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Would a Davey Lopes Return Impact the Phillies?

Was the Phillies success on the basepaths from 2007 through 2010 Lopes, the players, or the perfect storm of both?

With the return of Larry Bowa and Pete Mackanin to the Phillies coaching ranks announced Tuesday and Ruben Amaro noting that Charlie Manuel has a standing offer to return to the Phillies as an adviser, many Phillies fans are beginning to wonder which former Phillies coaching staff member may be announced as the next member of the Phillies coaching staff. While part of that statement was a joke, the Phillies penchant for hiring former players, Mackanin and base coach Juan Samuel are two examples, and retaining managers, Dallas Green, and general managers, Pat Gillick, after their days in the organization are seemingly over may be less of a punchline and more of an expected outcome.

One of the names that appears on our Facebook page and in our comment section is that of Davey Lopes, the Phillies first base coach from 2007-2010, the former coach that most Phillies’ fans want to see back in red pinstripes. And this is for good reason.

From 2007 through 2010, the four years Lopes coached first base for the Phillies, the club led the Majors in stolen base success percentage. The Phillies high-mark came in 2007, Lopes first year, with an incredible 88% success rate and the low mark under Lopes was 81%. In the three seasons since Lopes has left, the Phillies have posted went from 80% (first in MLB) to 83% (first in MLB) to 72% (17th in MLB and below the magical 75% break-even rate). Are the Phillies less successful because a lack of Lopes or because of other factors?

The evidence points strongly into the category of “other factors”. Consider the fact that the Phillies no longer have Shane Victorino on the roster who stole 179 of 218 attempts as a Phillie, an 82.11% success rate. Or consider that Chase Utley was caught stealing three times for the first time since 2006, stealing eight of 11 for a 72.72% success rate. Jimmy Rollins had only 22 steals in 28 attempts (78.57%), his second lowest total in any season he played over 100 games in. Consider the fact that Utley, who is the career leader in stolen base success at 88.36%, will be 35 in December and Rollins, who is 25th all-time on the same list, is now 34. Perhaps their quantity and quality of steals, combined with Victorino’s 23rd best all-time success rate, is the reason for the decline more so than Lopes?

It is truly tough to tell – in this 2009 article from USA Today, Lopes is touted as a statistical visionary, “preaching” to players the benefits of stealing second at an 80% rate and third at a 90% rate. There is no doubt there is likely a connection between Lopes’s approach, taking advantage of pitchers who take longer than 1.3 seconds to reach the plate, Lopes’s playing success (20th all-time in stolen base success), and being at the right place in the right time with players like Utley, Rollins, Victorino, and Jayson Werth, a foursome that all stole 20 bases or more in 2009.

The argument against Lopes is that his successes with the Phillies haven’t exactly translated to the Dodgers. Lopes’s Dodgers had a success rate of 76% in 2011 (eighth in MLB), 70% in 2012 (23rd in MLB), and 74% in 2013 (11th in MLB), despite having speedsters Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez for some or part of that time.

Would a Lopes return impact the Phillies? I really don’t think it would – Lopes’ run with the Phillies was serendipitous, the right coach with the perfect approach with the perfect group of players. The Phillies have remained successful on the basepaths while Lopes’s addition to the Dodgers has lifted them only to the middle of the pack despite a group of talented runners.

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