Does Tony La Russa Hate Stolen Bases?

Hate is a strong term, but I already broke the ice last season with “Does Mike Matheny Hate Stolen Bases?”. I’m here to put some facts behind any narratives about Tony La Russa’s stolen base philosophy now that he’s the White Sox manager. The Sox have three (Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, and Tim Anderson) of the 28 players projected for 17 or more steals this season, so La Russa’s philosophy could have a major impact. With stolen bases becoming scarcer, the following is a stab to determine the White Sox’s baserunning plan.

First, I needed to find an ideal time frame since La Russa started managing in 1979. The game has changed over those years, so I used the last ten seasons (2002 to 2011) of him managing the Cardinals. I would have liked to use a smaller date range, but the resulting player sample was too small.

Up next is how the Cardinals compared to the rest of the league stolen base attempts per plate appearance (SBA/PA) and stolen base attempts per trip to first base (SBA/(1B+BB+HBP)).

Compared to the rest of the league, the Cardinals took off fewer times, but no conclusions can be drawn from the chart. The Cardinals over might have been slow, so here is a better approach. I compared players on the move to and from the ten La Russia managed teams. I compared the hitter’s stolen base rates for in-season swaps and season-to-season swaps. I found the average, median, and weighted* change for being on the Cardinals compared to the other team.

Stolen Base Rates After Joining Tony La Russa’s Cardinals
In-season change Season-to-season
Average 0.81% 2.58% -0.10% -0.74%
Median 0.02% 0.92% -0.28% -0.76%
Weighted PA 0.21% 1.19% -0.40% -1.37%
Count 30 30 118 118

The results are a mixed bag. Players who changed teams during the season stole more bases with the Cardinals. The exact opposite happens when looking at season-to-season results. With more season-to-season samples, the overall rate is down.

For an example, here is how Luis Robert’s stolen base projection would drop at different attempt rates.

Luis Robert’s Potential Stolen Base Rate Drop
Change SBA/(1B+BB+HBP) SBA (Proj)
Steamer Proj. 23.1% 31.0
Down .25% Points 22.9% 30.7
Down .75% Points 22.4% 30.0
Down 1.25% Points 21.9% 29.3

The drop isn’t that much with the worst-case drop being two stolen bases. Overall, it’s barely any measurable change. As long as La Russa maintains his old habits, fantasy managers shouldn’t worry about the White Sox not running.



* Harmonic Mean of PA or times on 1B.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Is there a way to search the category to see the projected stolen bases leaders as a full list?