Over at Hardball Times, there is a piece attempting to quantify the intangible effects potential base stealers have on pitchers. It’s a multi-part article but it’s shaping up to be an interesting one. It got me thinking about the Phillies and their use of speed to score runs. Now at first glace there isn’t a whole lot of room for improvement in the stolen base or runs scored category – the Phils are near the top of the league in both. Jimmy Rollins finished seventh in the majors with 41 swipes while Bobby Abreu was twelfth with 31. The loss of Kenny Lofton’s 22 SB last season will hopefully be offset by the addition of Aaron Rowand’s 16 and an everyday Chase Utley adding to his 16 from last season.
But the loss of Lofton got me thinking even more. To finish 21st in the league while not playing everyday means that he must be stealing at a rate higher than most players (by players I mean players with speed – a good percentage of baserunners are to slow to even consider stealing a base). So I calculate the number of times Lofton landed on first or second base by taking his hits subtracting triples and home runs and adding walks. I excluded HBP since they’re negligible for everyone but Craig Biggio and Jason Kendall but mostly because the pain of being hit by a pitch would probably discourage one from attempting to steal. This formula, which shows Lofton was on first or second 148 times, will be used as a rudimentary statistic for stolen base opportunities. I realize this does not take into consideration other runners on base or bases-loaded situations when the steal sign is inactive, but for now it will have to do. From this I divided stolen bases by stolen base opportunities and calculated that Kenny Lofton stole a base roughly 15% of the time in which the opportunity presented itself. I did the same for Jimmy Rollins and his steal rate was 18.6%, which makes sense because he had a much lower OBP than Lofton. However, with Bobby Abreu we find that he recorded a stolen base only 12% of the time.
At first I assumed Abreu just didn’t have enough attempts, but there are other factors involved. Looking at Abreu’s success rate in stealing bases compared to Rollins and Lofton shows that he was caught stealing at a higher rate (Abreu 21%, Rollins 13%, Lofton 12%). But we all know Abreu is a speedy base runner as evident in his 40 SB in 2004. When trying to rationalize why Abreu didn’t steal as many bases as I think he could have last year, immediate speculation arose as to his health in the second half of the season. There was talk that minor injuries affected his performance and while this is probably the case, his overuse may have compounded the injuries. Yes, the Phils were in the playoff hunt but he didn’t have a single day off all last season. The only other year Abreu played in every game was 2001, which also happens to be the only other year he hit under .300.
After all these calculations and fuzzy math stemming from my original hypothesis that Abreu should be stealing more bases, I have concluded that the guy maybe just needs a day off. Based on the performance of his best years, three days of rest per season should about do the trick. Now whether I needed to bore you with the stolen base statistics to reach to that conclusion is up for debate, but that’s just how my long-winded thought process worked today. Still, I think my stolen base rate statistic has some potential, so any feedback would be appreciated.