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Pirates Are Stealing Bases, But Not Runs

Pirates at Orioles 5/1/14

Marte goes for the steal. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

Starling Marte is second in all of baseball with 30 stolen bases. His aggressiveness on the base paths played a big role in his first All-Star game selection last Tuesday.

But how many runs has he stolen?

Would you believe me if I told you it was only one run? Or better yet, would you believe me if I told you that if Marte never attempted a stolen base this year the Pirates would have scored more runs?

Years ago, “Moneyball” theorized that an attempted steal needs to have a 70 percent or higher success rate for it to have a positive run total. Through 89 games, Marte has only been caught six times, meaning he has converted 83.3 percent of his stolen base attempts. That’s a noticeable improvement to what he has done in years past (75 percent in 2015, 73.1 in ‘14, and 73.2 in ‘13).

All four of those years would lead people to believe that Marte’s aggressiveness on the base paths has been beneficial to his club, but for whatever reason, that has not been the case this year.

There are three scenarios every time a runner steals a base. They are:

1. He does not score

It does not get much simpler than this. Maybe he stole the bases with two outs or perhaps it was just poor timely hitting. Either way, the swiped bag is squandered.

2. He scores, but he would have without the stolen base

If a base runner steals a bag and then gets to trot home because the batter homered, the stolen base was worthless. Perhaps moving up 90 feet messed with a pitcher’s head and started a string of three or four straight hits or a well struck double, but he probably would have scored that inning anyway even if he would have stayed at first.  This also applies to walks (unless it was intentional because first base was now open).

3. He scores, and it was because of the stolen base

Maybe he took third base and then scored on a sacrifice fly while nobody else got on base. Maybe he moved himself into scoring position and came home on the only single of the inning. Or perhaps he took second base and was able to go to third on a ground ball rather than having his team hit into an inning ending double-play. This is how stolen bases create runs, and in the case of the third example, it could result in multiple runs through two out lightning.

The first two scenarios do not improve a team’s run total by the stolen base alone. The third outcome is the only time when stealing a base contributes to a team’s run total.

We’ll call this (somewhat primitive) stat “stolen runs.”  So how many stolen runs has Marte had on the year at the All-Star break?

Marte sb figures

Yup, just one. It happened May 13 in a 9-4 loss in Chicago, so it did not even make a difference. What may even be more surprising is that Marte did not score 70 percent of the time he stole a base.

But there is an obvious risk to stolen base attempts: being caught stealing. In the same way that a team can steal runs, recklessness on the basepaths can take runs away.  Every time there is a caught stealing, there are two potential results. They are:

1. The team did not and would not have scored

The stolen base attempt does not work out, but the offense did not muster anything anyway. No harm, no foul (except for giving the pitcher a free out).

2. The team did or would have scored

Maybe the next batter cracks an extra base hit or it ends an inning right before the rest of the team would have had two out lightning. From the time he was caught stealing to the first out of the next inning (which would have been the third out the inning before), these are runs left on the table.

Granted this version is not as exact of a science as how many runs were wasted, especially once it extends to the next inning, but it gives a good estimate.

Of Marte’s six caught stealings, three have fallen in each category, meaning he’s “cost” the Pirates three runs. Fortunately for the Pirates, they only lost one of those three contests (and it was by more than one run, so we can say with confidence it did not cost them the game).

So how does the rest of the team compare?

team sb figures

So out of all the Pirates who have attempted at least five stolen bases, only Josh Harrison created more runs than he lost. As a whole, they have combined to cost the Bucs one run, even though they total a 75.3 percent conversion rate. When Harrison, Polanco, Marte and Cervelli steal a base, they have not scored 60.7 percent of the time.

So how seriously should we take this? Well, it is a small sample size, so this should not be taken as gospel. You can make a case that the reason why Marte has stolen so few runs is because of his offense.

This year’s Pirates team has been able to string base runners together at a far better rate than they had in previous years. It stands to reason that someone who steals a lot of bases on a bad offense (think Billy Hamilton) could steal more runs than Marte. Even someone batting in the lower part of the order like Harrison could have a better chance of stealing a run because he usually has Jordy Mercer and the pitcher hitting behind him, meaning that there is a worse chance of the guys protecting him in the order stringing hits together.

And this does not mean that the Pirates should completely abandon the steal. If Marte and Harrison continue to swap bases at this pace, then it is worth having as an option. It has created runs, and considering how many one run games the Pirates have played the last few years, it could steal a win.

Just know it comes at a risk, and it does not always produce runs.

Follow The Point of Pittsburgh on Twitter @thepointofpgh or like us on Facebook. You can follow Alex Stumpf @AlexJStumpf.

About Alex Stumpf (52 Articles)
Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.
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