Random Light Bulbs and Methodically-Inflicted Stolen Bases
Is total baseball knowledge now represented by 1,000 bulbs... or 7,000?


Sad as it may sound, Dr. D was noodling through the February 2012 Hey Bills.  He enjoyed the cogency of this remark:


Would it be fair to say that, while stolen bases are, in general, net neutral and the sacrifice is, over all, a net negative, that they can be valuable in creating a specific run at a highly leveraged time? That teams need players who can do these things because you never when you'll need to play "small ball" to carve out a run? Or do teams lose just as often as they win when trying to push across a key run?
Asked by: DanaKing

Answered: 2/27/2012
Teams lose just as often as they win trying to play small ball.   IF you could manufacture a run on demand, that would make those runs critical.  
The essential problem with this defense of the stolen base--like the last one--is that it explains a phenomenon that unfortunately can't be found in the data. IF the problem was that teams that stole bases had an UNEXPLAINED tendency to win, then this theory--like the other one--would help to unravel the mystery.   But since there is no such unexplained tendency of stolen bases to correlate with wins, creating additional reasons why there SHOULD be such a correlation is not helpful. 
The reality is that stolen bases DON'T correlate with winning, basically at all.  
The more reasons you give why there SHOULD be such a correlation, the further you move from having a viable understanding of the world in which you live.   What is needed is not an explanation of why there should be an unexplained linkage between stolen bases and wins, but an explanation of why there isn't. 


1.  Sports Is Life.  How many times, TODAY, did you and I commit this crime against logic, do you suppose.  Of trying to explain (for example) why a friend thinks a certain way ... when actually there's very little reason to imagine he thinks that.

This specific example comes up because Dr. D frequents the Dilbert twitterfeed.  Scott Adams spends about 20% of his time good-naturedly advising followers that they are "hallucinating" Adams' beliefs about things.  They do this despite the fact that Adams explains his non-positions, time and time and dozens of times again.

James makes it sound so easy to avoid that particular little baseball trap, "How much is it worth to get some people who can manufacture runs."


2.  There are very few things in sports that puzzle Dr. D as much as this:  that SB's don't correlate with winning.  It sounds almost like saying speed is irrelevant.  But I guess teams that are smart enough to get "athletic" players are also smart enough to avoid stolen base attempts.  One word:  Earl.


3.  The 2017 Mariners were #12 of 15 American League teams in baserunning:  they lost -12 runs on the basepaths compared to the average AL team, that being the Angels.  (The KC Royals, wow!,were very nearly the average AL team, but the Angels were average-r.)

The Mariners were average in stolen bases, lousy for caught stealing, though with their 89 SB's vs. 35 CS's they still profited about 15-20 bases for the attempts.

After a lousy start, Jean Segura wound up 22:8.  Taylor Motter was 12:1.  Gamel scrounged 4:1, a nice little indication towards intelligence.  Everybody else was bad or irrelevant, assuming Jarrod Dyson is now irrelevant.


Dr D




No one was asking why speed doesn't win games...that'd be a funny question to ask given that we have hard numbers showing the runs gained and lost on the bases.

Speed matters. Going first to third on a single is a much, much higher percentage play than stealing second. For three reasons:

1) You have all of the information when you make the attempt. When you try to steal, you have to guess a bit at what the pitcher will try to do to stop you, you don't know where the catcher's throw will wind up, what the pitch will be, whether the batter will swing. When going first to third, you know where the ball was hit, who will field it, when they'll field it (if you read the field well).

2) You're the center of attention when you steal, not necessarily when you advance on contact.

3) Slow players know their limitations and don't attempt advances often. But you can be speedy and still have no skill for stealing bases.

All of which is to say...base-running advances on contract is where speed is the primary seperator between success and failure and the place where speed actually wins ballgames.


I would prefer a study of Rickey in close games where he stole or not or 3+ times than all basestealers ever.  Logically including all is going to show rather nothing.  Singling out the Brock, Raines, Coleman or Hamilton seems more instructive to me than singling out the average or median.  I can only assume the process used to create most stats that get thrown around though.

Always reminds me of Samuel Clement..."There's 3 kinds of lies. Lies, damn lies and statistics".  Without knowing how numbers were produced statistics are meaningless. 

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