URL Weaver: Speed Kills

St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs

Everybody loves the stolen base. There is no greater way to elevate the view of a player in the fans’ eyes than have him a swipe a few bags. There is a certain allure of the stolen base, the mental game of cat and mouse between the base runner and the battery, that makes base thieves universally beloved. Mistaking activity for productivity ain’t new.

Given the ex-catchers turned pundits and field bosses, an inordinate amount of attention is given to base stealers, to throwing over to first in an attempt to, all together now, “control the running game.”

Chicago Cubs fans had little to cheer about in 2012. The team was awful, at the lowest ebb of their ongoing rebuild. They suffered through the growing pains of can’t miss prospects, injury to staff ace Matt Garza and the endless Alfonso Soriano odyssey. One tiny light at the end of their tunnel was outfielder Tony Campana.

Tony Campana is a throwback baseball player, a guy who slaps the ball around and steals bases with abandon, swiping 30 bags in 33 attempts. He was one of only six major leaguers to attempt 10 or more non-sacrifice bunts. Numbers made all the more impressive considering Campana came to the plate less than 200 times.

One of the frequent topics of discussion during the recent Cubs Fanfest was finding playing time for Campana. They love him and love his style. His speed could really help the team win a lot of ballgame, is the commonly-held belief.

Whichever team Tony Campana helps this year, it won’t be the Cubs, as they DFA’d the fan favorite yesterday to make room on the 40 man roster for recent signee Scott Hairston.

Simply put, there is no stat more overrated than stolen bases. They are an essential part of the game but no player can survive on one tool alone. It may sound like a boring canard but you simply cannot steal first, the most important base to gain of all.

Despite putting up a .351 BABIP thanks to all his bunts and infield hits, Tony Campana only managed a .306 on base percentage. Not bad on its own but, without any power to speak of, it hardly makes Campana indispensable.

A quick look through the 2012 leaderboard reveals quite a few players who were below-average hitters with decent stolen base numbers. How many of those batters come to camp this week with a lock on a full time job? How many were actually traded this off-season, largely as parts of bigger deal?

Even looking towards prospects, we see universally loved base stealer Billy Hamilton ranking as the 30th best prospect in baseball according to Keith Law despite setting records with his legs in 2012. Stealing 155 bases is a great feat but, again, hit or go home.

Scrolling through the historical weights of wOBA components demonstrates the marginal value of stolen bases – the weight of a stolen base remains the same throughout the history of the game while getting caught stealing ebbs and flows with the nature of the game. During the offensively charged times in the late 90s and early Aughts, getting caught stealing was incredibly damaging as a potential home run lurked in the bat of every man in the lineup.

With the current run environment, making an out on the bases is not nearly as damning as ten years ago, though it is still weights twice as heavily against as a stolen base does in favor of the larcenist.

Situationally, a stolen base can mean the world. Like the famous Game 4 theft of second by Dave Roberts during the 2004 ALCS, it can change the complexion of a game. But the song remains the same: over the long regular season, a few stolen bases don’t erase the uncomfortable fact that you still must reach first before you can steal anything.

And the rest

First day of Spring Training as pitchers and catchers report all over! Your must-follow account during this time is Bad Spring Training Twitpics. [BSTTP]

Petco Park construction hums along smoothly.

I believe the chain link fence behind the large black fence represents the new dimensions. The black stuff is probably just to keep fans off the new warning track.

Five questions as the Giants look to repeat. [SF Chronicle]

Previewing the Rays rotation. Everybody loves Chris Archer. You can call him Mallory, his teammates call him Dutchess. [The Process Report]

This piece on Felix Hernandez, by Marc Nomandin, is especially good for this one passage alone: “(t)rying to limit risk doesn’t mean you can never take any” [Sports on Earth]

Interesting from Jeff Sullivan on home runs, comparing the speed they’re thrown to the speed at which they leave the bat. [Fangraphs}

File this one under “awesome Spring Training Instagrams”