From The Fantasy Oracle WE CHALLENGE YOU! You Can't WIN! 

Stolen Base Runs - 2014 Review

Steals matter, but how much? Ray Flowers explores the art of the stolen base.

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The pitcher peers in for the sign. The runner takes his lead off first – slowly inching away so as not to get picked off. The pitcher kicks and deals and in a cloud of dust the runner takes off for second base, every muscle in his body straining for traction as he pulls a fade away slide at the bag just barely avoiding the tag of the second basemen. In the fantasy game all we care about is the steal. That's it. Still, should we be satisfied with simply looking at a box score and counting stolen bases in our attempt to analyze base runners? The simple answer to that question is of course not. Over the past few years more information has been uncovered that speaks to the effect of the stolen base on the game, and in what follows I will take a look at one of those measures in great depth. 

NOTE: If you want to consider updating your scoring setup in fantasy you could always go with the simple yet elegant NET Stolen Bases (SB-CS).


I'm going old school.

Pete Palmer’s Linear Weights, akin to Bill James Win Shares, attempts to measure a players overall ability on the field by taking into account everything a player does in all phases of the game including pitching, hitting, fielding and base running (this measure is a precursor to measures like WAR that everyone loves to chat about these days). In essence, Linear Weights is an attempt to come up with a single measure to evaluate all players, regardless of position, on one scale. Stolen Base Runs is the base running component of the formula, and it is the focus of the current piece (to see a full description of the massive formula used for Linear Weights which includes pretty much everything that a player does on the field. By the way, Linear Weights has now been renamed Total Player Wins so the terms are interchangeable).

Contradicting what “the book” on baseball says about the value of the stolen base, Palmer’s work has shown that stolen base really isn’t as important in terms of it's ability to effect the outcomes of a game. The reason? The negative effects of the caught stealing (CS) far outweighs the positive effects of a successful stolen base attempt. Palmer’s analysis has led him to conclude that unless a player is extremely successful in stealing bases that they should not even attempt to steal a base (this “theory” is based on reconstructions and simulations of thousands of games that have taken place over the past 100 years). Studies have shown that a base runner must be successful on two out of every three steal attempts or he is actually hindering his team’s ability to score runs. Therefore, unless a players steals bags at a success rate of at least 67 percent the benefits to the team are negligible at best. 


As mentioned, Total Player Wins (or Linear Weight’s) is a complex system that takes into account almost everything that occurs on the ball field. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to spend the next nine hours explaining how the whole formula works, so I have decided to pull out the one part of the metric that deals with the stolen base, and that is called SB Runs.

Historically the numbers used in Palmer’s formula dealing with stolen bases, based on the 2/3 break even point, were (.30) for SB and (-.60) for CS, but subsequent research has determined that (.22) for SB and (-.45) for CS are slightly more accurate, so they are the numbers that I will use in this study. With that, here is the simple formula for SB Runs.

SB Runs = ([.22*SB] – [.45*CS]) 

Basically, a caught stealing is twice as damaging to a team’s ability to score runs as a successful stolen base is helpful, so therefore a CS is more heavily weighed in this formula. That’s pretty much the gist of what this measure is trying to point to.

One last note before we get into the analysis. It takes about 10 SB Runs to account for one team win, so a player who earns five SB Runs in a season contributes about ½ a win to his teams total over the course of an entire season. Overall, the steal doesn’t have that much of an effect on the outcome of a game except in very specific situations. 

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The following study will survey all players who totaled at least 10 steals in 2013, and there were 84 such men. As a starting point, let’s look at the best of the best and all the men who stole at least 25 bases last season. 


Jacoby Ellsbury 52 4 9.64
Eric Young Jr. 46 11 5.17
Rajai Davis 45 6 7.2
Jean Segura 44 13 3.83
Alex Rios 42 7 6.09
Elvis Andrus 42 8 5.64
Starling Marte 41 15 2.27
Carlos Gomez 40 7 5.65
Everth Cabrera 37 12 2.74
Leonys Martin 36 9 3.87
Jose Altuve 35 13 1.85
Jarrod Dyson 34 6 4.78
Mike Trout 33 7 4.11
Nate McLouth 30 7 3.45
Alexei Ramirez 30 9 2.55
Jason Kipnis 30 7 3.45
Emilio Bonifacio 28 8 2.56
Andrew McCutchen 27 10 1.44

Instead of merely listing the SB Runs for the runners with at least 25 steals last year I thought it would make more sense just to move directly into a table that lists the top overall base stealers from 2013 based on SB Runs since the majority of players just mentioned will show up in the next chart as well.


Jacoby Ellsbury 52 4 9.64
Rajai Davis 45 6 7.2
Alex Rios 42 7 6.09
Carlos Gomez 40 7 5.65
Elvis Andrus 42 8 5.64
Eric Young Jr. 46 11 5.17
Alcides Escobar 22 0 4.84
Jarrod Dyson 34 6 4.78
Mike Trout 33 7 4.11
Elliot Johnson 22 2 3.94
Craig Gentry 24 3 3.93
Leonys Martin 36 9 3.87
Jean Segura 44 13 3.83
Daniel Murphy 23 3 3.71
Hunter Pence 22 3 3.49
Nate McLouth 30 7 3.45
Jason Kipnis 30 7 3.45
Shane Victorino 21 3 3.27
Carlos Gonzalez 21 3 3.27
Drew Stubbs 17 2 2.84
Everth Cabrera 37 12 2.74
Josh Rutledge 12 0 2.64
Ichiro Suzuki 20 4 2.6
Emilio Bonifacio 28 8 2.56
Alexei Ramirez 30 9 2.55

Remember what I said above. A player needs to generate 10 SB Runs to help his team to one more victory over the course of the year. Jacoby Ellsbury came very close in 2013, but no player in baseball was able to add one win to his team last season.  

Even with the excellent success rate of guys like Davis, Rios and Gomez guys just weren't running enough last season to post huge SB Run numbers.

Escobar may have stolen only 22 bases in 2013, but he wasn't caught a single time. Not once. That allowed him to surge up the list past a guy like Segura who, literally, stole twice as many bases (44). The next best thief last season who wasn't nailed once was Rutledge with only 12 thefts.

Speaking of Segura, no one in the top-25 list was caught more times than he. In fact, Escobar and Johnson stole a combined total of 44 bases, the same number as Segura, but they were caught only two times compared to the 13 of Segura.

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What about those base runners who should definitely just stop running all together? Here is a list of all the runners in baseball who stole at least 10 bases in 2013 but earned a negative SB Runs total as they actually hurt their team more than they helped it in relation to their teams ability to score runs. 

Brandon Barnes 11 11 -2.53
Gerardo Parra 10 10 -2.3
Andeiny Hechavarria 11 10 -2.08
Ian Kinsler 15 11 -1.65
Yasiel Puig 11 8 -1.18
Norichika Aoki 20 12 -1
Gregor Blanco 14 9 -0.97
Shin-Soo Choo 20 11 -0.55
Erick Aybar 12 7 -0.51
Michael Bourn 23 12 -0.34
Justin Ruggiano 15 8 -0.3
Alfonso Soriano 18 9 -0.09
Brian Dozier 14 7 -0.07
Eric Sogard 10 5 -0.05
Jon Jay 10 5 -0.05


Really Barnes, really? A 50 percent success rate? Atrocious. Same venom directed right at you Mr. Parra. Look at those top-3. They stole 32 bases and were caught 31 times. Hideous.

Finally found something Puig didn't do well last year.

Bourn used to be a 40+ steal guy (2008-12). He's no longer that guy and he simply has to improve his success rate. 

Everyone loved Dozier in 2014, but in 2013 he was running in place.


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Let's just dive right in to the discussion. 

Player SB CS SB Runs
Dee Gordon 39 6 5.88
José Altuve 26 3 4.37
Jacoby Ellsbury 21 2 3.72
Alcides Escobar 18 1 3.51
Eric Young 18 1 3.51
Ben Revere 20 2 3.5
Craig Gentry 15 0 3.3
José Reyes 15 1 2.85
Billy Hamilton 31 9 2.77
Andrew McCutchen 12 0 2.64
Brett Gardner 15 2 2.4
Jordan Schafer 10 0 2.2
James Jones 12 1 2.19
Rajai Davis 20 5 2.15
Michael Brantley 9 0 1.98
Mike Trout 9 0 1.98
Drew Stubbs 9 0 1.98
Coco Crisp 13 2 1.96
Christian Yelich 10 1 1.75
Denard Span 12 2 1.74
Elvis Andrus 18 5 1.71
Starling Marte 18 5 1.71
Chris Owings 7 0 1.54
Giancarlo Stanton 7 0 1.54
Chris Denorfia 7 0 1.54
Kolten Wong 9 1 1.53
B.J. Upton 11 2 1.52
Carlos Gómez 11 2 1.52
Brian Dozier 15 4 1.5


There are 29 players who have recorded at least 1.50 SB Runs thus far in 2014. There are 14 that have gained two SB Runs. There are only seven that have gained three. There are only two that have gained four. 

Given that we are almost to the halfway mark of the season, it's clear that Gordon has a chance to reach the elusive 10 SB wins. It won't be easy of course, but he's on pace to get there for what that's worth. 

Hamilton is 9th in SB Runs despite being second in baseball in steals. Obviously the reason why he falls in this measure is because he has been caught nine times. That's the same amount of times being caught by Gordon & Altuve. In fact, only Gordon and Hamilton have more than five caught stealing blemishes among the top-29 SB Run performers. 

Escobar and Young shoot way up the rankings because of their discerning nature on the base paths (caught one time). What about Gentry though? Were you aware that he had 15 steals for the A's? Were you further aware that the guy has been caught, well, not one time. That's getting it done. Schafer is the only other runner who current has at least 10 steals who hasn't been caught once. 


Here are some names that didn't make the leaderboard.

The highest base stealer left out in the cold is Leonys Martin. He's got 17 thefts but he's been caught an unsightly seven times leading to a mark of 0.59. Mark Reynolds has been better than that at 0.65 (five steals, one caught stealing). 

Jonathan Villar and Charlie Blackmon each have 14 steals but have been caught four times for an SB Runs mark of 1.28. 

Jarrod Dyson and Desmond Jennings have 12 thefts but they have been caught four times. Their SB Runs mark is just 0.84. 

Jean Segura has been terrible. He's got 14 steals but he's been caught seven times resulting in a (-0.07) mark. All his running this season has hurt the Brewers chance to score runs more than it has helped. 

Two others have double digit thefts but are negative players. Both men have 13 steals. Everth Cabrera has been caught seven times leading to a (-0.29) mark. Alex Rios has been worse with eight caught stealing leading to a a (-0.74) SB Runs mark. 



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Since it takes roughly 10 SB Runs to produce a team victory all the running that all the men in baseball did in 2013 produced not a single athlete which contributed a victory to his team’s record based solely on his legs. Will someone - perhaps Dee Gordon - be able to reach that level in 2014? 

Surely a well timed steal in a critical situation can make the difference between a victory and a loss, but the reality of the situation is that more often than not a stolen base attempt just doesn’t offer enough reward to be attempted as frequently as it is. As a result, I’m are a bit dubious of fantasy leagues that count only raw stolen base totals without taking into account the effects of the caught stealing because all the positives of the stolen clearly can be negated rather simply when one is nabbed on the bases. 

So next time you are looking to liven up things in a stale fantasy league why not look to SB Runs as a new way of measuring the effectiveness of base runners in a way that equitably rewards a positive (SB) while punishing a negative (CS)? Even if your league doesn’t adopt SB Runs it’s still a fun tool to play with in your own personal attempt to evaluate base runners for the upcoming season.


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