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To Run or Not to Run…?


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By Greg Bird, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

Mike Trout has stolen 5 bags through the first 48 games of the 2014 season. Compare this to the first 48 games of 2013 where he swiped 11 bags and to his rookie season where he swiped 19 bases. The Millville Meteor is definitely not flying on the basepaths this year but why? Most of us believe this is a vast underuse of his talent. Is it? Should he be leading off as so many people seem to continually suggest so he can steal more bases?

First let’s look at Trout’s splits leading off and batting second in his last two seasons. In his rookie year he was exclusively the leadoff hitter. Mike put up a .326/.399/.564 triple slash line and a 166 wRC+. wRC+ is a measure of how good of an offensive player Trout was that year compared to league average of 100. In 2013 he played 18 games leading off and 89 games in the second spot in the order. Leading off his line was .325/.398/.519 with a 158 wRC+ which is very similar to his rookie year. When Trout hit second his numbers were .329/.420/.595 with a 181 wRC+.

Simply put, Trout had better numbers hitting second over his last two seasons. Not only are his numbers better but his power is more useful with the leadoff hitter on base in front of him. Lastly, a team’s best hitter should bat second to maximize his run production, minimize the number of outs in a lineup, and maximize his number of chances at the plate. I have argued this in another article on lineup construction on this site, please read that if you’d like to learn more about this. Better yet, read “The Book” or google ‘lineup optimization’ for a ton of articles on why this is mathematically true.

The next question is; if Trout bats in front of Albert, or even Josh, should he be stealing second or not? I recently read a very interesting article from Baseball Prospectus on Fox Sports about this exact issue but talking about Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton. It was specifically talking about lineup protection for Votto provided by Hamilton’s ability on the basepaths. Could Trout provide “lineup protection” for Pujols by being a greater threat on the basepaths?

First we need to understand the run expectancy chart. A run expectancy chart looks at each position a runner can be on the bases and each out state and determines for the past year how many runs a team could’ve expected to score. Each year has slightly different run expectancy for each base position and out situation but each is very similar. For those who wonder why it changes at all, run expectancy changes slightly based on the run scoring environment of each year and Baseball Prospectus keeps each year’s run expectancies on their site.

In 2013 with 0 out and a runner on first the average team is expected to score 0.8262 runs that inning. With 0 outs and a runner on second the same team is expected to score 1.0499 runs. That means if the runner successfully steals second he has added approximately 0.2237 runs to the inning, a little less than a quarter of a run.

What happens if the runner is caught stealing? With 1 out and nobody on base, assuming the runner is thrown out, the average run expectancy drops to 0.2489. That is a decrease of 0.5773. It would take almost 3 successful steals, .6711 runs, to make up for the runs lost by one caught stealing. The exact percentage varies slightly with outs and whether you’re stealing second or third but the generally accepted success rate to make the stolen base beneficial is 75%, or 3 of every 4 attempts. Any success rate less than this and you’re costing your team runs. If you want to see all the different percentages you can read it here on FanGraphs with cool charts.

Stolen base success rates are dependent on a few factors besides the skill of the base stealer. First, the situation has to present itself. Trout needs to be on first or second with the base in front of him open. Trout has had 76 opportunities so far this year. The second limiting factor is the pitcher’s time to the plate. If a pitcher has a good slide step and a quick time to the plate it decreases the success rate of the base stealer. The final limiting factor is the catcher’s arm and pop time. If a catcher is a particularly good catch and throw guy, the best is probably Yadier Molina, then the success rate also drops.

I don’t claim to have any particular knowledge of how many of those 76 opportunities were against good catchers and fast pitchers. What we can look at is Trout’s stolen base (SB) attempt rate. This is found by dividing his total SB attempts (this is SB+CS) by the number of opportunities he’s had. In 2012 he attempted a SB 21.95% of the time with a 91% success rate. In 2013 he attempted to steal 12.27% of the time with an 83% success rate. So far, in 2014, Mike has attempted to steal 6.58% of the time with a 100% success rate. Trout stole almost half as often in 2013 with an 8% drop in effectiveness. He was still above the 75% threshold but it was much closer than his rookie year.

Something else we need to consider to determine if Trout should steal more is when are stolen bases most effective? The three times they are most effective are: late in a game when one run is more valuable than multiple runs; when the batter is a double play threat; and when the hitter is not likely to score the runner from first (i.e. not likely to hit for extra bases.)

3 of Trout’s 5 stolen bases this year have come early in games which is not the ideal time. He hits in front of Pujols who we’ve seen hit into 8 double plays this year. This is far above Albert’s career norm and ties him with 6 other players for the sixth worst mark in the league. Albert’s GIDP tendencies do put some pressure on Trout to run more but Pujols also has been hitting with a lot of power this year. Pujols is tied for 11th in the league in ISO (isolated power) with 14 homeruns. Albert is likely to score Trout from first. For example, Trout has scored 15 of 32 times in his career when on first and the batter hits a double. If Pujols hits a double with Trout on first he will score about half the time. That is significant.

With Trout batting in front of a power hitter (or two) it is less valuable for him to steal. Pujols is a double play threat and maybe he should run a bit more, especially late in games when runs are at a premium. But he should only run when he can be certain he will be successful. None of this leads us to a final answer to the question of whether he should steal more or not. There is still one more variable to check; does it affect the guy at the plate?

Lindbergh, in his article on Fox Sports about speedsters helping the guy at the plate, shows that a base stealer at first base does force the pitcher to throw about 4.3% more fastballs than he normally would. Since hitters prefer hitting fastballs and generally hit better against fastballs this should mean those guys batting while an “aggressive runner” is on base should hit better. Lindbergh found that not to be true. He found that on average those hitting behind disruptive runners hit 25 points lower in slugging percentage and their batting average decreases about 8 points.

“So why is a batter better off with a slow runner or a fast runner who rarely steals on first than he is with someone who’s a constant threat to steal? Stolen bases are distracting. When a runner goes, the movement can catch a batter’s eye at the moment when he’s trying to focus on the pitcher’s release point. And worse, the hitter might feel that he has to take a pitch because the batter got a good jump, or swing at one to rescue the runner from being out by a mile.”

Lindbergh argues that it is even more disruptive to the hitter than the defense. Stolen bases are a weapon but they are a weapon that needs to be used appropriately. In the bottom half of the lineup with slash and dash guys hitting. The stolen base is most valuable later in the lineup. Also late in the game in high leverage situations the stolen base can be very valuable if success is highly likely. But with a power hitter at the plate it generally isn’t as valuable.

This is not to say that Trout shouldn’t steal bases. Mike should steal when he feels he is nearly certain he can swipe it. The odds should be 95%+ in his favor (slow pitcher and average to below average catcher) and when he can do it early in the count. He should also steal bases late in the game when the game is close. It should be used sparingly and for effect.

As a base runner this year Trout is scoring 31% of time even with Albert batting a pedestrian .268. Trout will score and he will drive in runs, even if he doesn’t swipe a ton of bases. His base running skills are still being put to use scoring from first on a double and going first to third on a single.

This is a hard pill for many of us to swallow but Scioscia isn’t completely mismanaging Trout on the basepaths. Trout is not necessarily missing out on opportunities to score a bunch more runs by not swiping bags. He may actually be scoring more runs that wouldn’t have been scored if he got thrown out at second. This may not be popular, but according to the numbers this is best for the team.

Fire away, but read the other articles linked to first. Please understand the data before blasting the article. Much appreciated.
f_s_lzu7YHY

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When judging steal attempts, it would be interesting ot count the number of times where Trout had a good jump and Pujols fouled off the pitch. That's something I've seen happen a lot with Pujols in particular. Combine that with the double plays and it's especially frustrating. 

 

IMO avoiding the double play is especially important with Pujols at bat. Runner at 2nd 1 out (or 2 out) is a lot better situation than no runners 2 outs, or inning over. I'd bet the break even rate for steals being worth it or not is closer to 2 out of every 3, not 3 out of 4, given the specifics of our lineup.

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I say convince Trout to be a complete hitter and not just a home run hitter. That way he might actually bat 320 again and we will stop seeing the mediocre 270 hitter. Use his speed. Bunt for hits. And yes look to steal whenever appropriate. Trout has certainly changed the way he approaches hitting this year.

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As an anecdotal counterpoint to Trout running and who is hitting behind him, Hunter logged his most productive season at the plate with Trout on base. He managed his highest batting average, obp and ops+ during Trout's rookie season.

Looking a little closer at Torii's numbers he was hitting .343 with a rediculous babip of .423 batting second behind Trout. Torii changed his plate approach to adapt to Trout's speed and took advantage of the second baseman covering by hitting to the right side instead of being a pull hitter swinging for fences. Pitchers will try going outside and low to induce pull hitters to roll over on the ball and ground out to short. Torii went with those pitches and Trout went first to third.

Now, this is anecdotal but with enough research it bears truth and it in turn asks back the question, who is hitting behind a guy like Trout that you can combine the two talents to maximize their abilities. I don't think putting Pujols behind Trout is justified simply because once every five or six games he may hit a home run. That is more of and Earl Weaver approach of wait for that moment rather than create momentum.

We don't have a veteran player to take on Torii's role so you have to play the game you bring to the field and that is the statistical averages that puts Trout hitting second and sacrificing his speed. Running Trout without a real solid bat behind Pujols means Albert will never see a pitch to hit when a team can bypass him with a walk and set up a double play.

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As an anecdotal counterpoint to Trout running and who is hitting behind him, Hunter logged his most productive season at the plate with Trout on base. He managed his highest batting average, obp and ops+ during Trout's rookie season.

Looking a little closer at Torii's numbers he was hitting .343 with a rediculous babip of .423 batting second behind Trout. Torii changed his plate approach to adapt to Trout's speed and took advantage of the second baseman covering by hitting to the right side instead of being a pull hitter swinging for fences. Pitchers will try going outside and low to induce pull hitters to roll over on the ball and ground out to short. Torii went with those pitches and Trout went first to third.

Now, this is anecdotal but with enough research it bears truth and it in turn asks back the question, who is hitting behind a guy like Trout that you can combine the two talents to maximize their abilities. I don't think putting Pujols behind Trout is justified simply because once every five or six games he may hit a home run. That is more of and Earl Weaver approach of wait for that moment rather than create momentum.

We don't have a veteran player to take on Torii's role so you have to play the game you bring to the field and that is the statistical averages that puts Trout hitting second and sacrificing his speed. Running Trout without a real solid bat behind Pujols means Albert will never see a pitch to hit when a team can bypass him with a walk and set up a double play.

This is why if/when Josh gets back it would be good to have Josh batting behind Trout, and Pujols at cleanup. 

 

Pitchers attempting to get Josh out are going to use offspeed stuff away, that buys Trout an extra split second to try to steal. Josh is also the type of guy who's likely to get a strike swinging, rather than by fouling away pitches. Again, good for Trout trying to steal. 

 

If Trout steals and they pitch around Josh, that's two runners on for Pujols, making the potential extra base hit from Pujols a lot more valuable.

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I'd like to see more steals, BUT,  his speed around the bases standing up is impressive, and his head first slides always make me cringe. Trout breaking a thumb or tearing a ligament in his hand, arm, wrist...is just what this team doesn't need.

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This is why if/when Josh gets back it would be good to have Josh batting behind Trout, and Pujols at cleanup. 

 

Pitchers attempting to get Josh out are going to use offspeed stuff away, that buys Trout an extra split second to try to steal. Josh is also the type of guy who's likely to get a strike swinging, rather than by fouling away pitches. Again, good for Trout trying to steal. 

 

If Trout steals and they pitch around Josh, that's two runners on for Pujols, making the potential extra base hit from Pujols a lot more valuable.

 

Josh would also see a few more fastballs.

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Remember Trout doesn't just score when Albert hits the HR. Any xtra base hit from Albert has a very good chance of scoring Trout from first. 50% chance to score from first on a double.

 

Or that same ratio on a single if he is on 2nd base. Every player hits far more singles than XBH during a season so the closer to scoring position the better chance he does score, regardless of a single or double. But putting him on second through a stolen base leaves the decision to the mound whether to pitch to Pujols or not. Since Albert is pull happy, with Trout on first they are more likely to try and get that ground ball and turn two. Try is the key word and all it takes is a pitch to be a couple inches off target to be in a hitters sweet spot.

 

It is an interesting quandary and I think it really goes back to what your player strengths are. If you have that talented bat control guy hitting 2nd that can go deep into counts and go the other way with pitches then it plays into the running game better. You really don't care if he is an extra base threat, his job is get Trout 90 or more feet down the base path and that is what Torii did well. We don't have that guy so I guess we play the game by the numbers we can control.

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As a side note, that seems what the Angels are doing this year better than previously. They are playing the numbers game smarter and trying to maximize the talent they bring to the field instead of forcing plays that they are not suited to execute.

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He should run -- adds another weapon the arsenal and probably provides better pitches to the hitter at the plate with Trout at first as a threat to steal on any pitch....

 

if he's not going to run as in just stop stealing -- that message will get out quick and that little advantage of the pitcher worrying about what he's doing over at first won't be there.

 

I don't think he needs to run at 50 stolen base rate for the season --- it still sort of bugs me that he got tossed out on that steal attempt in the final game of his first season which cost him that 50 steals plateau --- I think it would have added to his MVP vote total -- but likely not enough to have won it........

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I disagree with the article.  He threw around some interesting stats, but didn't actually calculate how much more valuable it is if the base stealer has a great success rate.

 

 

Trout is the best base stealer in baseball. For him to argue he shouldn't be running more often is pretty hilarious. Dude has an almost 90% career success rate. 

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I'm wondering what's up with Trout? It's like he doesn't want to run. Last night he didn't move when Howie took off to 3rd.

Though it could be that he just fouled a pitch off his leg.

 

Howie got a late break and was thrown out by a mile. Hard to follow someone that took a chance at the wrong moment and if Kendrick started off second then broke back to the bag Trout would have been high and dry. That play needed to be called not improvised to work.

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I may be on my own in this thought. But I don't really like how Trout has played this year. Ya he is still the best player in baseball and is putting up good numbers. But he isn't the complete player he was the first two years in the league. I always saw him as Ricky Henderson type. Stolen bases, triples, doubles, great defense exciting to watch and maybe 20 to 30 home runs. He seems like all he wants to do now is hit home runs, which is great and all but it takes away from his all around game. I wanna see him get back in the tops of stolen bases, and be the athlete that he was when he first came up not just a home run hitter. 

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I am a novice when it comes to baseball, but have often wondered why baseball players prepare to ‘steal bases’ differently than other athletes? My inquiry has to do with the observation that starting with both feet on the ground slows the initial acceleration of a base runner and penalizes them by about 3'.  Consider the following and maybe a question/answer or two would help explain.

 

http://www.sports-split-step.com/files/6114/0155/1537/Constant_Contactr_7_newsletter_on_base_running.pdf


Another way to look at this percentage would be to estimate how many close umpire calls occurred where-in the runner was called out. For example, if the distance between 1st & 2nd were 3' shorter, how would this affect the percentage of stolen bases?

 

vic

 

 

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I am a novice when it comes to baseball, but have often wondered why baseball players prepare to ‘steal bases’ differently than other athletes? My inquiry has to do with the observation that starting with both feet on the ground slows the initial acceleration of a base runner and penalizes them by about 3'.  Consider the following and maybe a question/answer or two would help explain.

 

http://www.sports-split-step.com/files/6114/0155/1537/Constant_Contactr_7_newsletter_on_base_running.pdf

Another way to look at this percentage would be to estimate how many close umpire calls occurred where-in the runner was called out. For example, if the distance between 1st & 2nd were 3' shorter, how would this affect the percentage of stolen bases?

 

vic

The runner at 1st ALWAYS has to be ready/able to go both directions. If he leans an inch too far towards 2nd, he is going to be picked off. Replay makes it even tougher, since the bases are the same distance as they have always been, and the plays are reviewable if there is any question.

 

I think we are finding out why Trout hasn't been running, he has a bad back. Twisting back and forth trying to steal was hurting him, increasing his inflammation. Shouldn't have a bad back 2 months into your 3rd season @ 22, so this is VERY concerning.

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