Baseball Primer Newsblog
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Saturday, April 18, 2009
Where a 61% stolen base success rate makes you a king, thanks to run expectancy matrices.
Robinson’s 30 attempts [at stealing home] certainly were, collectively, the second-boldest thing he ever did in baseball. But were they purely evidence of bravery, or also of recklessness? How did his antics on third base affect the Brooklyn Dodgers’ bottom line?
Robinson’s final total was 8.30 runs. That mark hardly justifies the fame he garnered for stealing home. Over a 10-year career, 8.30 runs is peanuts: it represents less than a single game’s difference in the Dodgers’ won-lost mark, or the difference between five home runs and five strikeouts.
But his record does say something about who he was as a player and as a man. Stealing home is like a poker player betting on an inside straight, a low-percentage play whose payoff is great enough to justify numerous failures — but not too many. To do it “profitably” requires the combination of cold calculation of risks and rewards with utter fearlessness. Robinson knew exactly what he was doing when he wandered off third base. Today’s best computers could barely have picked their spots better.
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