May 5, 2003

Beat 'em like they stole something

I was watching "Baseball Tonight" on Sunday night and saw the following graphic:

Team Stolen Base Leaders:
Florida        52

Anaheim 26
Tampa Bay 23
Pittsburgh 22
Boston 21
Cincinnati 21

Obviously, this is not a shocking development. Back in March, when I did my season-preview, I said the following:

"The Marlins are a stone cold lock to lead all of baseball in stolen bases in 2003, which should at least be somewhat interesting (and frustrating for Marlins fans) to watch. They led the Majors with 177 steals last year and I wouldn't be shocked to see them steal 250+ in 2003."

Their current pace: 255 steals.

Beyond being able to see into the future to predict team stolen base totals, you probably also know me as someone that loves interesting/strange/extreme statistics. When I saw that the Marlins had "lapped the field" in stolen bases this year, I immediately wondered whether or not they could make a run at the all-time team record for steals in a season. Of course, I wasn't even sure what that record was...

With the help of Craig Burley of the Batter's Box, I found out that the all-time record is:

1911 New York Giants - 347 SBs

1976 Oakland Athlethics - 341 SBs

I included both teams, because the '76 A's are what I would consider the "modern day" record-holders. Do the Marlins have a shot at coming close to either of those totals? Probably not.

To reach 340 steals, they would need to average about 2.1 steals per game for the entire season. Through 33 games they are averaging 1.58 per game. That said, it is very early and one or two games with a ton of steals can really bump their average per game up quite a bit. For instance, if they steal 5 bases in their next game and 6 bases the game after that, their average for the season jumps up to 1.8 per game. Still, that's quite a ways from 2.1.

Okay, so they might not break any records, but they are definitely going to lead the league by a ton... Here are the stolen base totals for the Marlins, projected to a full-season:

Player              SB     CS

Juan Pierre 59 20
Derrek Lee 49 0
Juan Encarnacion 44 10
Ivan Rodriguez 34 0
Luis Castillo 34 20
Todd Hollandsworth 10 10
Mike Lowell 10 0
Gerald Williams 5 0
Mike Mordecai 5 0
Andy Fox 5 5
Alex Gonzalez 0 14

TOTAL 255 79

I'll say this for the Florida Marlins, if you are going to go crazy stealing bases, you could do worse than how the Marlins are doing thus far. They are on pace to steal 255 bags and get thrown out 79 times, which works out to a nifty 76.5% success rate. There are a few different theories as to the actual "break even" point for stolen bases (the rate at which you don't gain anything or lose anything), but I think the general opinion is that it is somewhere around 70%.

The amazing thing about Florida's stolen base numbers thus far is that they don't even have their best "stolen base lineup" on the field. Alex Gonzalez is hitting the crap out of the ball (.336/.381/.644) for them at shortstop, but he isn't much of a base stealer. He is 0/3 so far this season and 15/27 for his 486 game career. (He's also a .246/.290/.390 career hitter, but that's a topic for another day).

Meanwhile, the Fishies have Andy Fox sitting on their bench. Fox filled in as the everyday shortstop last season when Gonzalez went down with an injury and ended up going 31/38 on steals in only 133 games. For his career he is 74/98.

So, for all the running they are doing, they could be doing even more! I imagine if Fox was playing everyday he'd have at least 10 attempts already and probably would have stolen 7 or 8 bases. If you take out Gonzalez's 0/3 and add in Fox's 8/10, you get 60 steals in 73 attempts - a 82% success rate.

And while they are at it, why not sign Rickey Henderson to play left field, instead of Todd Hollandsworth? Hollandsworth isn't much of a hitter and he doesn't steal many bases either. Counting this year, he is 10 for his last 20 steal attempts. And doesn't it just seem right that a team in the year 2003 that is making a semi-run at the all-time SB record and basically just running like chickens with their heads cut off should have the greatest base stealer of all-time on the roster?

If you tell Rickey to run as much as humanly possible, I bet he could still steal you about 50 bases, and you know he's going to have a very good percentage.

Speaking of Rickey...

As someone born in 1983 that became a semi-serious baseball fan in about 1991 and an official baseball geek in about 1996, Rickey Henderson's early stolen base totals always amaze me.

From 1996 to 2002, here are the top 10 stolen base seasons:

Player                   Year       SB     

Kenny Lofton 1996 75
Brian Hunter 1997 74
Tony Womack 1999 72
Tom Goodwin 1996 66
Roger Cedeno 1999 66
Rickey Henderson 1998 66
Luis Castillo 2000 62
Chuck Knoblauch 1997 62
Tony Womack 1997 60
Otis Nixon 1997 59

Big deal, right? Those are some pretty good totals over the course of those 7 seasons (including Rickey's 1998 season). Now, look at this...

Rickey Henderson's top 10 stolen base seasons:

Player                   Year       SB     

Rickey Henderson 1982 130
Rickey Henderson 1983 108
Rickey Henderson 1980 100
Rickey Henderson 1988 93
Rickey Henderson 1986 87
Rickey Henderson 1985 80
Rickey Henderson 1989 77
Rickey Henderson 1984 66
Rickey Henderson 1998 66
Rickey Henderson 1990 65

I can't even imagine someone stealing 130 bases in a season. And Rickey did it in only 149 games!

Just to put that into some context: That works out to 0.87 steals per game. Last year, all of major league baseball stole a combined 2,750 bases in 4,852 games, which is 0.57 steals per team, per game. That means in 1982 Rickey Henderson outstole (is that a word?) the average 2002 team by more than 50%. In fact, only 3 teams in all of baseball had more than 130 steals last year!

For those of you who are like me and weren't around or watching baseball in 1982, just imagine a team that steals a ton of bases. And now try to imagine a single player that steals just as many as that entire team. It really is almost unbelievable.

Of course, Rickey wasn't the only guy swiping bags left and right during the 80s. Vince Coleman racked up 110, 107 and 109 steals from 1985-1987 Ron LeFlore and Omar Moreno stole 97 and 96 bases in 1980. Tim Raines stole 90 in 1983, 78 in 1982, 75 in 1984 and, amazingly, 71 in 1981 - in only 88 games!

I am not a big fan of stolen bases as things to build your offense around, but they are definitely exciting. I do wish I had been a fan back in the 80s, just to see some of those guys run (and run and run...). Of course, watching Barry Bonds launch homers into bodies of water and Sammy Sosa hit balls onto the streets surrounding Wrigley is a lot of fun too, it's just different.

Today's picks:

San Diego (Peavy) +140 over Montreal (Hernandez)

San Francisco (Schmidt) -150 over Florida (Pavano)

Los Angeles (Perez) -120 over New York (Astacio)

Philadelphia (Duckworth) -120 over Arizona (Good)

Detroit (Maroth) +160 over Baltimore (Hentgen)

Boston (Fossum) -150 over Kansas City (Affeldt)

Total to date: + $780

W/L record: 59-59 (2-2 yesterday for +$100)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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