Stolen Base Streamers: April 16-19

Last week, I identified potential stolen base streamers for daily fantasy leagues and weekly leagues with daily transactions and lineup changes. I used a pitcher’s career caught-stealing and pick-off rates as criteria to determine if a particular matchup was primed for streaming a speedster with the hope of him stealing a base (or two or four).

I like how it turned out, but it felt hastily constructed. A pitcher’s career rate seemed too broad a scope, especially considering the possibility that a pitcher can get better (or, perhaps, worse) at limiting steals and picking off runners over time.

With a little more time and care, I fleshed out everything a bit more and added an additional criterion: catcher effectiveness, which can be most obviously measured by caught-stealing rate. But I think there also is merit to calculating the frequency at which runners attempt to steal on a catcher. In a sense, it measure runners’ perception of a catcher’s skill, especially for those at the tails of the distribution.

For example, Yadier Molina has not only the highest caught-stealing rate of all active catchers but also the lowest frequency of runners attempting to steal on him. There is an apparent relationship between the two in Molina’s case: runners dare not run against Molina, for when they do, there’s a coin flip’s chance they get hosed. For other catchers, however, the relationship may be less obvious and subject to omitted variables (such as pitcher’s effectiveness and/or the opposing team’s baserunning tendencies, etc.) as well as random variation. Still, it can be useful.

With that said, I have compiled the remainder of this week’s probable starters and their one- and three-year z-scores for their caught-stealing and pick-off rates as well as each catcher’s effectiveness. Ultimately, I’m aiming to maximize the probability that one of my players will try to steal a base based on the aforementioned factors. I’ll proceed to break down some of the more optimal matchups.

The table below is sorted by stolen bases allowed per inning pitched (SB/IP) last year. PO/IP indicates the number of pick-offs attempted per inning pitched. L1 and L3 represent last year and last three years, respectively. CS% indicates the catcher’s caught-stealing rate, and IP/att the frequency at which runners attempt to steal off him. All numbers are presented as standard deviations above or below the mean. For ease of understanding, I have shaded cells from red (favorable) to blue (unfavorable).

I’m not thrilled about any of Thursday’s matchups, and it may be too early anyway to hit the panic button and chase steals in weekly leagues. Cole Hamels allowed stolen bases last year at a rate about two-thirds of a standard deviation higher than average — somehow an improvement over his previous two seasons — and Carlos Ruiz is merely average behind the dish. Problem is it’s Hamels, and he can always turn in a gem. Play Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor at your own risk.

Same game, different spectrum: Doug Fister is stingy with baserunners, and Wilson Ramos has an above-average CS%. It’s not that you were considering starting any Phillies hitters anyway, but if you were, maybe temper your expectations on the struggling Ben Revere or youthful Odubel Herrera.

I mentioned this last week, but here it is again: Ubaldo Jimenez is especially bad at preventing stolen bases and has picked off exactly zero runners the last three years. His stolen base prevention is a reflection of his overall pitching approach — it may be generous to call it an approach at all at this point. The only caveat is Caleb Joseph had an outstanding 2014 in terms of hosing runners, but so did Ryan Hanigan in 2013 before falling to below-average levels in 2014. In other words, I wouldn’t let Joseph deter you. No doubt Mookie Betts‘ price has skyrocketed lately, but even a steep price could still yield profits. Shane Victorino would be a bargain play or waiver wire pickup, but his decline is visible.

Any Indians hitter against Mike Pelfrey is already a good play in general, so guys like Michael Brantley (if he’s healthy), Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez get an additional bump in value.

The pitchers at the tough end of Friday’s starts should all be avoided simply based on credentials. None of their catchers are especially talented, but their ability to prevent baserunners further inhibits the value of opposing hitters. Michael Wacha and Yadier Molina will arguably present to Billy Hamilton his most difficult base-stealing challenge of the season.

As I mentioned last week, Tyson Ross has allowed his fair share of stolen bases — a rate that’s two standard deviations greater than the mean, in fact. Derek Norris also has had one of the worst CS% rates both last year and beyond. Ross is good, but he has walked seven batters in 12 innings this season. Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcantara could stand to benefit from a bad day on the bump with a few free passes sprinkled in.

Colby Lewis is among the elite group of starters who have failed to pick off a runner in the last three years. His backstop will be the make-or-break detail: Carlos Corporan has been below-average the last five years, while Robinson Chirinos has been borderline excellent during that span, and even better recently. The Mariners don’t run a lot, but hey, maybe Austin Jackson will be feeling frisky Friday.

There are always anomalies: Vance Worley, Dallas Keuchel and Yordano Ventura have not picked off any runners in the last three (or fewer) years yet prevent stolen bases at a rate well above average. This renders elite hitters such as Carlos Gomez, Mike Trout and (dare I say?) Mr. Betts a little less valuable than usual.

What follows might be the two juiciest matchups of the weekend. Of every active pitcher on the list, Eddie Butler ranks dead last in terms of stolen bases allowed — although, I admit, this could be the workings of small sample magic — and he has, astonishingly, given up 10 walks in 11 innings. Moreover, Nick Hundley allows the third-highest frequency of attempts among active starting catchers, and he has proven himself mostly inept when confronted by such situations. If I had to exploit any matchup, it’d be this one; the Dodgers should reach base plenty of times, and Jimmy Rollins, Joc Pederson and Carl Crawford will be the primary beneficiaries.

And Scott Feldman, who faces the Angels Sunday, may be the least proficient of pitchers who have amassed a legitimately large number of innings. Feldman is the version of Butler who can’t blame small samples, and his sign-calling counterpart, Jason Castro, is also incompetent relative to his peers. Mike Trout, Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun get additional bumps in value.

If it still needs to be said, I’ll say it: if you’re streaming for stolen bases, steer clear of Cardinals pitchers. It’s less about them than it is about Molina, but still, Wainwright is proficient at limiting damage on the base paths.

* * *

In a perfect world, daily matchups would be optimized based not only on hitter and pitcher splits (by handedness, by ball-in-play type, by anything) and overall player talent but also baserunning matchups. I have yet to see these analyses amalgamated. Perhaps, one day, an analyst with an abundance of time (not me) and talent (not me) will undertake the endeavor. Until then, the reader will have to assemble the piecewise analyses on his or her own. Jeff Zimmerman and his hitter analytics are a good starting point; Eno Sarris and Paul Sporer provide exceptional pitcher analysis as well.

Certainly, this is, and will remain to be, a work in progress, in regard to both content and format. (I still think this data is ripe for more rigorous analysis, but that’s something I’ll wait to tackle when I’m less strapped for time.) Recommendations and criticisms are welcome and appreciated!

Note: I omitted Adam Warren and David Phelps — sorry! They will be included in future iterations should they be listed as probable starters.

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jesus Can't Hit a Curveball
7 years ago

The document isn’t loading for me, but I was wondering about your thoughts on Dyson going up against a bunch of RHP in OAK.

Stuck in a Slump
7 years ago

I don’t think that there’s an issue on FG’s end, instead it’s my work computer which rarely, if ever, loads embedded files like this.