Toronto sports writer Ken Fidlin begins a recent article on the Toronto Blue Jays running game by suggesting:
Numbers guys will tell you the stolen base is irrelevant, that there is no mathematical relationship between stolen bases and the scoring of runs.
That’s simply not true. No “numbers guy” would ever suggest that anything in baseball is without a mathematical relationship. And no “numbers guy” in baseball would ever argue that stolen bases don’t increase the likelihood of scoring a run. What many “numbers guys” will bring up is that in many situations the threat of getting caught stealing isn’t worth the attempt of a stolen base. There’s a big difference between those two ideas.
It’s often said that in order to have a successful running game, a team’s base stealers must have a success rate of around 80%. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and in fact there’s likely an entire range of success rates depending on the inning, the pitcher, the catcher, the batter, the next batter, the score, the run expectancy situation and even the weather.
Our often hasty analysis of stolen bases also doesn’t properly take into account failed hit and runs, defensive indifference, pickoffs, balks, pickoff errors, hits that wouldn’t have occurred without a stolen base, infield defenders out of position and extra bases gained by running on pitches. All of which are really important factors to consider before laying down a blanket statement about success rates.
However, I think that the most frightening thing for “numbers guys” is that this stuff isn’t actually being considered when a manager like John Farrell of the Toronto Blue Jays begins to implement a serious running game for his team. It’s quotes like this that are the scariest:
We know that we are going to get thrown out but that’s not going to deter us. We don’t want to run scared because we get a guy thrown out at third base or if we get a guy thrown out after an aggressive move on the basepaths. We want to force the issue.
Can you imagine someone in another profession proudly admitting that their idea is going to lead to failure, but that they’re not prepared to let that fact deter them from doing it?
Anytime you create holes on the infield, either through movement or the threat of movement, you’re creating opportunities not only for the guy at the plate but you’re probably creeping into the thought patterns of the guy on the mound. More times than not when you see pitchers get relaxed and into their rhythm and their groove, they become more difficult. But if you can keep that from happening, maybe it lends to a mistake or two on the plate at some point in the game.
Trading outs for the possibility of a mistake or two at the plate seems like the type of investment strategy that gets companies into trouble.
But again, that’s not to suggest that stolen bases don’t have a purpose. It just seems to me that Farrell has become so enamored with the idea of using it as a distraction that he’s not properly seeing that there are situations where it ought not be done.
We witnessed two occasions during Sunday afternoon’s game against the Yankees in which a stolen base took the bat out of Jose Bautista’s hand, opening up a base for him to be walked to. Normally, merely avoiding outs is a good thing, but in the case of Jose Bautista in comparison to the rest of the team’s lineup, you want him getting the opportunity to put the ball in play.
The day before, we also saw Juan Rivera run into an out trying to steal third base off A.J. Burnett and Russell Martin. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you’re fast enough to steal third base, you’re also probably fast enough to score from second base on a base hit. If you’re not, don’t attempt either.
Likewise, if you’re not aware of the situation that you’re running into, why are you running at all?
And The Rest
NOOOOOO! A Derek Jeter mutiny is underway. New York, I love you, but you’re breaking my heart.
The Tampa Bay Rays will make mock drafts fun in the lead up to the MLB first year player draft.
Andre Ethier gets to 28 straight games with a hit, halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record.
Scott Sizemore could be getting his chance at redemption in Detroit shortly.
Expanding the MLB playoffs will ensure the elimination of mediocrity.
Now that his time in the Yankees organization is over, could Kevin Millwood be coming to Baltimore?
Good news for people who like Phil Hughes.
It’s third baseman Albert Pujols. That inning just increased his WAR.
How dare baseball mock the rikishi like this:
Bonus video: It’s Bernie Williams rocking out with Twisted Sister.