Scott’s Miscellany – Stolen Base Opportunities

The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.

–Stolen Base Opportunities–

I did something similar to this a few weeks ago when I looked at RBI relative to plate appearances with runners in scoring position, which I used as an estimate of RBI opportunities. For stolen bases, I decided to define an opportunity as (1) a plate appearance that (2) features at least one received pitch—e.g. the first pitch was not put in play—where (3) the runner in question is on first base and (4) second base is open. Obviously, that’s imperfect for a variety of reasons. Not all plate appearances have the same number of pitches. Counts can matter. And sometimes runners steal third base. Still, I think it’s a decent attempt at a simple measure of how frequently a runner had the opportunity to attempt a stolen base.

Before I dive into 2015, I wanted to look at the full season results of this from last season to develop a baseline.

Stolen Base Rate Leaders, 2014
Minimum 10 Stolen Bases
Runner SB SB Opps SB Rate
Jonathan Villar 17 74 0.23
Eric Young 30 140 0.21
Jordan Schafer 30 147 0.20
Jarrod Dyson 36 181 0.20
Dee Gordon 64 328 0.20
Billy Hamilton 56 293 0.19
James Jones 27 142 0.19
Jacoby Ellsbury 39 212 0.18
Ben Revere 49 271 0.18
Leury Garcia 11 63 0.17
Jose Altuve 56 329 0.17

The first item here that jumps out is Jonathan Villar, who could suddenly see a lot of playing time for the Astros with Jed Lowrie’s thumb injury which could keep him out until after the All-Star Break. Definitely pick him up in any format where you need some steals, but keep in mind that a four- or five-to-one strikeout-to-walk rate like Villar showed last season could limit his opportunities even with full playing time this season.

As for the overall trends, the short list of players that I think of as the best basestealers in baseball—Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, and Dee Gordon—stole a base on about 19-20 percent of their opportunities.

Next, let’s compare that to what has happened so far in 2015.

Stolen Base Rate Leaders, 2015
Minimum 4 Stolen Bases
Runner SB SB Opps SB Rate
Billy Hamilton 13 36 0.36
Jake Marisnick 8 24 0.33
George Springer 8 31 0.26
Gregory Polanco 7 27 0.26
Peter Bourjos 4 17 0.24
Jose Iglesias 5 24 0.21
Chris Owings 4 20 0.20
Dexter Fowler 6 32 0.19
Rajai Davis 6 33 0.18
Anthony Rizzo 6 34 0.18
Jose Altuve 8 45 0.18
Lorenzo Cain 5 28 0.18
Ben Revere 5 29 0.17
Mike Trout 5 29 0.17
Matt Kemp 4 23 0.17
Paul Goldschmidt 4 25 0.16
Brett Gardner 6 37 0.16
Mookie Betts 5 33 0.15
Odubel Herrera 4 27 0.15
Leonys Martin 6 41 0.15
A.J. Pollock 4 29 0.14
Desmond Jennings 5 35 0.14
Jacoby Ellsbury 8 60 0.13
Dee Gordon 8 64 0.13
Anthony Gose 4 34 0.12
Steven Souza 4 37 0.11
Nori Aoki 6 61 0.10

There are two massive outliers in terms of stolen bases per opportunity this season, and it’s little surprise that they are first and (tied) second in steals this season. Billy Hamilton is the name you would have guessed. Jake Marisnick is more interesting.

Before the season, Marisnick looked like more of a fourth outfielder with a nice glove and questionable offensive skills. However, the Astros have played him nearly every day so far this season, and he has doubled his walk rate (from 3.4 percent to 7.0 percent) and halved his strikeout rate (28.3 percent to 15.8 percent) in the early going relative to the 237 plate appearances he saw a season ago. The .425 BABIP will likely fall 100 points, but the spike in walk rate is encouraging and could land him many more stolen base opportunities than he saw last season, when his 11 stolen bases still would have prorated to around 30 over a full season’s worth of plate appearances. I think 40-plus steals is a possibility for Marisnick, so he’s a nice target in even shallower formats.

Jose Altuve, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dee Gordon all have eight stolen bases, as well. Altuve is right on his 2014 pace of a steal every six or so opportunities. Ellsbury and Gordon may steal a bit more often going forward, not that fantasy owners are complaining about their current totals. But the one other player with eight steals, George Springer, is the most fascinating. We did not get a clear picture of what Springer’s aggressiveness would be in the majors last season because he was never healthy, but so far, he’s stolen a ton of bases and has done so without an anomalous rate.

As his prospect status soared in the minors, Springer became the next logical 30-30 candidate. I wonder if that might somewhat undersell his short-term speed potential. With Springer walking in a tenth or more of his plate appearances on a team that rarely clogs the bases because of its propensity for strikeouts, Springer could see a ton of stolen base opportunities this season. He should definitely see more than Marisnick with his better walk rate and higher spot in the lineup. Meanwhile, the Astros look committed to running. Their 26 stolen bases lead baseball. Like with Marisnick, I don’t feel like 40 stolen bases is an outlandish upside for Springer.

For me, the last really intriguing name is Matt Kemp. Kemp has four steals so far this season, which is a modest total. However, he’s only seen 23 opportunities. His current walk rate of 5.3 percent would be his lowest since 2007, so I think you can expect those opportunities to increase moving forward. Meanwhile, check out his history of stolen base rates.

Matt Kemp SB Rates
Season SB SB Opps SB Rate
2008 35 190 0.18
2009 34 229 0.15
2010 19 204 0.09
2011 40 227 0.18
2012 9 115 0.08
2013 9 96 0.09
2014 8 166 0.05
2015 4 23 0.17

I know it’s early, but Kemp looks like he’s all the way back to his peak aggressiveness. His owners may be looking to sell him based on his .394 BABIP, and I think it’s a nice time to buy him with the promise of his first 30-plus steal season since 2011.

We hoped you liked reading Scott’s Miscellany – Stolen Base Opportunities by Scott Spratt!

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Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

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Nelson S.
Nelson S.

Any particular reason why Dee has been caught so much?