The Change: Scrounging for Steals (Updated)

[Sorry! I read the tables wrong! I’ve updated this piece to be more… correct. I read the tables wrong the first time. Thanks for your patience.]

When it comes to the stolen base, it’s not immediately obvious who’s to blame for one.

Is it the pitcher, with his slow time to home base? That would make sense for Noah Syndergaard, who may be as bad at holding on runners as he is at pitching well.

Is it the catcher, who has had his pop times and throwing arm measured throughout his time in the game? We make a big deal about big arms like the one Gary Sanchez used to throw 88 miles per hour and nab Julio Borbon this week.

Could it be all on the baserunner? Billy Hamilton has stolen bases against the best batteries, and was recorded running 22 miles per hour this week.

And should we ignore the fielder? Some middle infielders are adept at the swipe tag, others whiff on the runner or let the ball bounce by.

Given all of these things, it’s nice to know that smart people are on it. Jonathan Judge, Harry Pavlidis, and Dan Turkenkopf, when they put together Deserved Run Average, took a look at the running game and came up with Swipe Rate Above Average. They found pitchers are about six times more important than the catcher when it comes to these things. The things they controlled for should seem familiar:

  • The inning in which the runner was on base;
  • The stadium where the game takes place;
  • The underlying quality of the pitcher, as measured by Jonathan Judge’s cFIP statistic;
  • The pitcher and catcher involved;
  • The lead runner involved.
  • On some level, this means just going out and finding the worst pitchers and streaming against them. Noah Syndergaard! Well, maybe not him. it’s tough to hit against him. How about Jimmy Nelson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Andriesse, though? Those are decent targets, according to this sorted list and a general sense of their quality as pitchers.

    Let’s now turn to something easier than targeting specific batteries, though. The worst teams in the league against the run, using SRAA, are the Yankees, Mariners, Pirates, Rays, Rangers and Padres. If you include the Braves and White Sox, you get the teams that are clearly worse than the pack. Here are a few basestealers that will see these teams in the next month.

    David Dahl (57% owned)
    He’s still out there? He shouldn’t be. Go get him. Padres seven times is only part of the reason why he shouldn’t be out there.

    Carlos Gomez (45% owned)
    This is a bit of a 180 for me. I’ve been long talking about how Gomez looks burnt and that his athleticism is waning. But I have added the asterisk that it seems like his straight on running speed isn’t that off because he’s been successful on 14 of 16 attempts. He’s hitting at the bottom of the Rangers lineup, but he’s playing for them every day, and there’s no pesky pitcher behind him. And now he’s free in the leagues where he’s ended up on the wire. There’s probably no better long shot to take, decline or no. Texas gets the Mariners four times and the Rays three times.

    Melvin Upton Jr. (43% owned)
    The artist formerly known as Bossman gets the Yankees seven times, so he’s in a good spot when it comes to stealing bases.. but it is worth mentioning that Gary Sanchez has taken over behind the plate, has a rocket arm, and is not Brian McCann. The pitchers are more important than the catchers, but the catcher has improved there. It’s also worth mentioning that Upton is not getting on base as much any more, and is therefore hitting lower in the order. He’s got some wheels, though, and also gets the Mariners three times, so at least the stars are aligning in that way.

    Jose Peraza (16% owned)
    Eight games against the Pirates is great for Billy Hamilton, but if someone needs stolen bases in your shallow league, there’s no way Hamilton is on the wire, even if he’s only owned in 76% of leagues on Yahoo. You might get a reasonable facsimile from the (mostly) everyday middle infielder for the Reds right now. He’s not walking at all, but he’s making a lot of contact and can run like the wind. It’s a little tough for Peraza with incumbents Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips on the roster, but it is interesting that both of those guys are only under contract with the Reds for another year. That’s why Peraza is playing at both positions.

    Chris Owings (9% owned)
    Perhaps you haven’t noticed that Owings is finally healthy and turning in the season that seemed possible for him so far back. He’s got some pop (.130 ISO, projected for about the same), makes contact, has eligibilities all over the field, and has 15 steals in 15 attempts. Now he’s the shortstop, and he looks legit. He’s also getting the Padres six times, which is great news for his ability to steal a base. The bonus is 17 games at home or in Colorado.

    Jake Marisnick (1% owned)
    He’s not starting every day, but he’s getting into games regularly as their best defensive center fielder and a replacement for Teoscar Hernandez. He gets the benefit of a whopping 12 games against the Rangers and Mariners, which should mean plenty of opportunity against guys like Taijuan Walker and Cole Hamels, who are among the 25 worst pitchers against the runs. Five steals from a guy who’s available even in the deepest of leagues, that might be interesting.

    With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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    How can Syndergaard be the hardest to steal against here:

    Am I reading this correctly?