Nerves of Steal

The stolen base. Arguably one of the most exciting parts of a game: The runner weighs his perceived speed against the combination of the pitcher’s concern with holding the runner and the strength of the catcher’s arm. Many MLB greats have used the stolen base as an auxiliary part of a highly successful career (Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar, etc.), whereas other players lived by, died by and built a whole career around it (Vince Coleman).

Evaluating the effectiveness of a stolen base has been a growing process, from Pete Palmer’s claim about 30 years ago that a SB gave a team 0.3 runs, whereas a CS was worth -0.6 runs, to Tom Tango’s more precise 0.18/-0.43 values. The latter is what we’re using here today. These values state that, on average, a CS is 2.39 times more detrimental than a SB is helpful, meaning that a runner needs to successfully steal 70.5% of the time to merely break even.

Unfortunately for the statheads among us, Caught Stealing data was inconsistent, especially in the National League, until 1951. With apologies to Ty Cobb, Billy Hamilton and other early ballplayers, they are not included in the data in favor of robust data.

Below are the Top 10 most successful basestealers of all-time*.

Rk Player SB CS SB% From To Age G SBRuns+ CSRuns- NetSBRuns
1 Rickey Henderson 1406 335 80.8% 1979 2003 20-44 3081 253.08 -144.1 109
2 Tim Raines 808 146 85.0% 1979 2002 19-42 2502 145.44 -62.78 82.7
3 Willie Wilson 668 134 83.3% 1976 1994 20-38 2154 120.24 -57.62 62.6
4 Vince Coleman 752 177 80.9% 1985 1997 23-35 1371 135.36 -76.11 59.2
5 Joe Morgan 689 162 81.0% 1963 1984 19-40 2649 124.02 -69.66 54.4
6 Davey Lopes 557 114 83.0% 1972 1987 27-42 1812 100.26 -49.02 51.2
7 Kenny Lofton 622 160 80.0% 1991 2007 24-40 2103 111.96 -68.8 43.2
8 Ozzie Smith 580 148 80.0% 1978 1996 23-41 2573 104.4 -63.64 40.8
9 Ichiro Suzuki 444 100 81.6% 2001 2012 27-38 1890 79.92 -43 36.9
10 Lou Brock 938 307 75.3% 1961 1979 22-40 2616 168.84 -132 36.8
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/17/2012.

However, many players considered to be high-profile basestealers, contributed little to no, and sometimes negative, value with their thefts, such as Steve Sax (3.38 Net SB Runs) or Brett Butler (-10.91). Charlie Hustle was known for his aggressiveness on the base paths, but would you have guessed he was the least efficient basestealer in our study? Would Buddy Bell be considered a borderline Hall of Fame candidate by non-saberists if he wasn’t abysmal on the basepaths?

Rk Player SB CS SB% From To Age G SBRuns+ CSRuns- NetSBRuns
1 Pete Rose 198 149 57.1% 1963 1986 22-45 3562 35.64 -64.07 -28.4
2 Buddy Bell 55 79 41.0% 1972 1989 20-37 2405 9.9 -33.97 -24.1
3 Alfredo Griffin 192 134 58.9% 1976 1993 18-35 1962 34.56 -57.62 -23.1
4 Chet Lemon 58 76 43.3% 1975 1990 20-35 1988 10.44 -32.68 -22.2
5 Greg Gagne 108 96 52.9% 1983 1997 21-35 1798 19.44 -41.28 -21.8
6 Rick Monday 98 91 51.9% 1966 1984 20-38 1986 17.64 -39.13 -21.5
7 Duane Kuiper 52 71 42.2% 1974 1985 24-35 1057 9.36 -30.53 -21.2
8 Dave Parker 154 113 57.8% 1973 1991 22-40 2466 27.72 -48.59 -20.9
9 Bob Bailey 85 83 50.6% 1962 1978 19-35 1931 15.3 -35.69 -20.4
10 Lenny Randle 156 112 58.2% 1971 1982 22-33 1138 28.08 -48.16 -20.1
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/17/2012.

As you can see, the bulk of the players listed in the above tables played in the 1970s and 80s, an era with more emphasis on the stolen base and “small ball” in general, coming in the wake of a pitching-dominant era where an extra base here or there was quite valuable. Also, when expanding the lists, one will note that current players are more and more successful basestealers than those of previous generations, likely due to better pre-game scouting and paying greater credence to statistics. There are 10 active players among the 40 best basestealers, but only one among the 40 worst (sorry, David DeJesus). Teams like the 2007 Phillies stole at an absurd 88 percent clip, whereas the 1977 Cardinals were successful only 54.5% of the time, poor enough to “earn” -24 runs.

One final note for this piece: The .18/-.43 run values are for the stolen base ON AVERAGE. On a case by case basis, the values will differ, but as a rule of thumb, these are the best figures to use (according to Mr. Tango).

*All-time, for my purposes today, means 1951-present.

73 thoughts on “Nerves of Steal

  1. 1
    MikeD says:

    Buddy Bell and Duane Kuiper were teammates. Even at that time when the understanding of the value of SBs vs. getting caught wasn’t quite as well understood, it was just crazy that these guys were ever allowed to wander more than two feet off first base.

    • 12
      RJ says:

      Duane Kuiper: fantastic broadcaster, less than fantastic ballplayer.

      • 20
        Ed says:

        Tom Veryzer was also a teammate of Bell and Kuiper. For his career Veryzer was 9 for 32 in steals, a 28.1% success rate. It’s the 5th lowest success rate for anyone with more than 20 attempts.

        • 54
          Tmckelv says:

          And don’t forget Alfredo Griffin (#3 on the second list above). He spent his first 3 seasons (1976-78) as a backup infielder “learning” the art of stealing bases from 3B Bell, 2B Kuiper and SS Veryzer.

          Alfredo chipped in with 2 SB and 3 CS in very limited playing time with CLE before getting traded to the Blue Jays where he could REALLY not shine on the base-paths.

          • 55
            Ed says:

            As bad as he was, Griffin actually improved the Blue Jays base stealing prowess. The year before acquiring him, the Blue Jays were only successful 28 times in 80 attempts, perhaps the worst team effort ever. The only player over 50% was Gary Woods who was successful in his only attempt. The Blue Jays worst offender was the player Griffin replaced, shortstop Luis Gomez. Gomez was 2 for 12 in 1978 and 6 for 28 in his career.

    • 22
      John Autin says:

      FWIW, the BJHBA says the Bell/Kuiper Indians did a ridiculous amount of hit-and-running, contributing mightily to the team’s awful CS numbers.

      • 32
        Hartvig says:

        Is there an easy way to determine how often a team ran the hit & run during the course of a season? I read that same thing and assuming that it’s true it appears that it may have spanned at least 3 different managers- Ken Aspromonte, Frank Robinson & Jeff Torborg. That strikes me as kind of odd but it’s hard to imagine another explanation for their astonishingly bad caught stealing numbers.

  2. 2
    Doug says:

    This year’s Pirates aren’t much better than the ’77 Cardinals. The Bucs have only a 56.7% success rate, but at least have only had 111 attempts.

    Most attempts this year is 176 by the Marlins, followed by the Padres (175) and Rays (169). In 1977, the Pirates stole 260 bases in 380 attempts. In 1982, Oakland stole 232 times (130 by Rickey) in 319 attempts.

    • 7
      Ed says:

      Would love to see a follow-up post that looked at what teams gained or lost the most runs via the SB.

      • 9
        Jim Bouldin says:

        As far as gained runs goes, as a percentage of total runs, it’s got to be dominated by the 76 A’s and the Expos and Cardinal teams of the 1980s.

      • 15
        Doug says:

        Those 260 steals for the ’77 Pirates actually cost them 4.8 runs.

        • 33
          Hartvig says:

          Plus they had Omar “The Out Maker” Moreno in their lineup for the entire season yet they did manage to score about 20 runs more than the league average. I’m not sure if those 2 factors alone were enough to cost them the pennant but they didn’t help.

  3. 3
    Doug says:

    It was a slow, gradual process, but Pete Rose did finally figure out how to steal.

    Age 22-28: 50 for 110 (45.4%)
    Age 29-43: 137 for 225 (60.9%)
    Age 44-45: 11 for 12 (91.7%)

  4. 4
    Debra says:

    Wow, great insight by this writer! Kuiper’s low/detrimental SB % I would think when combined with zero power contribution really brought about a negative offensive presence for the Tribe!

  5. 5
    Ed says:

    Rick Monday may not have been able to steal bases but he sure was good at stealing flags!

  6. 8
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Of course, Palmer and Tango’s numbers are almost certainly derived from curve fits to various empirical data sets, and so are of limited usefulness in explaining the potential for the stolen base to be a powerful offensive weapon in the right context.

    Thanks for including the caveat that the two sets of numbers are for MLB overall, and therefore are also of limited utility in comparing players from different teams and different eras. Getting thrown out when you’re on a team that hits lots of home runs, is not going to be the same as Coleman getting thrown out on the 85 Cardinals.

    • 25
      Brendan Bingham says:

      Yes, context is important, including consideration of game situation. An extreme example: with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and trailing by one run, the break-even point for attempting to steal second is something like 35%.

  7. 10
    AlvaroEspinoza says:

    I’d love to see how base stealers effect the performance of the hitter. Do they distract pitchers when they’re on first, force pitchers to throw more fastballs and decrease their effectiveness? Or do base stealers force hitters to take more pitches and decrease their performance? Or have no effect at all?

    • 27
      no statistician but says:


      The whole dynamic can be very complicated and variable, depending on who is involved. Example: for years almost no one dared to attempt a steal on Whitey Ford because his move to first was indistinguishable from his move to the plate. And if someone did, he started late and got mowed down by Yogi or Elston Howard. This situation made the jobs of the Yankee infielders easier, the hit-and-run harder, and the double play more likely. With someone like Adam Dunn at the plate, I doubt if base stealing has much impact, assuming the runners in front of him are thieves to begin with, but I’m open to argument.

  8. 11
    Howard says:

    Where does Carlos Beltran rank?

    • 14
      Doug says:

      Good thought, Howard.

      Apparently, just outside the top 10 at 35.3 runs. But, it could be a slow process moving higher – his 13 of 18 mark this year added just 0.19 runs to his total.

      • 31
        Howard says:

        Thanks, Doug. That’s pretty impressive considering how far behind he is in raw numbers compared to the other guys on the list.

    • 41
      Dalton Mack says:

      Would like to point out that Jimmy Rollins has actually surpassed Lou Brock by a small margin to claim the number 10 spot on the list. For those interested, 11-20 are as follows:
      11) Lou Brock (36.8)
      12) Carl Crawford (36.5)
      13) Roberto Alomar (36.3)
      14) Carlos Beltran (35.3)
      15) Barry Larkin (35.1)
      16) Eric Davis (34.4)
      17) Paul Molitor (34.4)
      18) Tony Womack (33.5)
      19) Luis Aparicio (32.6)
      20) Barry Bonds (31.9)

  9. 13
    Jimbo says:

    do the .18/-.43 take into other affects of an aggressive base runner?

    I find it hard to believe that a theoretical baserunner who steals 142 bases in a year and is caught 60 times is only breaking even, what with all the mayhem he would be causing.

    • 16
      Jimbo says:

      I’ve also always been surprised that the bases are just the right distance apart that base stealing is so interesting. And that there has never been a player so fast that he could run on the first pitch every time he got on base, and do so with enough success. Such a player could steal 250+ bases in theory or have 300-400 attempts. I think such a player would be too injury prone and beaten, but I’m surprised no speedster has ever tried, especially considering how overlooked the CS traditionall was. The 142/202 player I theorized above would probably garner all sorts of MVP votes and get a big contract and lots of attention, even if the value is minimal/0.

      • 64
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        From wiki.answers:

        “The Base Ball Convention of 1857 held in New York on January 22, by former Knickerbocker President Daniel “Doc” Adams, was the first convention of its kind. During this convention Adams was elected President of the Convention and headed the Committee on Rules and Regulations.

        He set the distance between bases at 30 yards. It has been assumed that the distance was 30 paces between all bases although this distance was never specified in the original Knickerbocker Rules. The only mention of distance is listed in Rule 4 and states; “The bases shall be from “home” to second base, 42 paces; from first to third base, 42 paces, equidistant.”

        It as rumored that Jamie Moyer helped to advise Mr. Adams…

  10. 17
    Doug says:

    Dick Schofield Sr. may be the most consistently bad base-stealer. At least he had the good sense not to try too often. He went 12 for 41 for his career, and not once in 19 seasons did he have more steals than caught stealing.

    • 19
      Ed says:

      Jay Buhner has the lowest career % of anyone with 20 or more attempts. He was 6 of 30, a 20% success rate.

    • 26
      e pluribus munu says:

      I think we have to remember that managers have a lot of say about who steals when, and high CS numbers for certain players may reflect poor judgment by managers. Schofield Sr. was one of the longest serving perpetual subs, so an inordinate number of his PAs were probably in late innings of close games as PH, PR, or 1-2 inning defensive replacement, when managers might be more prone to gamble for a small ball edge. (I don’t know this, I’m just speculating from recollections and too lazy to look up a sample of Schofield’s logs.) A guy with Schofield’s career security probably wouldn’t be likely to argue that he wasn’t being used well on the basepaths, especially if the issue only came up a few times a year.

      • 28
        Doug says:

        No doubt, epm. I just thought it mildly interesting that with year after year of low single digits in the SB and CS columns, not once did Schofield manage say, 2 SB and 1 CS. It was always equal or the other way round.

  11. 18
    bstar says:

    A lot of the credit for those record-breaking 2007 Phillies has to go to stolen base guru Davey Lopes, the first-base coach of that team. Lopes had the all-time record for SB% for a long time at 83.01%(557 out of 671) before Carlos Beltran passed him fairly recently.

  12. 21
    Hank G. says:

    “Lopes had the all-time record for SB% for a long time at 83.01%(557 out of 671) before Carlos Beltran passed him fairly recently.”

    At the time Lopes retired in 1987, Time Raines was 511 out of 585 (87.35%), so I don’t see when Lopes had the all-time record at all.

  13. 23
    Hank G. says:

    So, if Rickey Henderson had never attempted to steal a single base, his career would have been worth only about 95 WAR. Good thing he made the extra effort.

  14. 30
    Steven says:

    Those 1977 Cardinals were nicknamed “Rapp’s Runnin’ Redbirds.” Ran Vern Rapp right out of a job in early 1978.

  15. 34
    NatsLady says:

    If I understand the commenter above, the WPA of stealing second down a run in the bottom of the 9th with two out makes the attempt worth it even if you have only a 35% success rate. If that’s true, why is a SB often ruled defensive indifference? Obviously, it is DI if you look at positioning of the infielders–who are often repositioned after the 2nd out to maximize getting the 3rd out. Is this the best strategy?

    Apologize if I misunderstood the comment. The Nats have been bit and bit and bit by SB’s and DI in late innings.

    • 38
      Doug says:


      Tom Tango’s win expectancy estimates by state (from which WPA is most likely derived) read like this, for bottom of 9th, down 1, 2 outs.

      Man on first ONLY: .104 win expectancy
      Man on second ONLY: .151 win expectancy
      Man on third ONLY: .172 win expectancy

      Using the values above with a 35% chance of stealing successfully, you get: (0-.104) * 0.65 + (.151-.104) * 0.35 = -.0511 .

      So, with only a 35% chance of success (i.e. expectation is defense will contest the play), the steal attempt actually reduces your chance of winning by about half, down to just over 5%. At a 70% success expectation, it becomes a break-even play.

      Of course, if you steal and don’t make it, your chances of winning are zero. But your chance of winning is only a touch over 10% anyway, so it’s not like you’re risking a lot by trying. As to why the defense may be indifferent, I suspect it’s because they want to avoid the man on third state above which could result if the catcher throws through and the ball gets away. In that state, you’re still only looking at less than a 20% chance of winning, but the expectation of at least extending the game is now much enhanced with a runner on third rather than second.

      Incidentally, this very play ended the 1926 World Series. In those innocent, pre-sabermetric days, the catcher made the throw and nailed the runner.

      • 61
        Brendan Bingham says:

        Natslady and Doug,
        Thanks for following up on my comment, and Doug, thanks for citing Tango’s win expectancy numbers in reply. I was not imagining a DI situation.
        Here’s my (perhaps flawed) reasoning for “guesstimating” a 35% break-even. With a runner on first and two outs, it probably takes two hits (or a walk and a hit) to bring in the tying run and extend to extra innings. This of course is not equivalent to winning, merely to extending play. If you think of the stolen base as “replacing” one of the necessary hits by putting the tying runner on second where he would most likely score if the next batter gets a hit, the probability of success of stealing would only have to exceed the next batter’s OBP (or more accurately, some permutation of the next two batters’ aggregate OBP) to be cost effective. But perhaps all the estimation (words like “probably” and “most likely” above) and ignoring that one extra base hit can also extend the game, adds up to the difference between my 35% estimate and your 70% calculation.

        • 62
          Doug says:


          The other factor is who the batters are (something that WPA and Win Expectancy don’t consider, of course). I would be more inclined to try the steal the weaker the hitters are who are coming up. So, if my best hitter is at the plate, I’m probably staying put, more especially so if I have a low expectation that I’ll succeed with the steal (which make’s Ruth’s choice to steal in 1926 all the more surprising, with Meusel and Gehrig up next.)

          As to Natslady’s questioning why teams are indifferent to taking the extra base, I personally can’t recall seeing DI in this particular situation – ahead by 2, yes, but not if only ahead by 1.

  16. 35
    birtelcom says:

    When I apply the +0.18 and -0.43 values to the total, overall major league-wide numbers for each season from 1951 through 2012, what I get is that across MLB there was an overall NET LOSS in runs from stolen base attempts every single season from 1951 through 2004, with the sole exception of 1996 when there was a tiny net gain of 5.5 runs league-wide. The league wide loss in net runs during this period was often over 100 runs a season (the average net loss over the 1951 through 2004 period was 92 runs), with the largest negative net loss league-wide for any single season being 221 runs in 1977. Starting in 2006, MLB has shown a net GAIN each season in runs on stolen base attempts based on the +.18/-.43 formula. The net gain in 2012 so far is 87 runs, which is threatening to top the high of 94 net runs gained achieved by MLB in 2006.

    That MLB as a whole was pursuing an entirely voluntary strategy that was on the whole continuously and consistently counter-productive for at least 50 years does seem odd. Not impossible of couse — it is a founding faith of sabermetrics that MLB conventional wisdom sometimes gets stuff wrong. But the sheer breadth and consistency of the ostensible strategic error through 2004 here does lead me to wonder whether the formula applied this way is really quite right.

    • 37
      Jim Bouldin says:


      Why do you conclude that the “runs gained” and “runs lost” numbers are the root of the problem here? You are placing some kind of complete trust in Tango’s numbers, and I see absolutely no reason to do that. We don’t know what time period he derived his numbers from, nor anything at all about the methodology he used to get them. It’s a complete black box and so you can’t just apply them to any MLB numbers you want.

      Futhermore, even if we applied them to the “right” time period, the conclusion that SB/CS numbers somehow imply that attempting to steal bases is counter-productive, is unwarranted, unless Tango provided a simulation-based theoretical analysis over a very wide range of possible team makeups and offensive strategies, which I doubt he did.

      • 45
        birtelcom says:

        Jim: The gist of your comment is entirely consistent with mine. Dalton’s original post applied the Tango numbers (.18 and-.43) to all players in all seasons since 1951. I simply wanted to see what would happen if we applied those same numbers on a league-wide scale, and I reported the results. And I added that I thought the results suggested some skepticism about whether applying the formula so uniformly resulted in an accurate reflection of real value. So I think we are agreeing.

        • 47
          Jim Bouldin says:

          My fault birtelcom. I completely failed to read your last sentence, or else I didn’t get what you were saying there, can’t remember which. So thanks for explaining.

          The problem with this kind of stuff is people start taking these numbers as some kind of gospel and applying them willy-nilly.

          • 53
            birtelcom says:

            No worries, Jim. I wasn’t particularly clear in my comment, plus the gist does sometimes get hard to follow in a winding comment thread. (Which is a perfectly acceptable price for having such an enthusiatic and articulate community of commenters.)

    • 48
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      My problem with your conclusion is that the 70.5% success-rate (derived from the +0.18/-0.43 run values for SB/CS) is _not_ static over time, and varies considerably over various eras. In particular, when the runs-scored level is well below-average (say, from 1963-68), the break-even point goes down considerably.

      At the height of the recent offensive explosion (say, 1996 or 2000), the break-even point may have been 72%-73%. Conversely, in 1968, “the year of the pitcher”, it was probably below 60%.

      The break-even point may also vary with the park, or the team’s offensive style (someone mentioned the 80s Cardinals). We don’t have the CS records, but I suspect in the deadball era, the break-even point was often a little over 50%, since runs were so scarce, and errors more common.

      • 51
        Jim Bouldin says:

        Offensive strategy will have an enormous impact Lawrence. In addition to being very questionable as *overall* numbers (as birtelcom shows), it’s almost certain that they don’t apply to a good base stealing team, particularly if that team depends on high OBP and stealing for its offense. That’s why numbers derived from empirical analyses are limited in what they can tell you.

      • 52
        birtelcom says:

        Tom Ruane of Retrosheet did this article a while back that has value-added numbers for each year from 1960 through 2004: Based on his numbers, it looks like the major-league-wide break-even point in 2000 was about 75%, and about 65% in 1968. Tom Ruane, BTW, is one of the great forces behind Retrosheet, the amazing source of the basic baseball box score and play-by-play historical data in digital format on which we all ultimately depend. There can never be enough kudos to Tom and to Retrosheet.

    • 57
      Artie Z. says:

      > That MLB as a whole was pursuing an entirely voluntary strategy that was on the whole continuously and consistently counter-productive for at least 50 years does seem odd.

      While I don’t disagree with any of Jim’s or Lawrence’s comments about the particular numbers for the value of stolen bases, I want to comment on this statement about MLB as a whole doing things that don’t seem to make a lot of sense.

      You can start with teams using fast guys with low OBP in the leadoff spot. There are still teams, playoff caliber teams even, that do this ***cough, Phillies, Jimmy Rollins, cough*** even though they probably have better available options (dare I say it – where is Timmy – like Juan Pierre this year). We know it’s not good to put those low OBP guys up there because of all the outs they make, and yet they still hit leadoff.

      If you want another – the constant lefty-righty matchups that deprive the team from having an actual bench of useful role players. Unless the pitcher’s name is Jesse Orosco, and some team in the league has Barry Bonds, do you really need a LOOGY? Or two of them? Yet every team in baseball is carrying (or wants to carry) these guys on the roster.

      If you want another – saving the closer for the save. If MLB teams didn’t do this they could probably get rid of the LOOGY’s.

      I guess the basic point I’m trying to make is: I wouldn’t put it past MLB teams as a whole to voluntarily use a strategy that is counterproductive.

  17. 36
    James Smyth says:

    Another feather in the cap for the Hall of Fame candidacy of Tim Raines!

  18. 40
    mosc says:

    I don’t agree with the numbers. I know it’s not feasible for historical players but I’ve always wanted to see RE24-based numbers for steals. It matters on the outs and the other base runners. Look at the run expectation before and after each SB attempt. There are lots of situations where a SB is of great value, others where it is of low value. If you steal second with a guy on third and two outs, that’s not adding nearly as much value as if there were no outs in that situation. Going first to second with one out is a lot less valuable than going second to third with one out. If you want to know the value a player adds on the base paths, look at the run expectation.

  19. 44
    spudart says:

    I’d like to see a list of the top 100 players. I subscribe to Play Index, but the link in the post doesn’t go directly to the results.

    • 46
      Dalton Mack says:

      While I did use the Play Index to make the above tables, the study was mostly done on Excel, so the PI search I used didn’t necessarily contain everyone I wanted. I could send you my file if you’d like.

      • 50
        spudart says:

        Thanks for the offer. I kinda figured that you did it in Excel, so i did a Play Index search for players with at least 25 CS. I’m a huge fan of stolen bases, so I really love this NetSBRuns stat. Very enlightening. It pleases me that Shawon Dunston is ranked #194 all-time, while his south-side partner Ozzie Guillen is ranked the 25th worst all time.

    • 49
      spudart says:

      Here’s the top ten Cubs of all-time (since 1951)
      Ryne Sandberg 15.91
      Davey Lopes 7.76
      Tony Campana 7.39
      Bob Dernier 6.8
      Eric Young 6.27
      Corey Patterson 5.59
      Alfonso Soriano 4.17
      Brian McRae 4.15
      Delino DeShields 3.1
      Ryan Theriot 2.95
      Ced Landrum 2.71

  20. 63
    T-Bone says:

    Tony Campana did it in just about the same number of games, 179, but he is a bit younger than 40. He doesn’t have a whole lot of value other than that but it is fun to watch him run, whether for an SB or a hit.

  21. 65
    Mike Felber says:

    Over 70% success rate merely to break even-really? I am aware of run scarcity differentials, but I thought that the break even rate averaged around 2/3. This is about 4% higher than I figured. Is everyone confident that this both applies as a historical average, & in this post-PED era?

    I can imagine that folks consistently underrated the damage from CS though. And true, if the base paths were just 5% closer or farther apart, it would render the challenge to easy or hard. Either not an effective tool for most all, or so easy that it is not much of an achievement, too much an automatic XBH.

    I think that speed is more likely to have improved than defensive techniques & catcher’s arms. Meaning that increased athleticism could begin to make the SB easier: IF we are not prioritizing the power hitter & PEDs, which also makes the break even point higher.

    Is that what we have been seeing since ’04? That is, after PEDs began to fade thus a less inflated offense, the players are on average a little faster than say 30 years ago, so with a similar run environment, they are going to be a little better at running/SB/CS?

    • 66
      tag says:

      It’s interesting to speculate when baserunners may simply become too fast to be thrown out. It’s hard to think that Trout is faster than, say, Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders were. Which makes his success rate all the more remarkable, because theirs wasn’t near his. And it’s not that, like, say, Lopes, he’s been in the league 15+ years and has had time to learn all the pitchers and intricately refine his approach.

      I imagine that at some point certain players might become too fast to be thrown out by all but pitchouts / perfect pegs. The Cubs’ Tony Campana is pretty close now, and I’d bet if Denard Robinson, the Michigan QB, switched sports he’d be near-impossible to nail. A pitcher can only cut down his leg kick so much and a catcher can only throw so hard out of that crouch.

      • 67
        no statistician but says:


        I think you’re over-simplifying a little.

        Stolen bases depend quite a bit on getting a good start. Speed helps, but we’re talking maybe 27 yards here, so the initial takeoff is crucial, and that depends on the pitcher to a degree.

        • 68
          tag says:

          Probably oversimplifying, but I think it’s interesting that we’re getting young guys like Trout and Campana who, in a significant number of attempts, are being successful around 90% of the time now. Sure they’re good baserunners, but so was Lou Brock. These guys are just flat-out faster than in the past, and at some point other guys make become too fast.

    • 69
      Jim Bouldin says:

      You’re asking exactly the kinds of questions that are of the greatest interest to me in baseball discussions–questions of optimal baseball strategy relative to the constraints imposed by the rules of the game and the geometry of the playing field.

      I’ve always wondered how the dimensions of the diamond were set exactly, but it’s clear to me that there must have been some experimentation with different distances between the bags for the typical stolen base attempt to typically be a very close play at both second and third. Given that they set it at d = 90′ some long time ago when players generally were not as fast as they are now, this sets up the definite opportunity for the strategy of the game to change over time. We saw some of that in the 70s and especially the 80s.

      I don’t think there’s any question that Tango’s numbers are of limited applicability to these discussions. What a stolen base is “worth” in the currencies of outs made and runs scored is going to depend heavily on the offensive strategies and skills of the teams in the league, and the greater the variation in strategy, the greater the variance in the mean numbers computed by Palmer, Tango whomever, and the corresponding less applicability to any given team (or year if computed over a number of years).

      I really want to see some simulations on this whole topic, and may lay down the money to buy one of the better game simulators where you can vary a bunch of things. Alternatively, if I get the time (HA!), I’ll try to do some relatively simple experiments in R.

  22. 70
    Mike Felber says:

    I am skeptical that 70.5 % is not a bit too high as a historical AVERAGE for a break even point. Or that today, when run production has cooled to ~ historically average post dead ball levels, it is also not around 2/3. Is anyone here confident that the break even point IS over 70%. IF it is lower, then that would obviate the need to believe that the net effect of stolen bases was a negative, wholly effort for most, for 1/2 a century!

    Though when players were slower when the distances were greater, the run environment tended to be scarce, so coincidentally the distance has tended to be near the “right” level. If players are getting better since ’04, it may be the 1st basically offense neutral time when SB/CS were a net +.


  23. 72
    Mike Felber says:

    Me no speak-a so good? 😉 I am inquiring whether 70.5% is a reasonable break even point for SB/CS value, today & for a historical average. From what I have read elsewhere, including at this site’s progenitor, that is about 4% too high.

    The rest is positing that if so, then the Tango’s pessimistic view of the efficacy of thievery for 50 years from the mid 50’s may be show as wrong. And the available info saying that for close to a decade value has been created by SB attempts may be even stronger.

    Plus I posited earlier that this may be due to players slowly getting more athletic over time, though this increase having been retarded by big sluggers being a more valuable niche when ‘roids ran amok. Now that the average guy is a little smaller & lighter, just a bit more average speed,+ interest & more value in a SB in a relatively depressed run environment, could naturally lead us to believe that the average skill & effort at SB has risen slightly.

  24. 73
    Mike Felber says:

    Once Again, with Feeling: can anyone answer my query & musing? I never saw 70% + listed as a SB break even point, any opinions or proofs? I asked:

    I am inquiring whether 70.5% is a reasonable break even point for SB/CS value, today & for a historical average. From what I have read elsewhere, including at this site’s progenitor, that is about 4% too high.

    The rest is positing that if so, then the Tango’s pessimistic view of the efficacy of thievery for 50 years from the mid 50′s may be show as wrong. And the available info saying that for close to a decade value has been created by SB attempts may be even stronger.

    Plus I posited earlier that this may be due to players slowly getting more athletic over time, though this increase having been retarded by big sluggers being a more valuable niche when ‘roids ran amok. Now that the average guy is a little smaller & lighter, just a bit more average speed,+ interest & more value in a SB in a relatively depressed run environment, could naturally lead us to believe that the average skill & effort at SB has risen slightly.

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