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Dissecting the stolen base category

Ray takes a deep dive into the stolen base category on a team by team basis to determine where we can find stolen bases in 2016.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

I read the fantasy coverage over at Baseball Prospectus pretty much on a daily basis and a few weeks ago they were taking a look at the stolen base landscape in 2015. After reading a few of their pieces, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the stolen base category, but at a higher level. Today, I want to take a look at how each team fared on the base paths in 2015 to see if we can glean from this whether they will be running more or less often in 2016.

That said, I utilized the team stolen base data from FanGraphs for my research. I looked at stolen base data for each team for 2015 and compared it to 2014, to see if teams decided to run more or less in 2015, and how successful they were when they did run. I used the following data in my analysis:

  • total stolen bases
  • total caught stealing
  • total stolen base attempts
  • stolen base success rates
  • stolen base opportunities

I used a crude calculation for stolen base opportunities (SBO), utilizing the formula from the Ron Shandler Baseball Forecaster book:

SBO = (SB + CS)/(singles + walks)

This formula assumes that teams only give the green light to steal once a runner reaches first base, but we all know some teams attempt steals from second base, but not as often.

I sorted the team data by the change in stolen bases attempted (Chg. Att.) in 2015 vs 2014. Let's take a look at the results.

2015

2014

Team

SB

CS

SB Att.

Success %

SBO

SB

CS

SB Att.

Success %

SBO

Chg. SB

Chg Att.

Chg Success

Chg SBO

Marlins

112

45

157

71.3%

30.0%

58

21

79

73.4%

30.7%

54

78

-2.1%

-0.7%

Dbacks

132

44

176

75.0%

31.6%

86

33

119

72.3%

29.2%

46

57

2.7%

2.4%

Giants

93

36

129

72.1%

31.6%

56

27

83

67.5%

30.1%

37

46

4.6%

1.4%

Rays

87

44

131

66.4%

30.0%

63

27

90

70.0%

30.4%

24

41

-3.6%

-0.5%

Cubs

95

37

132

72.0%

30.8%

65

40

105

61.9%

28.8%

30

27

10.1%

2.0%

Cardinals

69

38

107

64.5%

30.8%

57

32

89

64.0%

30.3%

12

18

0.4%

0.6%

Blue Jays

88

23

111

79.3%

32.9%

78

21

99

78.8%

31.4%

10

12

0.5%

1.5%

Astros

121

48

169

71.6%

30.4%

122

37

159

76.7%

29.9%

-1

10

-5.1%

0.5%

Red Sox

71

27

98

72.4%

31.6%

63

25

88

71.6%

30.4%

8

10

0.9%

1.3%

Rockies

97

43

140

69.3%

30.8%

85

48

133

63.9%

31.6%

12

7

5.4%

-0.9%

Orioles

44

25

69

63.8%

29.8%

44

20

64

68.8%

29.9%

0

5

-5.0%

-0.2%

Athletics

78

29

107

72.9%

30.5%

83

20

103

80.6%

31.1%

-5

4

-7.7%

-0.6%

Reds

134

38

172

77.9%

30.3%

122

52

174

70.1%

28.4%

12

-2

7.8%

1.9%

Pirates

98

45

143

68.5%

30.6%

104

47

151

68.9%

31.4%

-6

-8

-0.3%

-0.8%

White Sox

68

42

110

61.8%

29.4%

85

36

121

70.2%

29.9%

-17

-11

-8.4%

-0.5%

Tigers

83

51

134

61.9%

32.0%

106

41

147

72.1%

32.2%

-23

-13

-10.2%

-0.3%

Padres

82

29

111

73.9%

29.1%

91

34

125

72.8%

28.2%

-9

-14

1.1%

0.8%

Phillies

88

32

120

73.3%

29.1%

109

26

135

80.7%

29.0%

-21

-15

-7.4%

0.1%

Indians

86

28

114

75.4%

31.6%

104

27

131

79.4%

30.8%

-18

-17

-4.0%

0.8%

Mariners

69

45

114

60.5%

30.3%

96

42

138

69.6%

28.8%

-27

-24

-9.0%

1.4%

Rangers

101

39

140

72.1%

31.1%

105

59

164

64.0%

30.2%

-4

-24

8.1%

0.9%

Braves

69

33

102

67.6%

30.4%

95

33

128

74.2%

29.5%

-26

-26

-6.6%

0.9%

Twins

70

38

108

64.8%

29.7%

99

36

135

73.3%

31.4%

-29

-27

-8.5%

-1.7%

Brewers

84

29

113

74.3%

29.7%

102

43

145

70.3%

29.5%

-18

-32

4.0%

0.2%

Angels

52

34

86

60.5%

29.5%

81

39

120

67.5%

31.1%

-29

-34

-7.0%

-1.6%

Nationals

57

23

80

71.3%

31.1%

101

23

124

81.5%

30.9%

-44

-44

-10.2%

0.2%

Yankees

63

25

88

71.6%

31.1%

112

26

138

81.2%

29.6%

-49

-50

-9.6%

1.5%

Royals

104

34

138

75.4%

30.7%

153

36

189

81.0%

30.3%

-49

-51

-5.6%

0.4%

Mets

51

25

76

67.1%

29.9%

101

34

135

74.8%

29.7%

-50

-59

-7.7%

0.3%

Dodgers

59

34

93

63.4%

31.3%

138

50

188

73.4%

32.0%

-79

-95

-10.0%

-0.7%

As you can see the Marlins increased their stolen base attempts the most in 2015, largely due to the addition of second baseman Dee Gordon, who attempted exactly 78 stolen bases in 2015. He will continue to utilize his speed once he is reaches base in 2016. I imagine Christian Yelich will do the same.

The Diamondbacks attempted 57 more stolen bases in 2015, and the increase can be attributed to more stolen base attempts from outfielder A.J. Pollock, who attempted 46 stolen bases vs just 17 attempts in 2014, accounting for the majority of the increase in stolen base attempts in 2015 for the Diamondbacks.

The Giants stole 37 more bases in 2015 than they did in 2014 thanks to third baseman Matt Duffy who stole 12 bases in 12 attempts and outfielder Norichika Aoki who stole 14 bases in 19 attempts. Aoki is no longer with the Giants (he signed with the Mariners), and Angel Pagan is not getting any younger, so I am not sure if we will see the Giants running as much in 2016.

With Joe Maddon signing to manage the Cubs, you knew they would be running more in 2015, and that proved to be true, as the Cubs stole 30 more bases. The Cubs had four players steal double digit bags last season: Anthony RIzzo, Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant and Chris Coghlan. Rizzo and Bryant were the two surprises, with Rizzo stealing 17 of 23 and Bryant stealing 13 of 17.

On the flip side, the Dodgers attempted 95 fewer stolen bases in 2015, as it appears the new front office lead by President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman appear to frown on the possibility of giving up outs on the base paths. That philosophy resulted in the Friedman dealing away Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp last offseason. Now that Dave Roberts is their new manager, I am curious if they will look to run a little more in 2016. We will learn more as we get closer to spring training, as the team could change the composition of their roster over the next few weeks.

Other teams that ran less in 2015 than in 2014 were the Royals, Mets, Yankees, Nationals and Angels.

In 2015, all MLB teams attempted 231 fewer stolen bases than in 2014. Going back to 2011, teams have attempted almost 1,000 fewer stolen bases over the the last five seasons.There are several reasons why teams are attempting fewer stolen bases:

1. Front offices are de-emphasizing the importance of the stolen base, and relying on the home run, and don't see the value in giving up outs on the base paths.

2. Teams are placing more value on winning games with pitching, defensive shifts and catchers who can frame pitches for called strikes.

3. Hitters just aren't getting on base as much as they have in the past. The league average on base percentage (OBP) in 2011 was .321. In 2015, the league average OBP dropped to .317 after dropping to just .314 in 2014.

Teams which will run more in 2016

So which teams will continue to give their base runners the green light in 2016? Looking at the change in success rate in the table above, the Cubs, Reds, Rangers, and Brewers are a few of the teams who improved their success rates, so they could continue to run more in 2016.

Cubs

With the addition of Jason Hayward via free agency, and hitters like Anthony RIzzo and Kris Bryant, Joe Maddon will continue to be opportunistic on the base paths, picking spots for his big power hitters to run. I can see Hayward stealing 25-30 bases in 2016, as he appears to be the Cubs leadoff hitter, assuming they don't sign or trade for a centerfielder.

Reds

Billy Hamilton will run as much as possible, as that is his only offensive skill. Todd Frazier and Joey Votto could put up low double digit bags once again in 2016. I admit, thought, that I worry how much longer Hamilton will get every day at bats when he gets on base at a sub-.300 clip.

Rockies

The Rockies don't have any problems scoring runs at home, but they do have problems scoring when on the road, so manager Walt Weiss will continue to give the green light to leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon, and second baseman D.J. LeMahieu. Blackmon has been involved in several trade rumors this offseason, so he may bring his 30-40 stolen base potential to another team in 2016.

Rangers

The Rangers traded outfielder Leonys Martin to the Mariners, but shortstop Elvis Andrus and outfielder Delino DeShields should continue to steal 20+ bases in 2016.

A few more observations

As you can see from the table above, the bottom four teams that de-emphasized the stolen base in 2015 all made the playoffs. The Dodgers, Mets, Royals and Yankees made the playoffs, with the Royals winning it all. While the Royals attempted fewer stolen bases in 2015, they did steal over 100 bases, one of six teams to do so.

The Diamondbacks and Reds were the only two teams to attempt more than 170 stolen bases in 2015, down from eight in 2011.

In 2011, eight teams attempted to steal 180 or more times. In 2015, not one team attempted 180 stolen bases.

Based on the SBO change percentage (Chg SBO column) in the table above, the teams that did run more in 2015 didn't increase their stolen base attempts by a large percentage. That indicates that stealing bases is not easy in the modern era, due to the reasons stated above.

All of this data tells us that finding stolen bases isn't as easy in 2015 as it was just five years ago, so one might want to grab one of the top speed guys a round earlier in drafts in 2016. Grabbing a hitter like Dee Gordon, Charlie Blackmon or Jose Altuve, hitters who can help in more than one fantasy category could provide you an advantage over your other league members in 2016.

Fantasy Rundown

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