The Need for Speed: Stolen Bases


It doesn’t matter how many bases you steal, only how good you are at it- to paraphrase James Click in Baseball Between the Numbers. Lofty stolen base totals shine on a players statistics chart, but are given far to much emphasis over the stat which should be considered paramount: stolen base percentage (SB%).

To illustrate this point, Click compared Ricky Henderson’s 1982 season with Pete Incaviglia’s 1986 rookie season. Using the run-expectancy table for 1982, Henderson’s 130 steals added 22.2 runs, while the 42 times he was caught stealing cost 20.6 runs. Despite a mind blowing 130 stolen bags, Henderson only added 1.6 runs to the A’s offense. Incaviglia on the other hand stole 3 bases, and was caught twice in 86’. He cost his team about half a run, and only about 2 runs less than Ricky Henderson’s 1982 base stealing performance.

By examining the gains and costs of stolen bases and failed stolen base attempts, Click and others have shown that the approximate “break-even” SB% is about 75. That number varies from year to year, based on the amount of runs scored, and a number of related factors. The break-even SB% is also dependent upon the game situation. The best time to steal (the point with the lowest SB% break-even rate), is in the late innings in which the game is either tied, or the batting team is ahead.

It is very early in the 2011 season- and John Farrell’s tenure as manager- but it is already apparent that the stolen base will be a more prominent part of the Jays offense. It can be an effective strategy, particularly late in close games, but it is only valuable when the players are efficient with their attempts. With that in mind, try not to focus so much on how many bags Rajai Davis swipes in 2011, but instead, at the rate at which he is successful.

Here are some numbers for the Jays potential base stealers:

Rajai Davis:

Career: SB 144/ CS 38/ SB% 79

2010: SB 50/ CS 11/ SB% 82

Rajai Davis is a good base stealer, who will have the green light in many different situations. He stole 50 bases in 2010 with the Oakland A’s, and could break the Blue Jays single season stolen base record in 2011. (Dave Collins set the Jays club record with 60 in 1984)

Corey Patterson:

Career: SB 205/ CS 55/ SB% 78.8

2010: SB 21/ CS 4/ SB% 84

Corey Patterson is another efficient base stealer. Unfortunately, He lacks the ability to get on base consistently and therefore does not get a ton of chances to use his speed.

Scott Podsednik:

Career SB 301/ CS 102/ SB% 74.6

2010: SB 35/ CS 15/ SB% 70

Scott Podsednik used to be a good base stealer. In 2004 Podsednik led the NL with 70 steals (CS 13). He is however, much older and banged up here in 2011. He should only attempt to steal in late games that are tied, or where the Jays are leading.

Mike McCoy:

Career: SB 7/ CS 1/ CS% 87.5

2010: SB 5/ CS 1/ CS% 83

Obviously McCoy’s Major League stolen base statistics tell us very little. Clearly he has some speed, and it will be interesting to see what he can do this year under John Farrell.

Here are some other less prominent base stealers:

Jose Bautista:

Career: SB 23/ CS 11/ SB% 67.6

2010: SB 9/ CS 2/ SB% 81.8

Aaron Hill:

Career: SB 24/ CS 12/ SB% 66.6

2010: SB 2/ CS 2/ SB% 50

Yunel Escobar:

Career: SB 19/ CS 14/ SB% 57.5

2010: SB 6/ CS 2/ SB% 75

Travis Snider:

Career: SB 7/ CS 4/ SB% 63.3

2010: SB 6/ CS 3/ SB% 66.6

Jayson Nix:

Career: SB 12/ CS 4/ SB% 75

2010: SB 1/ CS 2/ SB% 33.3

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