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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jonah Keri on the art of stealing bases

If you formed your first baseball memories in the 1980s, you’re watching a very different game than the one you grew to love as a kid. The ’80s were the time of Rickey Henderson becoming the greatest of all time. Tim Raines drove opposing pitchers insane. Vince Coleman swiped 100-plus three years in a row.

The Chronicles of Reddick Posted: March 20, 2013 at 03:54 PM | 30 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. kthejoker Posted: March 20, 2013 at 05:44 PM (#4392977)
Bump. Cool stories from the trenches, especially Willie Wilson's sidebar on his homemade knee pads.
   2. kthejoker Posted: March 20, 2013 at 05:44 PM (#4392980)
Hmm ... not showing up on Hot Topics ...
   3. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: March 20, 2013 at 07:52 PM (#4393100)
Just for comparison (haven't RTFA, but I looked this up a couple days ago.

2012: 3229 SB, 1136 CS. 107.6 SB per team and a 74% success rate.
1983: 3325 SB, 1619 CS. 127.9 SB per team and a 67% success rate.

SB are down, by about 15%. But what's really down are CS, by nearly a third. Note, I chose 1983 because it's a year Rickey had over 100 SB and where Raines had his career year.
   4. Danny Posted: March 20, 2013 at 07:59 PM (#4393103)
Great article. I'm kinda surprised Coco revealed as much as he did.
   5. Rough Carrigan Posted: March 20, 2013 at 08:39 PM (#4393130)
Terrific piece. Even the little insets with Willie Wilson and Pete Rose were very good.
And, yeah, Danny's right. I have to believe that Buck Showalter will have Matusz reading this.
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: March 20, 2013 at 08:46 PM (#4393135)
SB are down, by about 15%. But what's really down are CS, by nearly a third. Note, I chose 1983 because it's a year Rickey had over 100 SB and where Raines had his career year.


They go hand in hand. When offense goes up, the value of a SB goes down (and thus the breakeven point for an SB attempt goes up). In turn, teams begin to select less for catcher throwing, and CS go down. If SBs begin to increase in a lower-offensive environment, throwing will again be something of greater value for catchers, which will then increase CS.

Baseball's awesome that way.
   7. Der-K: Hipster doofus Posted: March 20, 2013 at 08:50 PM (#4393138)
Nice job again, Jonah
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: March 20, 2013 at 09:05 PM (#4393151)
Oh, and I agree with the praise for the piece. Great stuff.
   9. Fancy Pants Handle doesn't need no water Posted: March 20, 2013 at 09:23 PM (#4393167)
SB are down, by about 15%. But what's really down are CS, by nearly a third. Note, I chose 1983 because it's a year Rickey had over 100 SB and where Raines had his career year.

They go hand in hand. When offense goes up, the value of a SB goes down


Runs per game:
1983 4.31
2012 4.32
   10. SoSH U at work Posted: March 20, 2013 at 09:29 PM (#4393173)
Runs per game:
1983 4.31
2012 4.32


Yes, it doesn't happen overnight. There's a lag.

   11. SoSH U at work Posted: March 20, 2013 at 09:31 PM (#4393176)
Damn, my first DP in this new DP-friendly era.
   12. Karl from NY Posted: March 20, 2013 at 10:35 PM (#4393220)
They go hand in hand. When offense goes up, the value of a SB goes down (and thus the breakeven point for an SB attempt goes up). In turn, teams begin to select less for catcher throwing, and CS go down. If SBs begin to increase in a lower-offensive environment, throwing will again be something of greater value for catchers, which will then increase CS.

This is plausible (and well stated), but I'd think the drop in CS is more due to better information than to teams selecting for catcher throwing ability. Modern timing and video data allows coaches and players to assess much more accurately the chance of success on an attempt. If the breakeven point is 70%, now teams have the insight to identify that a particular attempt is more like 65% and decline it.
   13. John Northey Posted: March 20, 2013 at 10:35 PM (#4393222)
Another issue is guys with good enough arms to be top catchers might be turned into pitchers more often during times of high offense, which would force a longer lag as teams would have to get out of that habit first. We are seeing more defense first catchers again though it seems, but the focus seems to be more on ability to frame pitches and the like than on great arms.
   14. SoSH U at work Posted: March 20, 2013 at 10:53 PM (#4393232)

This is plausible (and well stated), but I'd think the drop in CS is more due to better information than to teams selecting for catcher throwing ability. Modern timing and video data allows coaches and players to assess much more accurately the chance of success on an attempt. If the breakeven point is 70%, now teams have the insight to identify that a particular attempt is more like 65% and decline it.


It's possible, but I'm not sure. I don't see any reason why pitchers and catchers wouldn't benefit from some of that same modern technology to ID when teams are likely to attempt to steal and act accordingly. My suspicion is that changing trends on CS rates likely follow changing offensive environments (and, more specifically, the breakeven rates for SBs. A part of that changing CS rates is how much throwing ability is weighed in catcher evaluations at a given time).

Now, there are obviously lots of factors at work here. But baseball has a wonderful self-balancing quality to it that's lacking in inferior sports, and the running game (and the defense against it) is just one of those examples.

   15. Pingu Posted: March 20, 2013 at 10:54 PM (#4393233)
Great article. I'm kinda surprised Coco revealed as much as he did.


Great article, and ya, no kidding. Crisp basically said he never runs from 2nd base with 2 strikes. I definitely file that away if I'm a pitcher or advance scout. Crisp has really become a great base stealer, somewhat late in his career. Some recent injuries have masked just how good he really has become.

Excellent article. Makes me nostalgic for the days of Rickey Henderson, where you knew he was going every chance he got, it was just a matter of whether the AB would last long enough for him to get a good read on the pitcher. In terms of just simple pleasure of watching a baseball game, theres not much better in my opinion.
   16. BourbonSamurai Is a Lazy Nogoodnik Posted: March 20, 2013 at 11:02 PM (#4393242)
Just echoing that this is a fantastic piece.
   17. vortex of dissipation Posted: March 20, 2013 at 11:22 PM (#4393258)
One of the great pleasures of watching Ichiro during his peak seasons was to watch him steal third base. He had an uncanny knack for knowing exactly when to go. You can look at the stats, of course, and the stats say that he's 103 for 121 lifetime stealing third, an 85% success rate. But it seems like a on huge proportion of those steals, he had such a huge jump that the catcher didn't even bother to throw, and Ichiro just went into third standing up...
   18. hokieneer Posted: March 20, 2013 at 11:49 PM (#4393281)
Excellent article. Makes me nostalgic for the days of Rickey Henderson, where you knew he was going every chance he got, it was just a matter of whether the AB would last long enough for him to get a good read on the pitcher. In terms of just simple pleasure of watching a baseball game, theres not much better in my opinion.


And that's why I can't wait to watch Billy Hamilton in a Reds uniform either later this year or in 2013. He's stolen 320 bases at a 82% clip in his minor league career. I have no idea what kind of base-stealing skills he posses besides being faster than fast, but cant wait to find out.

I really enjoyed the article Jonah.
   19. Pingu Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:07 AM (#4393300)
Agreed. Lets just hope Hamilton can get on base at 2/3 the rate of Rickey. It will be fun to watch.
   20. Sunday silence Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:36 AM (#4393312)

They go hand in hand. When offense goes up, the value of a SB goes down (and thus the breakeven point for an SB attempt goes up). In turn, teams begin to select less for catcher throwing, and CS go down. If SBs begin to increase in a lower-offensive environment, throwing will again be something of greater value for catchers, which will then increase CS.



this certainly makes sense, but I am not sure the relationship is very direct. Looking at Runs per game and SB per games. If you look at the jump in offense in 1973 et al. SB per game as well as OPS are both going up the rest of the decade. It seems like there are a number of factors at work here, possibly artificial turf maybe helping the running game as well. If you look at 1993-94 which ushered in a new lively ball era, runs per game jumps about 1/2 but SB per game stays about the same. Finally SB drop at the end of the decade. So it took years for this effect to happen, if that's what really happened.

And the second dead ball era starting in 1963, doesnt seem to affect SB until about 3 years later, when the start to go up. But this is perhaps the best example to support your theory of the three periods I mentioned.

It's hard to say what's going on. As a guess, I'd say it takes years for these trends to actually settle in, but there must also be other effect such as base path conditions, emphasis on the balk rule, perhaps team rosters...? I dunno. As a broad statement it's open to question.

But I like the logic.
   21. Dan Evensen Posted: March 21, 2013 at 01:00 AM (#4393316)
Absolutely fantastic article. I'd love to see more like this.
   22. boteman digs the circuit clout Posted: March 21, 2013 at 01:23 AM (#4393323)
But there's something about the interplay of pitcher and base runner, the holds and looks over, leads and jumps, the constant cat-and-mouse game between a mindful hurler and a master thief that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

And makes the game take longer than it should, according to some (even here).
   23. Rants Mulliniks Posted: March 21, 2013 at 08:10 AM (#4393364)
This was good (from Willie Wilson):

"Oh and here's the biggest secret. Whenever I slid, I always dusted myself off. Because if you look like you're safe, the umpire thinks you're safe. If you slide and then look at it him like, 'What is it?' He'll say, 'You're out!' So looking safe is a big part of it. One time, I slid into second, Ozzie Guillen was covering the base. It was a real close play, but I just started wiping. The ump goes, 'Safe! Safe!' Ozzie yells, 'Why?' The ump says, 'I don't know!'
   24. asinwreck Posted: March 21, 2013 at 08:59 AM (#4393385)
Excellent stuff. Would love to read a response by Betancourt.
   25. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 21, 2013 at 09:20 AM (#4393391)
Great stuff.
   26. Gwyn Posted: March 21, 2013 at 12:42 PM (#4393561)
I feel like I can make this all the time, if you give me a 1.3. You give me a 1.2, all right, I have to do everything perfect here. Give me a 1.1, I'm not going.


I loved that quote from Crisp. I assume teams now get this from the video rather than the coach at first with the stopwatch ? I know absolutely nothing about video editing software but I assume this is something it can be used for pretty easily.

I've never seen any of the data anywhere - are these times available anywhere for any pitchers ?
   27. Danny Posted: March 21, 2013 at 02:52 PM (#4393702)
Crisp basically said he never runs from 2nd base with 2 strikes. I definitely file that away if I'm a pitcher or advance scout.

FWIW, he stole 3B with two strikes at least once last year: off Colby Lewis while Reddick was up with a 2-2 count.
   28. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 03:16 PM (#4393744)
Crisp basically said he never runs from 2nd base with 2 strikes. I definitely file that away if I'm a pitcher or advance scout.


Maybe he's planning on doing it a lot this year. He's playing the game within the game :-)
   29. Jonah Keri Posted: March 21, 2013 at 03:18 PM (#4393749)
Thanks very much, gang!

Coco made the piece. He was so incredibly insightful, and gracious with his time. Hell, same goes for Willie Wilson and Pete Rose. Really a fun one to report, I learned so much from these guys.
   30. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 21, 2013 at 03:30 PM (#4393761)
Very interesting that Wilson always slid feet first. His arguments make sense (protect your hands, easier to see and move us on a bad throw) but very different than the other big SB guys (Henderson, Raines, etc.).

Edit: forgot to say, good article!

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