RUNDOWN: New Value of the SB
Stock up on Bournses, or is the SB too rissssky?


Rundown play:  a convincing saber-throw to either side of a discussion, catching us in no man's land.  SSI scrambles back and forth in the middle, trying to find safe harbor for the M's.

Blissed asked about the value of the stolen base in a lower-scoring environment.


GROUNDER TO 3B, THROW HOME BEATS SMOAK BY 15 FEET:  Bill James demonstrated, in the 1980's, that stolen bases mean very little.  In all eras and all contexts, the SB "correlates" less with winning than any other major offensive category; you'll find more pennantwinners with high doubles than with high SB's.  

In a famous article, the year Rickey stole 130, James calculated the value of the SB's at 4.5 runs and groused "four and a half blinkin' runs, and they want to give him an MVP for it."

The big picture is, don't overestimate the stolen base.


TOSS TO SANDOVAL, but PABLO LOSES THE RACE BACK DOWN THE LINE:  Here is a model article by Jack Moore, providing the calculations that BlissedJ craved.  The title being, The Stolen Base Matters More Now -- not because of Safeco which now has a huge catch-basin for homers in LF, but because runs are seriously down, industrywide.

The exec sum of Moore's calculations, for your convenience and just sheer overall reading pleasure:

  • The out you lose, when you get Caught Stealing (CS), is worth less, if you score 4 runs per 27 outs rather than 6 runs per 27 outs.
  • The base you gain, when get a SB, is not worth less.  It's still 1.0 bases.
  • Used to be, you needed 70% to break even (0 runs).  Now it's only 66%.
  • A player who had 75 SB's (!) and 25 CS's got you +4.2 runs, five years ago.  Now it's +5.1 runs.

This chart rat cheer shows you that as OPS has fallen off the table, SB attempts have gone through the roof ... managers are indeed responding to the low-scoring games by, well, RUNNING.


DR. D HURLS HIS CARCASS OVER THE CATCHER, GETS HIS PALM ONTO HOME PLATE, BUT FRACTURES HIS CLAVICLE DOING SO:  One thing WAR does do for us, is capture the gains made by SB's and CS's.  And I believe it does this, adjusting for run context.

It also captures a runner's extra bases ... 1B to 3B on a single.  So if you're considering Michael Bourn, relax:  Fangraphs already has Bourn at 4.3 or 3.7 or 6.1 WAR, crediting him very heavily for his legs -- and in context.

In fact it's an SSI theorem that these "soft WAR" players -- think Chone Figgins -- are overvalued by sabes, correctly valued by real GM's.  This won't change based on a downtick in run scoring.

A base-stealer might, or might not, be worth an extra 2-5 runs a year now, or 0.2 to 0.5 WAR.  That's pushin' it.


BUT!  As you talk about tight games, games that are 3-2 in the 7th, the value of a manufactured run DOES increase, and importantly.


So, what to do?  The secret is in Moore's own article ... he applies the Lesson Learned to the catcher position.  That dude comes into play on the SB/CS percentages for nine different players!  Now you're talkin' percentages, man.

A position player who can run, that's a nice luxury.  He might steal you a base in a tie ballgame, 8th inning.

A catcher who can shut down the running game, that's worth paying for.  Mike Zunino might be worth $5M, or $10M, per season extra, based on his throwing arm alone.  And lemme tell ya, Zunino can throw the stuffing out of the ball.

The M's have position players coming up who can hit but who can't run, and a catcher who makes sure you don't run either.  Their composition there is right where they want it.





Which is exactly why the Reds played a guy like Danny Driessen at 1B rather than moving Bench there in '77, a move which may have prolonged his career and kept his bat in the lineup.
Driessen wasn't bad. His upside wan't Bench.
But Bench had that ability to stop the other guy's running game. Cold. From '67 to '79 Bench's percentage for catching would be thieves were 50%, 47%, 57%, 48%, 41%, 56% 49%, 49% 46%, 42, 40%, & 42%! In '72 he caught 1139.2 innings and only 55 guys even attempted to steal against him. Once every 20 innings somebody tried. Once every 45 immings they were successful. Not much incentive in running. The next year it was 55 attemps in 1115 innings. 24 guys stole against Bench in all of '72. 49 have made it against us this year.
Maybe that's why I wouldn't be much of a SB manager. I grew up watching Bench.
By contrast, the M's have played defense for 692 innings. 62 guys have tried to steal. 49 have made it.


Tony Larussa obviously believed that your observation had a real basis ... used to put David Henderson, a fastball-only hitter, right behind Rickey in the lineup, and this despite a questionable OBP.
Seemed to produce good seasons from Hendu.  


I remember some James article in which he pointed out that --- > during some stretch of PLAYOFF games, the Big Red Machine swiped 50 bases against its opponents getting only 2...
If 50% of base stealers are getting caught, then of course you are committing suicide every time you even attempt it.  At THAT level of dominance, the SB advantage could become a factor.


Pitchers make throws to hold fast runners. This invites a lot of things, the most obvious being the chance to give a guy a base by chucking the ball into the dugout.
Not just that, but how many times will a pitcher throw to first to hold a runner, a guy like Michael Saunders will often draw 3 or 4 throws over before the pitcher makes a single pitch to the next batter. Let's say a pitcher has the ability to throw 140 effective pitches per game, but the opposing team gets fast guys on base 3 times in the first 4 innings and the pitcher uses a dozen throws to keep them near the bag, if he's right handed then these are more damaging cross body throws. How valuable are those early throws to the pitcher's arm?
What's more, a base stealing runner might push a pitcher from a 60% chance to throw a fastball to an 80% chance to throw a fastball, and if a batter knows a fastball is coming, the art of hitting gets much easier, even if it's a nasty fastball. Mike Morse or Kendrys Morales will not evoke a similar reaction.

GLS's picture

It seems like Moore's argument rests on the idea that the marginal out is worth less than it was before. Fewer runs per game = fewer runs per out. But doesn't the value of a run go up in a low-scoring environment? Or am I not thinking about this the right way?

RockiesJeff's picture

Jeff, summers go by too fast. Good article. SB's are great but give me a team that hits to all fields and can run the bases first and foremost. Sadly I have missed the Rainers each time here in Colorado. I look forward to everyone's comments on Walker tonight.

blissedj's picture

Sounds like adding a powerless Ellsbury does us as much good as anyone else. Was curious if some of that mid 80's Cardinals style might work for us. No Coleman's around but they also had lesser threats like McGee, Van Slyke, Ozzie and Herr. Reasonable facsimiles for them (bat) should exist in the game today. Probably best for us to go with good hitters overall that have speed like Van Slyke did.
As pointed out earlier seeing more fastballs with a threat on base maybe Saunders benefits hitting #2 behind a guy like that? Did he hit behind Ichiro much last year, I can't remember? Will read up more on this with the link provided. Much appreciated!

OBF's picture

that Wedgie would use small ball a bit more as well. Especially for the black holes at the bottom of the lineup. For example a night or two ago Blanco drew a walk to open an inning. But because Ryan was up next I knew the M's were basically screwed. Ryan predictably popped out not advancing Blanco, so when Franklin got a two out single a batter latter it resulted in Blanco only getting to third, not scoring. Unless there is two outs or two strikes or no one on Ryan should be bunting EVERY at bat...
For a guy like me who enjoys the running and small ball aspects of the game it annoys me slightly that the sabr dudes edit their research against it. Not taking into account things like pressure on the pitcher and catcher for stealing, or pressure on the 3b, P, 1b and C for bunting. Plus a good bunter with speed (Something Ryan SHOULD be able to be with just a little practice) will get his fair share of bunt hits (I bet Ichiro could have batted over .300 only bunting... ;) ) which also get edited out of the small ball equations I believe (they are no longer considered sacrifices, just infield hits...)
Anyway, I for one would be glad to see the Mariners use a little more small ball and base running in this decreased run scoring era. sure Morales or Seager shouldn't be laying down bunts, but Ryan and Saunders? Yes Please!

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