is intended to help pitchers, but would they be better off without it?
The classic Greek sabermetrician Plato said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” True to form, the slide step was borne from the need to suppress stolen bases at a time when the game was experiencing a record surge of thievery, but I submit that the strategy carries heavy costs that fail to outweigh the perceived benefits. The slide step invention is in dire need of an intervention.
The slide step is an artifact of the 1980s, a time when players such as Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman were surpassing 100 stolen bases with regularity, terrorizing pitchers with constant distractions on the base paths. Since the Dead Ball Era, there have been 18 player-seasons that surpassed the 80-steal threshold, and 15 of those performances occurred in the 10-year stretch from 1979—1988. Henderson and Coleman were the last players to accomplish the feat, having tallied 174 steals between them in the '88 season, and were responsible for 10 of the 80-steal seasons between them, but the base-swiping explosion was hardly a two-man show (see accompanying chart). Today's top rogues of the base paths typically top out around 60 to 70 steals, with Jose Reyes' 78-steal tally of 2007 sticking out like a hitchhiker's thumb on the decade's SB leaderboard. For example, Michael Bourn has led the National League in stolen bases for three straight seasons, though his career-high is “just” 61 steals (accomplished twice). As Henderson told Harold Reynolds after the Mariner second baseman stole 60 bags in the 1987 season, “Rickey stole 60 at the break!”
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Michael looks at three hitters who could start stealing more bases and three who could start stealing fewer the rest of the way.
Success in stealing bases is very difficult to predict, and we might be better off looking at a player's stolen base opportunities and attempts to help us find potential players who could help us in terms of volume steals. Of course, the players decide on their own whether or not they want to take off or not (perhaps with the help or confidence of their managers), and some do not seem to have the best of judgment when it comes to making these decisions. Looking through the list of players with at least 50 stolen base opportunities in 2011 (data provided by Baseball-Reference), one can definitely identify some players who should seemingly be running more to help their fantasy owners and some who should be running less to help their run-scoring chances.
Jason notices that stolen bases are down around the league this season and examines why this might be happening.
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.
Ned Yost says he wants his first baseman to steal 10 bases in 2011--is that realistic, or insanity?
Spring Training is always good for a few canned stories. I don’t know about you, but I have lost count of how many guys are in the best shape of their lives as well as how many guys are just working on things to get ready for the season. It may take the players a few weeks to get game ready, but their clichés are in mid-season form right out of the gate. So, when a manager comes out and says that his hefty first baseman has a chance of stealing ten bases in 2011, you take notice.
Methodological musings on the nature of stolen base runs.
Baserunning is the neglected stepsister of offense. It tends not to be well correlated with metrics that evaluate hitting performance, and indeed is often more likely to be associated with defense. The common intuition that teams that play good defense tend to run the bases well to boot is corroborated by the data, which makes sense, given that speed plays an important role in both pursuits. The top ten baserunners in baseball by BRR are all considered above average defenders, and each plays—or is capable of playing—an up-the-middle position. At the same time, only Carl Crawford among them is considered a great hitter, and a couple of them (Emilio Bonifacio, I’m looking at you) are downright dreadful. In other words, baserunning is one of those dusty backwaters of analysis that continually confounds expectations.
The Yankees look to get back to yet another World Series while the Rangers are in uncharted territory.
From 1996 through 1999, the Joe Torre-led Yankees and the Johnny Oates-piloted Rangers faced off in three American League Division Series, the first three times the latter franchise had ever reached the postseason. The Yankees won nine of those 10 games, holding the Rangers to a lone run apiece in their 1998 and 1999 sweeps. Times have changed, however, and while the Yankee machine has simply kept rolling, racking up four pennants and two world championships while missing the playoffs just once since their last meeting, the Rangers endured a dark decade before reemerging as AL West champions thanks to the shrewd deal making of general manager Jon Daniels and the fruits of their well-stocked farm system.
An exercise in sorting out when and why stolen-base rates fluctuate.
A lot of sabermetric research has gone into understanding when to steal, and when not to. Most of this research focuses on understanding the number of outs in the inning and the current position of the runners and calculating the increased run expectancy of a successful attempt versus the decreased run expectancy of an unsuccessful attempt. I direct the new reader to Joe Sheehan's article in the Baseball Prospectus Basics series as a great primer to this concept. Almost all of the research ends up with statements like, 'If the success rate for a stolen base is at least X percent in situation Y, then it's a good tactic to steal in this situation.' However, very little research has been devoted to understanding what the success rate X is likely to be, or it has been assumed that simply looking at either the runner's success rate is a good enough measure for that.
Should the Mets try to go from being slapped around to getting slappy?
Between injuries and general impotence, the Mets have just one player in double-figure home runs, the superannuated Gary Sheffield with 10. It's like they're doing an imitation of the 1980s Cardinals without the stolen bases. Sheffield is on the shelf with lower back pain and isn't likely to play much the rest of the year, so it's very possible he will stick at 10. Any number of Mets may pass him in the season's final month, but right now the Mets' list of who's hit how many home runs is reminiscent of that of the 1986 Cards, an anorexic outfit that batted .236/.309/.327 and had just one hitter in double figures for homers, Andy Van Slyke. They did offset their lack of power to some degree by stealing 262 bases. The Mets have 106 swiped bags to lead the National League. Times, as Cole Porter wrote, have changed.
The Rickey conversation takes new turns, answering who's least like the speedster among active players, and most like him historically.
Rickey Henderson's much-anticipated Hall of Fame induction speech may have disappointed those who yearned for a proclamation of all-time greatness, perhaps accompanied by a bronze plaque hoisted high overhead. Instead, Henderson took his place among the game's greats with a performance on Sunday that balanced humor and humility, with nary a third-person reference to be heard.
The scoop on which early stolen base leaders will keep up their thievery all season and which offer false promise.
In most fantasy leagues, saves and stolen bases are one-category events that often cost more than they're worth. Thus, we spend a lot of time studying the trends in each category to find cheap sources of both, and to avoid the fools' gold tempting an unsuspecting fantasy owner. More attention often goes to the closers, and we'll be addressing them in future columns, but stolen bases deserve their own focus. They aren't quite as scarce as they were just two years ago; there were over 2,900 total stolen bases in major league baseball in 2007, nearly 400 higher than in 2005. Still, they're rare enough to rate an early look. Keep in mind the usual small sample size caveats that come with any April analysis.