Indians Speedy Runners Could Rack Up Steals in 2013

By Ronnie Tellalian

With the offseason acquisitions of Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, and Mike Aviles, the Indians added a great deal of speed to their lineup. The stolen base is now a weapon Tribe fans will see used game after game as the Indians sprinters will be off to the races. Not since the 1990’s has the Cleveland lineup been filled with a number of stolen base artists, and the offensive production they add will surely be reflected in the runs scored column.

From a statistical standpoint, the value of the stolen base has varied greatly from year to year. This is due to the fluctuation in run scoring from year to year. From the 1980s to the 1990s, the stolen base held a good deal of value and fast runners racked them up at an unprecedented pace. That began to change in the late 1990s and from 2000-2012 the stolen base had begun to wane as a well-used offensive tool. From 1982-1999 Major League baseball players stole 3000 or more bases in all but two seasons, and those were the strike shortened years of 1994 and 1995. From 2000-2011, the 3000 mark was reached just once. The lower stolen base totals had a great deal to do with the increase in home runs and run scoring of that time period.

The popular book Moneyball by Michael Lewis told the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics. In this book, the downside of base stealing was clearly expressed. A study done by the Athletics front office produced results that showed players needed to be successful at an extremely high rate, around 73%, in order to justify the stolen base attempt. With this new information circling around baseball, teams began stealing less and less and the role of the swift runner was diminished.

That was a very different context than base runners face today. The run scoring environment was much higher in the early 2000’s so the idea of waiting for that three-run home run made more sense. In 2000 teams averaged 5.14 runs per game, the fourth highest total of any season in baseball history. In 2012 teams averaged just 4.33 runs per game, nearly a full run less. Over the course of 162 games teams are scoring on average 132 runs per season less in 2012 than they were in 2000. 833 runs per team was the 2000 average, in 2012 the Texas Rangers led all of baseball with 808 runs scored.  In today’s game, homeruns are down, run scoring is down, and so the value of the stolen base has risen.

As run production goes down, stolen bases go up. The league on-base percentage has fallen from .336 in 2007 to .319 in 2012, and therefore the marginal out, the out risked by the stolen base, is less valuable. The entire idea of the stolen base is a risk/reward concept; the stolen base becomes a less risky proposition in a lower run scoring environment because there is less to lose. The chances of the hitter at the plate getting on base are decreased, and possibility of two hits driving the runner home is also less likely. In 2007, a player had to steal bases at a 70% success rate in order for the reward of the stolen base to supersede the risk of being caught. In 2012 that percentage has decreased to 66%, making the risk much less.

The Indians top runners from this current roster are Bourn, Stubbs, and Jason Kipnis. In 2012 these three players combined to steal 103 bases at a 79% success rate. This is way above what is needed to justify the attempt. These three runners can increase run scoring by 13% just by attempting a stolen base.

Manager Terry Francona knows the speed he has on this roster can help the team.

“We have a lot of speed and we are going to use it,” Francona said. “Through the course of the game [the speed] will help the team.”

Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, and Aviles are the next three guys in the sprinters box for the Indians. These three combined for 35 steals at a 65% success rate. This is mostly Brantley’s very poor 57%; Aviles and Cabrera are successful 70% of the time. With the guys around him this season, Brantley should come around. His success rate going into 2012 was 71% and he should get back to around that in 2013. Francona expressed confidence in Brantley.

“He’s a good player that’s getting better,” Francona said. “He’s an intelligent runner. I think his percentage will be good because he’s so intelligent.”

The stolen base will be a major offensive weapon for the Indians. With their top six speedsters stealing at a combined 75% success rate, they will increase run scoring and take pressure off the hitters. Guys like Swisher, Reynolds, and Santana will rack up RBI in this fleet-a-foot lineup.

Photo by: Getty Images

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Good read, interesting stuff.

    But, you say the rate of success needed has dropped by 4% from 70% to 66% and say “making the risk much less” Isn’t that a bit of an over statement? Its only 4% difference.

    Stolen bases have value that does not show up in a box score. The can change the entire way a hitter is pitched to. Setting up for more fastballs, and taking focus away from the batter. It also serves as a way to score and win games even when your not getting the big hit. Not to metion speed in general is just great to have. Singles turn into doubles and doubles turn into triples. Runs are scored that might not have been scored with less speed on the bases. So, I do agree the added speed wll be a major help. I also think Michael Brantley will see somewhere between 16-24 stolen bases this season which should also help.

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