Inside the Numbers

The art of the stolen base…

For what seems like a decade now the stolen base has been a lost part of the game. Teams relied on the more spectacular 3-run home run. Stealing bases was just too risky. If the runner makes it he is in scoring position and also eliminates the traditional double play. On the other hand, if the runner gets caught you have a wasted out. Teams didn’t want to take that chance.

Carl CrawfordThis year it seems as though teams are bringing it back. More teams are running and it speeds up the game as well as makes it more exciting. This year 13 teams have at least 52 stolen bases. I think that is a pretty nice statistic. Teams are no longer sitting back and waiting for that home run. Teams are being more aggressive and I think it is great for the game.

Not only is stealing bases exciting, it is almost essential for a team’s success. Of the top 10 teams in stolen bases 8 of them have winning records. The two who aren’t quite up to par are the New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks. Of the bottom 10 teams in stolen bases only 5 teams have winning records. (The Chicago Cubs are only 40-39).

stolen baseStealing bases also leads to scoring more runs. Of the top 10 teams in stolen bases 7 of them are also in the top 10 in runs scored. (The Los Angeles Dodgers were 4th in stolen bases and 11th in runs scored).

Stealing bases also helps prevent the double play. Of the top 10 teams in stolen bases only 2 (Boston and the New York Mets) were also in the top 10 in double plays hit into. However 5 of those teams were in the bottom 10 in double plays hit into with no more than 55 (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and as few as 48 (Arizona Diamondbacks).

Even just having one great base stealer on your team can greatly improve it
. Of the top 10 leaders in stolen bases 7 of them are on winning teams. Even if that player doesn’t steal a base just his presence on the base paths can cause havoc for the pitcher. Not only does the pitcher have to concentrate on the batter he also has to keep that threat close. The stolen base is making a comeback and I freaking love it.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Inside the Thought Bubble

    Having a fast guy on first base that has the potential to steal also takes a lot of the pitcher’s attention off of the batter and directs it to the man on first. Decreased concentration of the pitcher can certainly be an advantage for the opposing batter. Also, when the first baseman has to hold a fast runner really close to the bag, it opens up the right side a lot more for any hitter.

  2. matttan7

    Stolen bases are just as exciting as home runs. After all they are making a big comeback, even David Wright is stealing bases with ease these days. It’s not always the home run, that can make a big difference, but a stolen base can change a pitcher’s concentration and focus completely.


  3. indians

    Nice article. We have a few who can steal a base if need be, but our true base stealer is Grady Sizemore. Also I think Cliff Lee got snubbed this season. His record is misleading.

  4. orangebirds

    Hey, thanks for commeting! And I agree, McCann should be starting. I think the NL is just a little better than the AL. I think that the NL outfield may not be as good as the AL outfield though… Keep commenting!


  5. Fenway Bleacher Creature

    Fantastic analysis Ben! You really enforced your point with those very revealing stats. I remember when I went to the Sox game last Saturday, and every time Ellsbury got on base the pitchers have to change their approach, it really does affect them. Great job!


  6. devilabrit

    Good article, I agree, love the stolen base too. Have also noticed this year, when really good base stealers are on first and they steal second, all to many throws are sailing into the outfield and letting the runner advance to third.

    Outside the Phillies Looking In.

  7. Jane Heller

    Even the “Bombers” are getting into the act with the stolen bases. Brett Gardner is the fastest Yankee I’ve seen in a long time, and he adds so much to the offense when he gets on base. Very exciting to watch.

  8. thatbaseballguy

    Stolen bases are a huge part of baseball, whether people recognize it or not. Manufacturing runs is far more important than just hitting the long ball. If a team can manufacture runs, I feel they are a better overall team than those that just hit homers. Great post.

  9. popejonash

    Heya Ben, cool breakdown. I’m a stats junkie so I love this kind of thing.Here’s another quick number for you – Wright leads the Mets with 20 steals. He has been thrown out 8 times. But of the 20 times Wright has stolen a base (2B 19 times and 3B once), he has only scored 6 times. I wonder what the league average is? Is there any way of finding out without having to calculate it all by hand?Ash

  10. orangebirds

    Hey, Moneyball, please comment on my blog again. I would really aprrecitate it! Thanks… Your’s truly
    -O’s fan
    Good blog, and keep on going, you are getting alot of comments!


    Sorry Ash but I have no idea how you would really go about that. I’m not really sure how to find how many times an individual player scored after stealing a base let alone the league average. Thanks oriolez01, I’ll comment again. If you could leave a link in your comments that would be great. Metsmainman, I think either scoring is down or there are a lot more close games. I hope it’s the later because that shows MLB is healthy are far as strength among teams.

  12. jrogo80

    The ironic thing about this post is that the book “Moneyball” explicitly emphasizes the inefficiencies of the stolen base!

    From a statistical point of view, what needs to be demonstrated is the VALUE of a stolen base. Many of the above posts emphasize how the pitcher becomes distracted, etc etc etc, but if we’re going to argue that teams do better when they steal bases, we need some statistics to back that up. Simply showing that teams with the best record also steal more bases does not at all prove that they are better *because* they steal more bases.

    I think Ash is on to something, though I agree it’d be a huge job to gather all of those data.

  13. mattpeas

    this is why im pi$$ed the pirates got rid of nyjer morgan. with him and mccutchen hitting the ball well they hsould have used the duo’s speed more and sent them. morgan was only caught stealing 8 times but he had the ball$ to attempt. now the coaches are being more conservative. thus, just a little reason why pittsburgh is losing more and more games

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