Category Impact: Run Forrest, Run
Todd Zola discusses the current landscape of the stolen base and how to identity successful thieves
Perhaps the most intriguing of all fantasy baseball categories is stolen bases. It’s a singular stat in that it does not really correlate with any other stat. In other words, no other statistic piggybacks along nor does it dovetail with anything. Furthermore, while a steal involves both skill and opportunity, there are other factors unlike any other statistical category. Let’s focus on that for a bit.
The following all need to be in place for a stolen base to occur:
- The runner needs to be on base
- The base in front of the runner has to be open
- The game situation must be appropriate for a steal
- The runner needs the green light to run
No other event has that combination of factors. The last two are what really distinguish the steal. No one ever lost a HR or RBI because of defensive indifference. No team has a philosophy not to try to score runs.
But the game situation has to be just right and the team’s management must be willing to send runners for a steal to occur. That last statement need some embellishment.
In 2013, steals were down by about 600 as compared to 2011 and 2012. I did a study on this for Baseball HQ and concluded:
- While injuries were a factor, they didn’t account for the entire decline
- There was less of an influx than normal with respect to younger players that run
- Managers were much more selective giving the green light
This last factor was corroborated in a recent column in the Providence Journal.
So what does all this mean for the fantasy baseball player, especially keeping with the objective of this space being to identify players with long and short term categorical impact?
Stolen bases will continue to be subjected to increased scrutiny. Team management will probably be even more diligent when picking opportunities to run. As such, the best candidates to rack up steals in the long term are players with better success rates and/or playing for organizations that are a bit behind the times and don’t put as much credence into the run-expectancy matrix that helps discern where a steal an effective ploy.
The benchmark considered acceptable is a 75 percent success rate. If you’re looking for a player to pad your seasonal stolen base total, be leery of those with success rates under 75 percent.
Team philosophy is a little more difficult to judge. A team may have a high stolen base total because their philosophy is to run or it may be elevated due to the presence of some capable base stealers. A team like Boston isn’t a running team, per say, but when Jacoby Ellsbury was healthy, the Red Sox were among the league leaders in steals because Ellsbury’s success rate granted him permission to run.
With the reminder that there have been both managerial and personnel changes that will influence 2014 tendencies, here is how the 30 MLB teams have fared in terms of stolen bases from 2011-2013.
When you are researching for players to help for the rest of the season, ask yourself:
- Does the player carry a success rate of at least 75 percent?
- Does he play for a team that historically runs?
- If #2 is no, does the team have a history of allowing runners with an adequate success rate to run?
Personally, if I’m looking for some long term help in steals, I trust that Padres, Royals and Brewers will run. I avoid Braves, Cubs and Cardinals. The Tigers with new manager Brad Ausmus will be interesting to track. Under Jim Leyland, they hardly attempted a pilfer. It’s early Detroit looks to be running a ton more as they already have 17 steals, good for ninth best and already almost half of the 35 they swiped last year.
Once we complete introducing all the categories, the primary purpose of this bandwidth will be to identify players with a greater chance of snagging some bags over the next few days. Here, we want to focus on a pair of factors germane to the here and now:
- How adept is the opposition catcher at nailing would be base stealers?
- How well do the opposing pitchers hold runners on and limit running?
If you’re not already aware, both of these stats are readily available for free. My favorite source is ESPN.com. You can go back and look at past seasons numbers for both catchers and pitchers as well as track how they are doing this season.
START HERE for the catcher data
START HERE for the pitcher data
Any time Anibal Sanchez is on the mound, there’s a good chance base runners will be flashed the steal sign. Ditto for John Lackey. On the other hand, even Billy Hamilton should think twice if Mark Buehrle is on the hill.
In the spirit of highlighting some latent steal candidates this weekend, here are some names to consider.
Sam Fuld and Pedro Florimon, Minnesota Twins: The aforementioned Sanchez toes the rubber against the Twins on Saturday and the Tigers in general are poor at defending the steal. Minnesota is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to running so far this season.