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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Is stealin' a crime?  

A few weeks ago, after I got done reading about how stolen bases were held in such disfavor by sabremetrics acolytes, I tried to figure out if the numbers supported their contention that stolen bases were counter-productive because they didn’t impact the game much and players caught stealing were “wasted outs”. I tested the numbers and discovered that, aside from the St. Louis Cardinals, the top run-scoring teams were the ones that didn’t try and played the station-to-station baseball so derided by practitioners of baseball’s conventional wisdom. Score one for the stat geeks.

I revisited the numbers and found that things had changed, a little:

1. Milwaukee: 130 attempts (98 successful; 75%)
2. St. Louis: 121 attempts (86 successful; 71%)
3. Los Angeles: 114 attempts (83 successful; 73%)
4. Montreal: 106 attempts (78 successful; 74%)
5. New York: 104 attempts (87 successful; 84%)
6. Florida: 96 attempts (66 successful; 69%)
7. Philadelphia: 94 attempts (75 successful; 80%)
8. Pittsburgh: 86 attempts (50 successful; 58%)
9. Houston: 85 attempts (60 successful; 71%)
10. Atlanta: 81 attempts (54 successful; 67%)
11. Chicago: 75 attempts (51 successful; 68%)
12. Cincinnati: 71 attempts (52 successful; 73%)
13. San Diego: 63 attempts (42 successful; 67%)
14. Arizona: 63 attempts (35 successful; 56%)
15. Colorado: 61 attempts (36 successful; 59%)
16. San Francisco: 50 attempts (33 successful; 67%)

At the risk of making a fairly obvious observation: the teams that don’t succeed don’t steal and teams that do succeed, try more. (Shocking, I know.) But were the teams stealing bases successful offensively? Well …

Top 5 Runs Scored:
1. St. Louis: 672 runs scored
2. San Francisco: 662 runs scored
3. Colorado: 658 runs scored
4. Philadelphia: 628 runs scored
5. Chicago: 606 runs scored

These five teams have been, fairly consistently, the best in the league in terms of scoring runs. Here again, the stat attack on CW holds up: the Rockies and Giants are the two worst NL West teams at base-stealing. And Chicago isn’t much better. The Phillies are fairly in the middle, and the Cardinals are the exception to the rule.

Now things get interesting ...

Bottom 5 Runs Scored:
16. Montreal: 484
15. Milwaukee: 497
14. Arizona: 498
13. Pittsburgh: 548
12. Florida: 549

Aside from Arizona, these five teams make up half of the eight teams that base-steal the most. The obvious correlation between the two bits of data are that teams that steal bases don’t score runs. But is that true? I noticed a few other things that threw a little cold water on my conclusions:

There is nothing wrong with successfully stealing a base. Who can argue that having a guy on second is worse than having him on first? Scoring position, no double-play, etc. The problem is with players caught stealing. Losing base-runners effectively lowers your on-base percentage, so you are best off not trying. The problem is, with 35 players caught stealing, the Cardinals waste base-runners like nobody’s business. They are second-worst after the Pittsburgh Pirates (36). And the Cardinals are first in the NL in runs. And the Cards are scoring more than Paris Hilton at a frat party. Which means:

1. Maybe losing 25-30 base-runners a season isn’t so bad to a team’s offense. Or,

2. Think how good the Cardinals would be if they stopped running on the base-paths. 1,000 runs easy.

But it is true that the Phillies, Rockies, Cubs and Giants, the other four top run-scoring teams, were also amongst the teams with the fewest base-runners caught stealing. Again, the Cards are the exception to the rule. Then I noticed … Montreal, Milwaukee, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Florida all ranked 11-15 in the NL in ISO (poor San Diego continues to bring up the rear in ISO). Along with San Diego, these teams ranked 11-16 in terms of slugging percentage. A stronger case can be built that lacking power in the lineup is a bigger … make that a much bigger ... factor than unsuccessful base-stealing.

Something to think about…

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