Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

So, how’s that running thing working out?

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:

Date Pitcher Player LI WPA
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
15-Apr L Castillo CarlosBeltran 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
Average/total 0.73 0.071

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.

2 Responses to “So, how’s that running thing working out?”

  1. AlisonJ Says:

    What about considering the net effect of stealing through a modified slugging percentage? With a net gain of 12 bases, SLG is bumped up from .443 to .460 — not bad, but not amazing.

    As far as “emotional advantage” goes, do stolen bases have an impact on the batter at the time? It’s a terribly small sample size, but I wonder what batting averages we see for the next two hitters after a stolen base.

  2. Pip Says:

    What about considering the net effect of stealing through a modified slugging percentage?

    That’s certainly one way to look at it, though of course you would need to include the lost bases from the caught stealings. :)

    I haven’t seen any research one way or the other on batter advantages from stealing. I feel confident saying that while they may hit “better” by not hitting into as many GDPs and get more RBIs, they don’t somehow gain an ability to actually be better batters.

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