Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Theft Falls To Historic Lows

The mortal wounds struck to stolen bases weren’t caused by a decline in skills, as the league, as a whole, is better than ever in terms of successfully stealing. In fact, the 75.6% success rate in 2021 was the second-highest mark since 1937 – the highest was 75.2%, all the way back in 2020. No, it’s a lack of trying that’s at the root of the stolen base dying.

Since 1920 (the year that failed attempts started being tracked every season), major league baseball has averaged less than two stolen base attempts per 100 plate appearances in 52 of 102 seasons. Of those 52, 42 came over the 48 years between 1926 and 1973 (with the other six seasons only barely breaking the two-attempt threshold) – a period I’m confident in affectionately referring to as the “dead bag” era.

Since this unofficial era ended in 1973, only ten seasons have averaged fewer than two attempts per 100 PA, and seven of them have come since 2015, with 2013 (2.00) and 2014 (2.07) only barely crossing the mark. But after decreasing in every year except 2020, the rate of attempts fell to new depths in 2021 – 1.60 attempts per 100 PA is the lowest rate since 1964 and 2898 attempts were over 200 fewer than in 2019 and over 500 fewer than in 2018.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: October 14, 2021 at 10:46 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: stolen bases

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Eddie Gaedel Posted: October 14, 2021 at 12:55 PM (#6046288)
Is measuring "frequency of stolen base" by attempt per PA really the best metric? Could the dearth of SBs be at least partially explained by the historically low league-wide OBP? I mean, you have to reach base before you can be in position to steal one, right?

In 7 of the past 10 years, the league OBP has been lower than .320.

That last happened in the late 60s (eight times between 1963-1972).

Those dates seem to match perfectly with this quote from TFA:

Since 1920 (the year that failed attempts started being tracked every season), major league baseball has averaged less than two stolen base attempts per 100 plate appearances in 52 of 102 seasons. Of those 52, 42 came over the 48 years between 1926 and 1973 (with the other six seasons only barely breaking the two-attempt threshold)...

Since this unofficial era ended in 1973, only ten seasons have averaged fewer than two attempts per 100 PA, and seven of them have come since 2015, with 2013 (2.00) and 2014 (2.07) only barely crossing the mark.


League wide stats by year
   2. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: October 14, 2021 at 01:06 PM (#6046296)
The Reds had 36 steals last year. 36! That makes me almost want to bring back Billy Hamilton.
   3. Howie Menckel Posted: October 14, 2021 at 01:06 PM (#6046297)
ACTIVE SB LEADERS (Years, Age)

1. Elvis Andrus (13, 32) 317
2. Billy Hamilton (9, 30) 314
3. Starling Marte (10, 32) 296
4. Brett Gardner (14, 37) 274
5. Jarrod Dyson (12, 36) 266
6. Jose Altuve (11, 31) 261
7. Jonathan Villar (9, 30) 232
8. Mike Trout (11, 29) 203
8. Trea Turner (7, 28) 203
10. Andrew McCutchen (13, 34) 197
11. Jean Segura (10, 31) 192
12. Lorenzo Cain (12, 35) 188
13. Cameron Maybin (15, 34) 187
14. Alcides Escobar (12, 34) 177
15. Whit Merrifield (6, 32) 159
16. Jose Ramirez (9, 28) 154
17. Justin Upton (15, 33) 151
18. Dexter Fowler (14, 35) 149
19. Mookie Betts (8, 28) 146
20. Paul Goldschmidt (11, 33) 140

9 of the 364 players with 200 SB are active
fun fact: the "exactly 200" SB club includes Jackie Robinson, Jose Canseco, and Ken Griffey, Sr.
   4. Don August(us) Cesar Geronimo Berroa Posted: October 14, 2021 at 01:12 PM (#6046299)
The Reds had 36 steals last year. 36! That makes me almost want to bring back Billy Hamilton


He couldn't have been worse than Shogo!


Need Votto to run more. He has a 92.8% success rate since 2017! ;-)

edit: also, the Reds attempted 60 stolen bases, so, a nifty 60% success ratio on the year. they should have tried less often!
   5. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 14, 2021 at 01:31 PM (#6046301)
Does anyone know what the team low for stolen bases is? The 1953 St. Louis Browns had 17 (with 34 caught stealing).
   6. cookiedabookie Posted: October 14, 2021 at 01:49 PM (#6046308)
@1 That was my first thought. If we sort by SB/100 Opportunities (100*(SB/(H+BB+HBP-HR)), since 1901, 2021 ranks 76th, essentially tied with 1925, 1970, and 2019. Conversely, 2021 had the 20th-lowest CS/100 Opportunities, meaning that stealing bases has become a highly efficient practice in the modern game. It also means there's probably some value being left on the table by teams being too conservative on the basepaths.
   7. tonywagner Posted: October 14, 2021 at 01:50 PM (#6046309)
Is measuring "frequency of stolen base" by attempt per PA really the best metric? Could the dearth of SBs be at least partially explained by the historically low league-wide OBP? I mean, you have to reach base before you can be in position to steal one, right?

Yup, that would be a factor. Plus HR rate.

Although it still looks like the ratio of stolen base attempts per ball in play is at its lowest point since 1965.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: October 14, 2021 at 04:01 PM (#6046344)
Yep, #s 1, 6 and 7 ... singles are way down. I'd probably just use singles in that formula -- sure, players can steal 3rd or even home but it's never been common. Ideally I'd look just at steals of second and opportunities defined as runner on 1st, nobody on 2nd ... but that's a pain.

In 2021 AL, there were 21,289 singles, BB and HBP (there's also be some RoEs) or 23.4% of all PAs. The SBA/(times on 1B) rate was 7.0%

In 1980 AL, there were 22,693 times on 1B (with one fewer team) or 26.0% of all PAs. The SBA/(times on 1B) rate was 9.8%.

here were 307 more successful steals, about 22 per team. There were however -- this is a bit of a shocker -- 426 more CS. That seems a very bad tradeoff indeed. Going from memory, that's about 180 runs less than what they'd have gotten with today's SB and CS numbers. That would almost completely close the 0.09 R/G difference between 1980 and 2021.

It's not the HRs and the Ks, it's the more efficient stealing!! :-)
   9. Walt Davis Posted: October 14, 2021 at 04:15 PM (#6046350)
By the way, b-r does break down SB and CS by base. In 1980, runners were 1321/648 on steals of second, which would include some double-steals. They were 119/69 on steals of third (that doesn't seem good) and ... obviously something "scoring-related" here, 15/58 on steals of home. Trust me, there were not 73 straight steal attempts of home in 1980 ... but I can't believe there were that many attempts at first and third double-steals either ... but I can't believe there were that many guys thrown out on wild pitches either. 26 of the 58 CS were the A's and Jays so maybe it really was terrible baserunning decisions. In 2021, "steals of home" were 7/6.

2021 vs 1980 AL: about 700 fewer steal attempts of second ... but slightly MORE attempts of third (206 ... about right for a 15th team) ... and 60 fewer "attempts" of home.

So, whatever it is, the reduction in attempts at home is pretty obviously a smart thing. 700 fewer attemtps at second works out to about 350/350 which is pretty obviously a good trade-off unless those are mostly high-leverage steal attempts. And attempting third at the same rate at a higher success rate seems a smart thing.
   10. vortex of dissipation Posted: October 14, 2021 at 04:39 PM (#6046361)
Does anyone know what the team low for stolen bases is? The 1953 St. Louis Browns had 17 (with 34 caught stealing).



The Senators had 13 in 1957 (with 38 CS). After July, they were 1 for 16.
   11. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: October 14, 2021 at 06:11 PM (#6046380)
So teams are getting smarter. Attempts per reaching 1B is not dramatically down, but CS is way down. Successful SB% are on the rise. Teams have figured out then unless you have Tim Raines, the trade off isn't worth it.
There is of course the notion that it unsettles the pitcher and defence but I'm not sure how you measure that?
   12. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 14, 2021 at 07:08 PM (#6046389)
So teams are getting smarter.

Yes, but as in many other areas (take and rake, RP usage, max-effort strikeout pitching), teams getting smarter makes for less entertaining baseball.
   13. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: October 14, 2021 at 07:15 PM (#6046393)
teams getting smarter makes for less entertaining baseball.


Agree. However winning is the goal. So the game needs tweaks to make it more entertaining whilst maintaining that need to strive for victory. Pitch clock and I'm coming around to (I can't think of the poster who keeps pushing this one) less distance between the bases would be a good start.
   14. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: October 14, 2021 at 07:25 PM (#6046394)
The Senators had 13 in 1957 (with 38 CS).

Eddie Yost was definitely not The Stealing Man that year, going 1-for-12. That's tied for the second-worst SB% with at least 10 attempts (Pete Runnels went 0-for-10 with the '52 Senators; Jose Vizcaino also went 1-for-12 in 1994).
   15. Walt Davis Posted: October 14, 2021 at 08:27 PM (#6046407)
So teams are getting smarter.

Sure but it is also the HRs -- there's simply less value to being on second if the next batter is at least half as likely to get a XBH as a single.

1980: 15,072 singles; 5,886 XBH
2021: 12,629 singles; 7,331 XBH

If, say, your #3, 4, 5 hitters are:

Judge: 316 singles, 255 XBH
Stanton: 676 singles, 623 XBH
Gallo: 169 singles, 246 XBH

then first base is already scoring position. If you've got the speed to steal, you've got the speed to score from first on a double. I've often wondered if your base stealer should be hitting somewhere around 6th-7th to grab an extra base in front of your lower-power hitters. Or, more precisely, if that's where the value of a SB is maximized ... if that guy is capable of a 350 OBP, he's surely still more valuable in front of your sluggers even if he doesn't steal.

Don Baylor managing the Cubs, when the leadoff guy would get on, would often bunt him over to 2nd so he could be in "scoring position" for his "RBI guy" Sammy Sosa. You might recall Sosa was mildly famous (then infamous) for hitting lots of HRs and 400 TB a year. In 2001, Sosa had a staggering 103 XBH (86 singles). Sammy batted 3rd nearly all year and Cub #1 and #2 hitters had 39 sac bunts.
   16. Ron J Posted: October 14, 2021 at 08:38 PM (#6046409)
#11 There's research to show that SBAs upset the hitter even more than it upsets the defense. It's complicated, but at heart on a straight steal you're probably straight taking and that gives up some opportunities.

But what really drives the "hitters hit worse in PAs with a SBA" is that a handful of players just get crushed. Can back the running in front of those guys and the effect is neutral to positive for the offense.

The trick being identifying the players who get crushed.

It seems to work best to run in front of disciplined hitters with good doubles power.
   17. Cblau Posted: October 14, 2021 at 08:42 PM (#6046411)
Isn't 75.6% HIGHER than 75.2%, so it would be the highest ever???

As for the 73 attempts at stealing home in 1980, perhaps a lot of them were when the batter missed the ball on a suicide squeeze.
   18. depletion Posted: October 14, 2021 at 08:57 PM (#6046415)
In fact, the 75.6% success rate in 2021 was the second-highest mark since 1937 – the highest was 75.2%

In other news, scientists determine that 2 is greater than 6. (ice cold coke for Cblau).
   19. The Honorable Ardo Posted: October 14, 2021 at 09:38 PM (#6046420)
With so many inattentive pitchers these days, you'd think that attempting lots of steals would be a market inefficiency a team could exploit.
   20. Best Dressed Chicken in Town Posted: October 14, 2021 at 10:56 PM (#6046464)
This can't be right. The experts have been telling me for 20 years that the SB is making a comeback.
   21. Howie Menckel Posted: October 14, 2021 at 11:35 PM (#6046478)
#11 There's research to show that SBAs upset the hitter even more than it upsets the defense. It's complicated, but at heart on a straight steal you're probably straight taking and that gives up some opportunities.

first Bill James Baseball Abstract I can remember, sometime in the 1980s, had a great essay on stolen bases.

I look back at it as a "just sayin'" article. he was just noting that yes AVG and HR and 2B - and even 3B, to a lesser extent - correlate to winning games.

but when it came to stolen bases - he couldn't find one. he'd go over the idea of rattling the pitcher and all that jazz, but if it doesn't show up in the data...

I think the realization that the "rattling" of the hitter was just as jarring came later, however. I just liked the essay for getting away from the endless announcer cliches of "there's Lou Brock, dancing off first base, distracting the poor pitcher..." to neither accepting not denying. let's just explore the numbers.
   22. bunyon Posted: October 15, 2021 at 10:01 AM (#6046632)
No data alert:

17 makes a point of suicide squeezes. I seem to recall Billy Martin loving yo squeeze.

The death of the hit and run probably affects these numbers but I’ve no idea how to show it. The 1 for 12 in SBA listed above seems to scream “we hit and run, stupidly, a lot with this guy”. Of course, if the batter makes contact, it isn’t a SBA.
   23. Ron J Posted: October 15, 2021 at 10:40 AM (#6046636)
#22 James made a point about blown hit and runs when talking about the 1983 Braves. Chris Chambliss went 2-7 and wasn't fast enough to try straight steals.
   24. McCoy Posted: October 15, 2021 at 10:41 AM (#6046637)
do basestealers help the next batter?

Research on retrosheet
   25. Ron J Posted: October 15, 2021 at 11:00 AM (#6046643)
#24 Doug Drinen's study focused exclusively on PAs where there was a stolen base attempted. In conjunction with the study you cite what it seems to show is that while hitters do worse in PAs when a stolen base is attempted, they do a lot better when there's a PA with a credible base stealer and he doesn't actually steal.

And that makes sense to me. Of course you have to have some stolen base attempts to have the credible threat.
   26. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 15, 2021 at 11:08 AM (#6046646)
The death of the hit and run probably affects these numbers but I’ve no idea how to show it. The 1 for 12 in SBA listed above seems to scream “we hit and run, stupidly, a lot with this guy”. Of course, if the batter makes contact, it isn’t a SBA.


When I was looking for teams with low SB totals, I expected to find one that had completely given up on stealing as a strategy. But the Browns and Senators teams cited above both had 51 attempted steals. You have to think the vast majority of those were hit and runs.

The lowest number of attempted steals I found was 41, by a couple of 1950s AL teams. We may have teams approach those levels again within a few years; the Diamondbacks attempted just 59 steals last year, the Reds 60, the Red Sox 61.
   27. John DiFool2 Posted: October 15, 2021 at 11:19 AM (#6046649)
IIRC the late 70's/early 80's Red Sox teams had very low totals. 56 attempted in '83.
   28. Walt Davis Posted: October 15, 2021 at 05:45 PM (#6046723)
they do a lot better when there's a PA with a credible base stealer and he doesn't actually steal.

Did they adjust for batters generally doing better when the 1B has to hold the runner on? Or is the definition of "credible threat" that the 1B held him on?

AL 2021
--- 238/306/408, 285 BABIP
1-- 256/322/426, 303 BABIP (note that difference is entirely BA)
1-3 274/310/464, 285 BABIP (it's 251/424 if you add back the SFs so not really a change from 1--)

Note at 1-3 that both BB and K rates drop. However 1-- doesn't differ much from the overall "men on" average -- a 256 BA vs 251 (after putting SFs back in); 303 BABIP vs 300 so 1B positioning isn't having a huge impact.
   29. Ron J Posted: October 15, 2021 at 08:02 PM (#6046744)
#28 That's just the inferences that can be drawn from the results of the two studies.

Doug looked exclusively at PAs where there was a stolen base attempted. Mark looked at a lot of other different conditions but not the cases which Doug looked at.

I can't find Doug's study any longer. It was posted to rec.sport.baseball and was titled More on hitting and the running game (long)

And was one of the first big studies to use retrosheet data.

   30. John DiFool2 Posted: October 16, 2021 at 06:41 AM (#6046843)
Aside from making say the balk rules much more favorable to the runner I don't see a way of reversing this trend. Certainly we don't want 90% success rates, but every year the game simply becomes much more monochromatic in its One True Way to score. I'm glad I lived thru the 70s/80s and got to see all of those high totals.
   31. McCoy Posted: October 16, 2021 at 07:01 AM (#6046844)
   32. John DiFool2 Posted: October 16, 2021 at 01:26 PM (#6046880)
Ah, a nice trip down memory lane with the Most Cordial Person in the Universe, Roger Maynard--and his ample collection of smelly socks.
   33. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 16, 2021 at 01:44 PM (#6046882)
When I was looking for teams with low SB totals, I expected to find one that had completely given up on stealing as a strategy. But the Browns and Senators teams cited above both had 51 attempted steals. You have to think the vast majority of those were hit and runs.

Tom,

I hadn't thought about that before, but I suspect you're right. One example was from 1952, when the Nats' Pete Runnels had 10 SB attempts and was thrown out all 10 times, which strongly suggests they weren't all actual steal attempts. I wonder if that's a record for most attempts in a year with no steals.

EDIT: In 1957, the Nats' Eddie Yost ("The Walking Man") went 1 for 12. The team was 13 for 51!

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Dynasty League Baseball

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
BarrysLazyBoy
for his generous support.

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogOT - October 2021 College Football thread
(220 - 2:24pm, Oct 16)
Last: Brian C

NewsblogOT Soccer Thread - Transfer! Kits! Other Stuff!
(424 - 2:20pm, Oct 16)
Last: AuntBea odeurs de parfum de distance sociale

NewsblogTheft Falls To Historic Lows
(33 - 1:44pm, Oct 16)
Last: ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick

NewsblogChicago Cubs hire Cleveland Guardians executive Carter Hawkins as their new general manager
(17 - 1:37pm, Oct 16)
Last: ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick

Sox TherapyThe Boston Red Sox Will Play for the Pennant
(91 - 12:37pm, Oct 16)
Last: pikepredator

Newsblog2021 LCS OMNICHATTER!
(131 - 11:59am, Oct 16)
Last: Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams)

NewsblogBeyond the Selig Rule: Can Baseball Fix Its Pipeline For Managers of Color?
(20 - 11:42am, Oct 16)
Last: sunday silence (again)

NewsblogNBA 2021-2022 Season Thread
(19 - 10:44am, Oct 16)
Last: spivey 2

NewsblogDodgers Albert Pujols Hits the COVID-19 Injured List
(177 - 9:02am, Oct 16)
Last: Never Give an Inge (Dave)

NewsblogMike Shildt out as St. Louis Cardinals manager, per report
(53 - 8:01pm, Oct 15)
Last: The Duke

NewsblogTampa Bay Rays' David Hess diagnosed with cancerous tumor in chest, to start chemotherapy
(2 - 1:05pm, Oct 15)
Last: Mayor Blomberg

Newsblog2021 LDS OMNICHATTER!
(882 - 12:57pm, Oct 15)
Last: What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face?

NewsblogNBA 2021 Playoffs+ thread
(4930 - 12:52pm, Oct 15)
Last: Moses Taylor hashes out the rumpus

Hall of MeritMost Meritorious Player: 2021 Discussion
(16 - 12:21pm, Oct 15)
Last: DL from MN

NewsblogOT - 2021 NFL thread
(20 - 12:03pm, Oct 15)
Last: 57i66135 right now is attacking rest

Page rendered in 0.4278 seconds
48 querie(s) executed