Among the several new looks to the 2012 edition of the Cardinals is their emphasis on base stealing. Citing a major-league-worst 59% success rate in 2011, we were dubious about the idea at the outset of the season. So with 19 games under their red belt, how’s that running thing working out for the Cardinals?
Through 19 games, the team has attempted 18 stolen bases. Through their first 19 last year, they attempted 14. The attempts per game doesn’t tell the whole story, though, because what really matters is attempts per opportunity. Our rough calculation (summing singles, doubles, walks, reaches on errors, hit by pitches) means that the 2012 Cardinals are attempting to steal once every 12.5 chances, whereas the 2011 club did so (through its first 19 games) every 18 chances. That’s up almost 50% from last year. So they’re making good on their plan to steal more often.
But that of course is a fool’s errand if they’re not a lot more successful at it than they were last year, and at least successful enough to break even (in which case, we’re not sure why they should bother, given the increased likelihood of incurring injuries). The good news is that they so far have an 83% success rate (fourth in baseball). That rate is probably strong enough that it doesn’t next contextualizing to prove that the effort has been worth it (break-even rate is generally considered anywhere from 67%-72%). But let’s contextualize, anyway. Stolen base attempts by win-probability added:
|4-Apr||J Johnson||Jon Jay (caught)||0.60||-0.020|
|4-Apr||J Johnson||Rafael Furcal||0.56||0.009|
|6-Apr||Y Gallardo||Carlos Beltran||1.15||0.016|
|6-Apr||Y Gallardo||Rafael Furcal||0.78||0.016|
|9-Apr||H Bailey||Carlos Beltran (caught)||0.32||-0.009|
|14-Apr||C Volstad||Yadier Molina||0.78||0.012|
|14-Apr||C Volstad||Jon Jay||0.27||0.005|
|18-Apr||M Latos||Carlos Beltran||1.65||0.043|
|18-Apr||M Latos||Tyler Greene||0.72||0.014|
|18-Apr||M Latos||Jon Jay||0.32||0.001|
|22-Apr||E Bedard||Rafael Furcal||0.40||0.006|
|23-Apr||M Garza||Skip Schumaker (caught)||1.23||-0.042|
|24-Apr||J Samardzija||Yadier Molina||1.66||0.006|
|25-Apr||C Volstad||Carlos Beltran||1.34||0.005|
|25-Apr||S Camp||Carlos Beltran||0.23||0.003|
|25-Apr||C Marmol||Shane Robinson||0.07||0.001|
The win-probability gains from the 15 stolen bases outweigh the losses from the three nabbings, but not as much as you might think for having such a high success rate. Part of the reason is that the situations in which the team is stealing are relatively meaningless occasions. To put it in perspective, the +.071 WPA is about half as much win probability as Matt Carpenter‘s third-inning RBI single added in Wednesday’s game. Yes, the net effect of the running game is less than a measly early-inning hit.
That’s not to say it’s bad, of course. First, if they’re doing better than breaking even (though again, with injury risks like Beltran and Furcal running, it seems like an unnecessary risk), it’s fun to watch and may confer an emotional advantage in the dugout (until of course, ballplayers get hip to sabermetrics). The uptick in pilferings may also have a positive impact on the offense’s GIDP rate. Although they remain one of the league leaders in OBP (the main indicator for GIDPs), the Cardinals’ GIDPs are slightly down. However, that may be as much due to their increased strikeout rate (20.2%) as stolen bases.
So, at this early juncture, the running game is at least running in the black. But after a couple more times getting thrown out or, heaven forbid, the first time someone gets injured on an attempt, don’t say we didn’t tell you it wasn’t such a bright idea.