Gordon Edes describes the problem as baserunners “waltzing into scoring position at will.” Jeremy Lundblad, of ESPN, says the word stealing is “inadequate” and that it looks more like “widespread looting.”
Whatever you want to call it, Boston’s basepaths look way too much like a lawless, 19th-century cow town. The problem isn’t that the Red Sox can’t stop the majority of base-stealing attempts — after all, the best team in baseball last year at preventing steals “only” threw out 40 percent of runners. The problem is that Boston can’t stop enough of them to serve as a deterrent. In this still-young season, teams have a 90-plus percent success rate stealing on the Boston battery — yes, the pitchers are at fault, too.
Steals were a problem for Boston last year, too, when runners were successful 87 percent of the time, the worst clip in the majors. According to a more advanced metric, Stolen Base Runs Saved, the Red Sox were — again — dead last in the majors in 2009, with steals costing the team 23 runs over the course of the regular season. The next-worst team, the Orioles, only cost themselves eight runs.
Because 10 runs is statistically equivalent to a win, giving up 23 runs — for any reason —- is worth about two games in the standings. And at the rate they’re bleeding steals now, the Red Sox have already coughed up a full win before we even turn the calendar to May. As Lundblad pointed out, that also means Boston could lose more than 100 — 100! — runs to the stolen base before the season is out.
Even if you acknowledge that steals are overrated in value (and they are) the requisitioning taking pace on Boston’s basepaths has got to stop.
Why do I call them overrated? As much as I love small ball, drawing a walk and stealing second is not the same as hitting a double. You can’t drive in a run if you’re stealing a base. Statisticians have established the magic percentage at 75 percent: That’s the success rate you need, as an individual base runner, to make attempting a steal worthwhile. If you can’t get there three-quarters of the time, you are better off not even trying. And since most teams don’t steal at a 75 percent success rate — in fact, only seven teams managed that feat last year — I deduce most teams still think running for the sake of running is somehow adding value.
But against Boston this year, even lead-footed thieves have had almost guaranteed success. So if Boston wants to stem the pillaging, they may need to bring in a new sheriff.
– Sarah Green also writes for UmpBump.com.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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