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 Boston Red Sox beat Jered Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels, ensuring that the Toronto Blue Jays are now in last place in the American League East.

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.

Comments (14)

  1. Was is you or Stoeten that was so adamant in saying ‘lineup protection is a myth’ but now a month into the season we see most teams not going near Bautista.

    I think it was Stoeten, just kinda funny how he flips on the issues after he was calling people morons for not agreeing with him.


    The jays aren’t set up for a team that can do what Farrell wants it to. If you have a few guys like Rajai (when he’s right) who can slap the ball around and move along the base paths with ease, then this strategy would make more sense, and depending on your CS rate, possibly work. .. .
    However the jays don’t, they probably have one of the slowest teams in the league, even patterson, who is fast, sucks at getting good jumps and is timid when he slides.. There is really no point to making Juan fuckin Rivera steal a base. like C’mon.. Farrell is desperately trying to ‘create’ his own identity for this team, but its identity should come from its strengths.

  2. Well, a pitcher is definitely going to approach a hitter differently depending on who’s behind him, but in the end, it usually ends up evening out.

    Also, do you really think pitchers would be treating Bautista that differently depending on who was hitting behind him? Look at Ortiz and Ramirez and how each did with different people hitting in front/behind them. Not much of a difference.

  3. They won’t approach pitching bautista differently, however if Lind returns to Lind 2009, its perfectly logical to think that bautista will get pitched to more.. How many non intential walks have you seen pitchers throw at bautista, throwing him nothing near the strike zone..

    His percentage of pitches in the strike zone is down nearly 10%.. while pitchers are going to continue to fear him regardless of who’s hitting behind him.With another good batter behind him, the number of pitches in the strike zone thrown to him will surely climb, because bautista takes his walks.

  4. Why are you bothering to report on Ethier’s hit streak? Batting average and hits are overrated and anyone who uses them for any purpose deserves the Richard Griffin treatment.

  5. Batting average is pretty overrated in comparison to on base percentage, but it’s still impressive when Ichiro gets 200 hits every season and when a player gets a hit in 28 straight games.

  6. You know who I miss? Cito.

    He may not have done any managing, but at least he didn’t run into stupid outs in front of our best hitter.

  7. @dc:
    Lind’s 2011 #’s are very encouraging. His main problem last season was his inability to hit lefties as evidenced by his .117/.159/.182 line. So far this year he has hit .355/.364/.548 against lefties in 31 ABs.

    But the scary part is that Lind had good stats last April as well. I can’t find his lefty splits from April 2010, but he hit .286/.359/.484 against all pitching in that month.

  8. Some food for thought, courtesy of John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Info, who is tracking every SB attempt this year :

    Across baseball the SB% for attempts with zero outs is 60%. Which means a lot of managers across baseball aren’t very bright, it’s not just John Farrell.

    Secondly, and most importantly – through April, MLB hitters hit .201 and slugged .275 in at bat in which a stolen base attempt occurred. The obvious example of this is the Sam Fuld-Jonny Damon relationship – Fuld has attempted steals in 7 of Damon’s ABs; all of them were hitless, and 5 of them resulted in Ks.

  9. I am so relived that Jeter is finally being treated as every other baseball player. It was getting really annoying there for a while.

  10. NorthYorkJays, it’s possible that I should have given Cito more credit for his unwillingness to run and make stupid bunt plays. That was a great thing about this team.

  11. I think the break-even point for stolen base percentage has been shown to be less than the stated 80% (four-fifths). A range from 67% (two-thirds) to 75% (three-quarters) seems to be the accepted break-even range. 80% is a good rate at which SB are are good thing, ceteris paribus.


  12. I wrote about this (sort of) last night – studying the effect of pickoff attempts against the Jays’ offense. Sample size caveats, etc.. but some interesting food for thought – especially Jose Bautista who seems to have performed even better (read “Frickin unreal”) when the runner in front of him is distracting the pitcher to the point where pickoff throws are made.

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