Stolen Base Rate Depending on Lineup Position


I started out wanting to see if a player stole more bases from one lineup slot compared to another one. Discussions around Trea Turner’s spot with the Phillies led me down this path. Last season, Turner had 603 PA from the 2nd and 3rd spot in the batting order and just 105 PA while leading off. He was on a 29 SB/600 PA pace from the leadoff spot and a pace of just 22 SB/600 PA from the other two. I wanted to see if the bump was normal and if not, what should I expect? What I found was a mess and don’t plan on regurgitating here. I put the “F- Around, Find Out” philosophy to work with over a day wasted to end up with three graphs and four actionable conclusions.

To start with, I wanted to focus on guys who steal bases, not lumbering catchers who wouldn’t steal bases if the distance was cut by 10 feet or more. Additionally, I needed to thread the needle of having a large enough data set but not looking too far into the past where the game changed. Finally, I found out I need to remove guys who were mainly pinch runners and made the results seem insane like Terrance Gore.

So here are the parameters used for the study.

  • Information was taken from 2013 to 2023.
  • Minimum 10 PA in each lineup spot (to remove pinch runners).
  • Accumulated 12 SB in the season.
  • Two values were collected, the stolen bases and stolen base attempts per 600 plate appearances. I started with several factors with a ton more details but putting the results into actionable conclusions didn’t fly. I just wanted a rule of thumb to use when I see a lineup change, not the beginnings of a projection system.
  • Nerdy math stuff I used to find the weight of the stolen base change. It’s basically the same procedure used to find aging curves. I subtracted the stolen base rate from the early slot by the later slot. I weighed this difference by the harmonic mean of the stolen base rate (SB/600 PA). The weighted differences were added together and divided by the sum of the harmonic means.
  • The median seasonal OPS for guys in each sample. This was a factor I needed to include to show the player quality when moving around between lineup positions.

And here are the results.

Important Note: To read the first two tables, start with the lineup position on the horizontal column and compare to the vertical column. That’s how many more stolen bases guys steal from the horizontal spot compared to the vertical spot. For example, say a hitter moves from the ninth spot to leadoff. From the table, a manager should expect a decent jump of 5.5 SB per season. The number is going to vary since average stolens bases from the sample being 20.6 and the average attempts at 26.1.

The last table is just the median OPS of the players moving between the two positions.

From the tables, I came to the following conclusions.

  1. Anyone moving to the second lineup spot sees a major drop in stolen bases. This is most likely because they are blocked by a high on-base leadoff hitter being on base. Going back to Trea Turner, he had a 28 SB/600 PA pace when leading off but just a 19 SB/600 PA pace when batting second. This is the case except for the eighth and ninth spots which leads to rule #2.
  2. Besides a small sample size anomaly when going from 9th to 3rd, all the time when moving out the last two spots, the hitters just took off running. It’s like they wanted to start showing the manager how valuable they were. If you’re looking for hidden stolen bases, find guys making the move out of the last two spots.
  3. There is a small bump for anyone going to the leadoff spot by one or two bases.
  4. A little bonus feature I found was that hitters need to at least be around a .700 OPS hitter to move up in the order and closer to .750 OPS to move into the prime lineup spots.

Well, those are a few common sense rules, but at least the relative extent is now known. As for Turner, the best case for him to maximize his stolen bases is to stay out of the two-spot next season.

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 four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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1 month ago

So great … so actionable