How did Chase Utley become the best percentage basestealer in baseball?
To understand why Chase Utley, a man who is not very fast or really much of a base-stealer at all, stands alone as the most efficient base-stealer in modern baseball history, you have to look a little bit farther down.
Not much farther down, usually just a spot or occasionally two in the Phillies order. Stop when you get to Ryan Howard. The big first baseman, not any left-hander’s pickoff move or any right arm behind the plate, has been the biggest deterrent to Utley’s steals.
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There was a time when goliaths roamed the Earth. Runs were plentiful, and with few natural enemies, these behemoths could grow larger and larger, more and more sedentary. They had no need to run, so they lumbered about, leisurely returning home unmolested by predator or foe.
But the metaphor could not last forever. Eventually, offense in baseball went back down to more typical levels, and the game once again welcomed back the singles hitter, the glove man, the productive out. And, as runs went down, stolen bases went up. I gave the following graph, showing leaguewide scoring and stolen base totals by year, a pun title.
Remember that piece back in December about Coco Crisp's tendency to steal bases before the pitcher begins to comes home with the pitch? Last night another Athletics outfielder, Chris Young, paid homage against Joe Blanton. Here are some visuals. First Young when he starts to run compared to Blanton:
Catchers can't throw anyone out anymore. Why is that, and should we be worried?
At the end of May, Rob Neyer wrote a piece about baseball’s ever-rising strikeout rate, which reached yet another new high this season. In that piece, he called Ernesto Frieri a canary in a coal mine—the coal mine, in this case, being the major leagues, and the toxic substance being strikeouts. Instead of keeling over in his cage, Frieri had started striking out everyone: when that piece was published, he’d struck out 23 batters in his previous 11 innings, without allowing a hit. For some, Frieri’s feat was just kind of cool. For Neyer, it was the latest reminder of a creeping strikeout menace that has already proved harmful to the health of the game. You can disagree with Neyer’s stance on the trend toward more strikeouts—Sam Miller and I did, on our podcast in September—but you can’t deny that the trend is there. Frieri is the face of it for Neyer; probably some other pitcher is the face of it for you.* It has many possible faces, which was precisely Neyer’s point. Ten years ago, there were 26 relievers who pitched at least 50 innings with at least as many strikeouts; this year, there were 61.
*The face of it for me was Jason Grilli, who struck out 1.5 batters per inning after striking out half a batter per inning six years ago.