Unfortunately, readers, Craig Brown and Bill Baer have been forced to step down from their posts at BP Fantasy due to personal issues. They will be missed, and I’d like to wish them the best of luck in the future.

On Monday, I conducted a study to determine which managers are the most aggressive in allowing their players to attempt stolen bases. Today, I thought I’d look at how we could have used this data in the preseason to predict which players were due for stolen-base improvements or declines.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were the team that spurred me to conduct the study given their much-discussed manager switch this offseason, in which the incredibly passive Ken Macha was let go in favor of Ron Roenicke, who swore to be much more aggressive than his predecessor. As such, it seems only fitting to check out the Brew Crew first.

Having a first-time manager at the helm, we weren’t sure exactly how much more we should expect Brewers players to run, but judging by our first example, it seems the answer was “a ridiculous amount.” Ryan Braun has more than doubled his attempts in 2011, which will likely make him a top-five pick in 2012.

Despite an injury-free 2010, Rickie Weeks has still managed to increase his stolen-base attempt rate this season. This might come as a result of more confidence being more than a year removed from a major injury, but it also probably has something to do with Macha and Roenicke.

Carlos Gomez hasn’t played as much this year as originally expected—the acquisition of Nyjer Morgan and his recent injury saw to that—but he has certainly made the most of the time he’s had. Always a burner, Gomez has posted his highest SBA% this season since his cup of coffee rookie year in 2007.

Coming from a manager who boosts stolen-base attempts by six percent, Yuniesky Betancourt has still doubled his attempt rate from last season. That’s insane. Often an overlooked fantasy commodity, the unspectacular Betancourt does enough of everything to have some value in deep mixed leagues, and was an absolute steal in most NL-only leagues this year. His recent hot streak may prevent it, but it’ll be interesting to see if that kind of value can be had again next year.

Seeing the smallest change of the Brewers’ stolen-base threats, Corey Hart has experienced a tiny boost from the addition of Roenicke. It could have something to do with the oblique injury he suffered at the end of spring training, but he hasn’t really been increasing his attempts as the year has progressed.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals didn’t change managers this offseason, but they did add a former Brewer who has gone wild since his liberation from Macha’s shackles. We always knew Alcides Escobar had speed, and he loved running in the minors, so it’s very nice to see him getting a green light. Fantasy owners who picked up on the Macha bit in the offseason likely found themselves a very good bargain and a cheap source of speed.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Last week, we noted that new Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle was by far the most aggressive manager in baseball, and the Pirates brought him on to replace John Russell, who fell on the other end of the spectrum, suppressing attempts by 26 percent. That makes for an enormous swing, but that doesn’t show up in Andrew McCutchen’s profile. He actually has seen his attempt rate decrease by five percent.

Jose Tabata has at least started stealing more than he did in his rookie year, but it’s not nearly by the gargantuan amount we might have expected from him. There are three possible explanations for what we’re seeing with Tabata and McCutchen:

  1. We’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. That is, once you’re an elite speedster and are attempting a lot of steals, you can only attempt so many more.
  2. Hurdle is new to the Pirates, who have a very reasoned front office (including former BPer Dan Fox), so they may have told him to hold the reigns a little tighter.
  3. Simple random variation

Neil Walker, a far less extreme player in terms of speed, has seen a very large relative increase in his attempt rate. It seems possible that even a passive manager like Russell gave McCutchen and Tabata green lights, so they’re simply doing what they’ve been doing. But guys like Walker, whose stolen-base attempts are more manager-dictated, have seen increases.

Boston Red Sox

Carl Crawford has followed our expectation almost to a tee. There’s a big swing from the aggressive Joe Maddon to the passive Terry Francona, and Crawford has seen a corresponding decline in steal attempts. He went on the DL in June with a mild hamstring strain, but he was only attempting steals in 21 percent of his opportunities before that. Owners counting on a bounceback might be wise to make other arrangements. Of course, his overall steal rate figures to improve once his average and, subsequently, his on-base percentage rises, but he shouldn’t be counted on to take off from first as often as he used to.

Colorado Rockies

No, that’s not a typo. 1352 percent. Ty Wigginton has come out of nowhere to start stealing bases this season, posting his highest total since he stole 12 in his first full season with the Mets in 2003. While Rockies manager Jim Tracy actually depresses steal attempts by 14 percent, Wigginton was coming from a team helmed by the most passive manager in baseball, Buck Showalter, so there was a net 15 percent expected increase. Wigginton has obviously far surpassed that, but that directionality could have been useful. It seems that the relatively more aggressive Tracy saw enough in Wigginton to think he could do a bit of running. It’s worked out well so far, as Wiggy has been successful on seven of eight attempts.