2017’s Most Aggressive Base Stealing Teams

In June of 2017, Baseball Savant introduced a new Statcast metric for public consumption. They defined sprint speed as “‘feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.’ The Major League average on a ‘max effort’ play is 27 ft/sec, and the max effort range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A player must have at least 10 max effort runs to qualify for this leaderboard.”

Now that we have a year’s worth of data, and we are trapped in the middle of a cold, dark offseason, I thought it would be an opportune time to play around with it. Over the last few weeks I sliced, diced, and minced the numbers. One area explored was team sprint speed and its relationship to stolen base attempts. Sprint speed was pulled from the Baseball Savant Leaderboard and stolen base data was downloaded from Baseball Reference.

Team Att.SBO Plus

As a proxy for team aggressiveness I added team stolen bases to caught stealing and divided by stolen base opportunities (plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open). SB Att% = (SB+CS)/SBO

The table above shows teams that sent runners most often in their SBOs each of the past three seasons. Light green represents one standard deviation above average and dark green denotes two standard deviations above average. One has to question how much these totals were the result of team aggressiveness and how much they were the result of team personnel. To check I took a weighted average of each player’s sprint speed by respective player’s plate appearances and then added to find team totals. SS=speed in the next table. If you’re curious to see the exact figures I attached my sheet here: SS Weighted Avs

Att.SBO vs SS Rank

Surprisingly, the 2017 Angels attempted steals at the highest rate despite being the second slowest team! The Brewers and Rangers were also quite aggressive despite their below average collective sprint speeds. The implication is these three teams had some sort of organizational edict to test defenses and attempt more steals. On the other hand, the Reds were the tenth fastest team. It’s also worth noting they were the only team to attempt steals at a plus rate (1 STD > AVE) each of the past three seasons.

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To make more sense of the team-level numbers, I decided to get granular and look at them on a player level. First, I wanted to see how many players on each team attempted steals at a higher rate than the league average (5.17%), which you can see in the first column of the table below. Then, I wanted to see how many “not fast” players on each team attempted steals more than the league average rate. I did this by introducing a second filter, player sprint speed. The second and third columns show how many players per team were non-elite & below average runners but attempted steals more than the average rate.

For the purpose of this post I defined above average sprint speed as greater than 27 ft/sec and less than 28.3 ft/second. In the sample of 451 players on Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard, 28.3 ft/sec was one standard deviation greater than average and 27 ft/sec was average. The middle column below shows eight Rangers, six Angels, and six Brewers attempted steals at a greater than average rate while having above average or worse speed. In other words, eight Rangers, six Angles, and six Brewers were non-elite runners but stole at a rate greater than league average anyway.

# Plyrs per team with att per SBO over 5.17

And they were not alone! My efforts monkeying around with filters and subtotals in Excel yielded this table. What does it tell us? Well for one, the Reds were not as aggressive sending runners as their overall SB Att% would suggest. Additionally, you could argue the Red Sox and Diamondbacks belong in the same conversation as the Angels, Brewers, and Rangers. They were willing to send a comparable number of non-elite runners at greater than league average rates.

While useful, this table is imperfect. Notably, it fails to account for magnitude of the SB Att%. In other words, it treats players who barely clear the league average threshold the same as players who are well above average.

The screenshots below display SB Att% by player for the five aforementioned teams plus Cincinnati. I highlighted SB Att% and sprint speed columns to add some meaning to the figures. It is intended to help visualize whether players attempted steals at a rate commensurate with their speed. The darker the green, the further from the mean. For example, Ryan Braun’s sprint speed cell is white (below average), but his SB Att% is green (over a standard deviation greater than average) so he attempted more steals than his sprint speed would suggest.

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Color Coding Explained

For those curious I attached my full spreadsheet. There are two tabs which show SS vs SB Att%: One for a sample of 451 and another for a sample of 491. The second tab adds extra lines for players who played for multiple teams. Sprint Speed vs SB Att%


I made observations on each of the six teams from the slideshow in the blurbs below:

Arizona Diamondbacks – Micro-level, Ketel Marte only attempted steals in 3.85% of his SBOs, a below average rate, despite ranking 29/451 in sprint speed. He should see an increase in his stolen base attempts to at least the above average range next season. Macro-level, the team was less aggressive than I thought. They were the sixth fastest team on my weighted average sprint speed sheet. And they had five players who ran less than their sprint speed may imply. The large number of Diamondbacks attempting to steal at a high rate seems to be due to their roster construction rather than organizational tendencies. I.e. their roster was littered with above average sprint speed players.

Boston Red Sox – I would classify the Red Sox as somewhat aggressive. They were willing to send three above average runners, Benintendi, Betts, and Nunez at well above average rates. They were also “sneaky aggressive” in the sense they sent below average runners Vazquez and Chris Young at above average rates. They should consider sending Bogaerts more often. Not only does his speed indicate he is capable of it, he was only caught stealing once in 16 attempts (94% success rate).

Cincinnati Reds – How does a team with the fourth highest stolen base attempt rate (shown in first table) have only three runners attempt steals at an above average rate? Billy f****** Hamilton. That’s how. He attempted steals an absurd 33.33% of the time in his 216 stolen base opportunities last year. Simply silly. I want to know how many of his attempts included pitch outs. Billy (yes we are on a first name basis) and to a lesser degree Jose Peraza were complete anomalies on this list, and their rates heavily skewed the Reds data. Cincinnati as a whole is firmly in the non-aggressive bucket.

Los Angeles Angels – The Angels table was revealing. All of their eight fastest runners attempted more steals than their speed may suggest. None of their 11 slowest runners attempted more steals than expected. This helps to explain how they could simultaneously attempt the steals at the highest rate while having the second slowest roster. In essence, they were selectively aggressive, stealing more often than expected with above average runners and making little to no effort with below average runners. On a player level, I found it surprising that neither Cameron Maybin nor Ben Revere cleared the plus threshold for sprint speed (1 STD > AVE). However! (S.A.S. voice) They attempted steals at an elite rate (3 STD > AVE).

Milwaukee Brewers – This is a run happy team. Seven players ran more than expected based on their sprint speed, two of whom, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana sported average or worse sprint speed. Jonathan Villar attempted steals three STDs over the league average rate with merely above average sprint speed.

Texas Rangers – Perhaps the most aggressive team in MLB, they sent some below average runners at above average rates, and they sent above average runners at well above average rates. Delino Deshields was their only real burner, but that didn’t stop them from sending eight other players at an above average rate, which was the second most in the league. (Shown in the second table, first column)

For fantasy players it would be wise to keep an eye on offseason acquisitions by the Rangers, Brewers, and Angels. These players are liable to see increase in their stolen bases in 2018. To what degree? This will be tackled in a future post. Also on tap, who were the least aggressive teams and what we can learn from their data?


A few notes on the information from the slide show:

*Many Detailed Statistics are based on play-by-play accounts accumulated by RetroSheet. These totals may be incomplete – (Copied verbatim from Baseball Reference). This is referring to the asterisks next to player names.

**No players in the sprint speed data set are greater than three standard deviations from the mean. That does not mean Buxton, Hamilton etc. are not 80 runners on the scouting scale. It just means the distribution for sprint speeds does not follow a normal curve.

***Not every player was available on the Sprint Speed Leaderboard, limiting our sample to 451, which is why the average SB Att% of 5.01% differs from the overall league at 5.17%.

11/13/17, 11/14/17 AFL Notes

AFL Notes 11/14/17

Monte Harrison (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – The term tool shed was made for guys like Monte Harrison. A college football recruit at Nebraska, he is a premium athlete. The speed, arm and power are all plus tools. I think Harrison best fits in right due to his arm. It’s an easy 60 maybe 70 from what I have seen this fall. I have Harrison 4.25 home to first, which is plus from the right side. Taking a glance at his BaseballReference page, he stole 27 bases in 31 attempts last year. This leads me to believe he can read pitchers well and has base stealing acumen. At the plate, Harrison’s approach was somewhat erratic. At times he displayed good plate discipline, working counts by fouling off pitches and taking borderline balls. At other times, he expanded the zone by chasing fastballs up or a breaking pitches down and away. I think there will always be some swing and miss in his game. I was talking to Derek Corr (Twitter: @dcorr82) who brought up the issue of Harrison’s hands when he swings. If you examine the swing, Harrison starts with his hands high and dips them as it begins. The bat speed is plus, but this extra motion adds length to his swing. Despite the swing and miss, Harrison gets to his power consistently in games. It’s easy plus power, generated mostly by his strong hands and quick wrists. Today he crushed a Henry Owens pitch opposite field (the open face home run in the video). I think Harrison has a first-division ceiling and a very good chance to be an every day player. Even if the hit tool lags, the compilation of other tools will buoy his overall profile.

AFL Notes 11/13/17

Estevan Florial (OF) New York Yankees – If Harrison is a tool shed, then I suppose that makes Florial a Home Depot.  I’ll be here all week. Someone punch me. The tools are “you need earmuffs loud”, and one scout cited Florial as a top three prospect in the AFL. The speed is elite (70). I have a couple sub-four home to first times and a number at 4.10 or better. He can reach full speed by his second step, which is really impressive. Center field is the most likely landing spot. His arm is also plus. It’s an excellent defensive package. Offensively, there were some concerning trends. Florial has a lot of swing and miss, especially on breaking pitches down. Right now he doesn’t recognize spin, but Florial just turned 20 on Small Business Saturday (11/25) and is relatively raw for his age having come out of Haiti. For this reason many scouts are not worried about him long term. Just don’t expect a rapid Acuna-esq ascent from Florial. I think there will be growing pains. Rumors have it he’s shown plus raw in BP, but I haven’t seen it materialize much in games. The bat speed is excellent and his swing has upward plane, neither of which explain his high groundball rate. I suspect poor timing is the culprit. When he does barrel, the results are impressive. It just hasn’t happened much in my looks. The hard contact on barrels combined with his speed should help Florial sustain abnormally high BABIPs, maybe in the .350s. Overall, the raw ingredients are here for a first-division player. As is often the case, utility of the hit tool will go a long way in determining his effectiveness. I think it’s a potential 50 at maturity. However, when he reaches maturity is up in the air for me.

11/02/17, 11/06/17 AFL Notes

11/06/17 AFL Notes

Sean Murphy (C) Oakland Athletics – Murphy has a well-rounded game with defensive skills that are likely to play at the highest level, not only giving him a high floor but also a good chance to be an everyday player. The arm is elite. Scout chatter is he threw out a runner by 10 feet with a 1.78 pop earlier in this fall. I have seen him around 1.85, but regardless it is a legitimate weapon and 70 grade tool. Today, I saw Murphy make a smooth back-handed stop and throw out Thairo Estrada from his knees. Murphy’s blocking ability is also quite good, earning plus grades. I can attest to his propensity for making quality blocks on pitches in the dirt. It is a regular occurrence. The jury is still out on the bat, but I am encouraged by what I have seen. Murphy swings really hard and has respectable contact skills. During the 11/02 game, he went oppo on a 98 mph offering from Jordan Hicks, and scouts in my vicinity asserted, “This kid does not get cheated.” Balls on the ground are normally pulled, and fly balls are hit to all fields. I think it is a potential 50 bat at maturity, which would make Murphy a first-division regular. Having said that, 2018 will be a big litmus test as he will have another crack at AA Midland. The struggle was real in AA last season, with a slash line of .209/.288/.309 in 217 PAs. Based on his AFL performance thus far, I am optimistic Murphy can figure out AA pitching and will find himself on the precipice of the majors next year.

11/02/17 AFL Notes

Jordan Hicks (RHP) St. Louis Cardinals – In 2015 the Cardinals used their third round pick on a high school pitcher from Houston, Texas who sat 92-93 and touched 96 with his fastball. That pitcher was Jordan Hicks. Now he’s a 21-year-old that sits 96-98 and can touch triple digits. I think we can throw that into the developmental success bucket! Today the velo did not disappoint, as my gun displayed one hundo. The velocity was sexy, but the pitch missed fewer bats than I expected (between today and my previous viewing). I think the underlying causes were pitch location and lack of movement (i.e. it’s a straight fastball). The secondary offering was a slider in the 83-87 range, which Hicks “played with” to vary velocity. It made sharp two-plane break and missed a fair amount of bats. I think it’s a potential plus pitch. Hitters looked to be geared up for the heat and swung over it. Also, I’m no expert but Hicks’ mechanics appear sub-optimal. Watching him in .25x speed, you can see the front leg and body move toward home well before the arm starts moving forward. I think the result is a disproportionately heavy burden on his arm (relative to many deliveries). Deliveries look more natural when the torso, legs, and arm all move toward home concurrently. The delivery combined with the stuff look like a golden ticket to the bullpen, which is not necessarily a negative. The Cardinals may have found themselves a future closer.

(11/9 Edit – The more I think about it, I wonder how much Hicks’ velocity gain is simply due to throwing shorter stints. I’ve read he was throwing roughly as hard as his HS velo in 2016 when he started games. He began relieving toward the end of 2017. Perhaps this is cause of the spike.)

10/30/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

Mitch Keller (RHP) Pittsburgh Pirates – If we are doing AFL superlatives, I think best fastball command goes to Mitch Keller. Today he was surgical. The fastball ranged from 92-97. There was a three-pitch sequence to Thairo Estrada that stood out as an impressive display of command. Keller started with an 85 mph changeup at the bottom-middle of the zone for a swinging strike. Then, he went to the 97 mph heat at the top of the zone. He finished Estrada with a 92 mph fastball that was down and away. I found this to be impressive because Keller appeared to be deliberately changing the eye level of hitters to keep them off balance. The curve was also quite good. It ranged from 78-82, generating some swing and miss and weak ground balls. Keller could use it to both sides of the plate. He left one up to David Thompson, who was not able to take advantage, but for the most part Keller did a good job keeping the pitch down. Overall, it was a dominant outing that displayed what Keller is capable of. This is a polished pitcher who should get a shot in the Pirates rotation at some point next season.

I did not take any video today, but I recorded Keller in his 10/24 start.

Albert Abreu (RHP) New York Yankees – It would not be a stretch to argue that Albert Abreu has better pure stuff than Mitch Keller. The fastball sat 93-95, without much effort in the delivery. The curveball is already considered plus, and Abreu could get swinging strikes with it seemingly at will. It would drop off the table, and hitters swung over it. His changeup had more drop than fade. This pitch was effective largely due to Abreu’s arm speed, which remained constant for fastballs and changeups (1:07 on video). As a result, the timing of opposing batters was thrown off. A scout sitting behind me noted Abreu had more confidence in his offspeed pitches than his fastball. The fastball command was inconsistent. Whether or not Abreu figures this out will go a long way in determining his efficacy at the major league level.

 

 

10/23/17, 10/24/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/24/17 AFL Notes

Kevin Kramer (SS) Pittsburgh Pirates – It has been a popular baseball refrain in recent years that defensive range is becoming less important due to advent of the shift and defensive positioning. Kevin Kramer is the type of player who could benefit from this trend. I see a guy with an average or fringe average arm but quick transfers, smooth defensive actions, and solid hands. Various reports I have read view him as a guy who is likely to move to second base due to his lack of range. I am more optimistic on his odds of sticking at short. I think he has a chance to be a second division regular. The bat is better than most of his middle infield peers. He can protect the zone until the pitcher makes a mistake and then take advantage. The power is nothing to sneeze at either. I think it’s fringe average, which isn’t bad if he can stick at short.

10/23/17 AFL Notes

Luis Guillorme (2B) Mets – There has been a book on Guillorme in recent years. Great defense. Good bat to ball skills. Limited game power. And phenomenal hands. In my viewings this fall, I have seen nothing to dispel these evaluations. He made an excellent diving grab/throw in this game. He reminds me of Dustin Pedroia in some regards because his range is a tick below average, but anything within his range is essentially an automatic out. He will make eye-opening plays on the periphery of his range. Guillorme is a 40 runner. I have timed him around 4.4 from the left side. His universally lauded hands allow him to make frequent contact and limit his swing and miss. Despite the contact, his swing plane has remained flat, resulting in a lot of groundballs. With only two home runs in 2041 minor league plate appearances, it is hard to project him as any more than a bench guy and defensive replacement. The lack of power is not playable, especially in today’s homerun happy hitting environment. If he can make a change that results in better power output, he could be an everyday player. It just looks unlikely at this point because evaluators have been making similar comments regarding his swing plane for years.

10/10/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

Justus Sheffield (LHP) New York Yankees – A top prospect in the Yankees system, Sheffield looked damn near major league ready tonight. The fastball sat comfortably around 94-95 and touched 97. He throws a hard slider in the 85-87 range, which missed a good amount of bats. Guys were swinging over the top on it. His third pitch was a change in the 86-88 range. It was used primarily on the right side of the plate (batter’s view). I liked how Sheffield was able to repeat his mechanics, and he had good command of all of his pitches. This was the first time I had seen him, and I came away impressed. The offspeed pitches were better than I expected based on the reports I had read.

Alec Mills (RHP) Chicago Cubs – Mills is another major league ready guy who is waiting for an opportunity. He should generate a lot of groud balls.  Mills operates mostly in the bottom of the zone and all of his stuff sinks. The fastball sat 91-92, and Mills could command it to both sides. He also employs a curveball the with 1 to 7 movement (pitcher perspective) in the 72-73 range with good depth. The slider was 78-80 with slight movement glove side. His change was also in the 80-83 range with move of a pure vertical drop. The slider and changed looked very similar to me. I am unsure whether this is a positive or a negative. I could see a scenario where hitters may think slider and get change (or vice-versa) and miscalculate a little resulting in soft contact. I could also see a scenario where hitters could be looking for something in the low 80s velocity band, and they would be able to react to both pitches, in essance giving Mills only three effective options. Overall, I think Mills is a viable fifth starter.

10/13/17 Instructs Notes

Reds at Brewers – Maryvale, AZ – Brewers Training Complex next to Maryvale Stadium

Nelson Hernandez (RHP) Milwaukee Brewers – There was a sobering moment in today’s game. Hernandez was hit in the neck/head by a comebacker. He collapsed to the ground in a heap, and a stunned silence fell over onlookers. Play was stopped and a cart came over to bring him off the field. Later in the evening he was reported to be OK. These type of things put everything into perspective. Baseball is JUST a game!

To make things weirder, a few minutes later, the left fielder missed a fly ball. It hit directly off of his head, bounced up, and was corralled by the center fielder. This is Friday the 13th type sh**!

Carlos Herrera (RHP) Milwaukee Brewers – Herrera uses a low three quarters arm slot. His arm “whips around” a bit, but it does not appear high effort to me. The fastball sat 90-91, and scouts are hopeful he can get a few more ticks on it as his frame fills out. Herrera is listed at 6’2” 150 and probably weighs around 165 now. His mid 80s curveball is a plus, bat-missing offering.

Demi Orimoloye (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – I did not have a good read on him, but scouts I have spoken with said Orimoloye is a good fastball hitter who struggles with breaking balls. They believe he is an average runner when underway, but it takes him a while to get to full speed. I was surprised to hear them say he was formerly a 70 runner. Orimoloye is currently 6’4” 225. Huge dude!

Miguel Hernandez (SS) Cincinnati Reds – This was my second viewing of Hernandez. He impressed in the first outing, and today he pulled a homer to left in his second at bat. Scouts in attendence were impressed, and they asked me what I knew about him. This guy is a deep sleeper who could move up lists fasts. He should be on Reds top 30 lists sooner than later.

Leonardo Seminati (1B) Cincinnati Reds – He is an 18 year old Italian kid who recently came over to the states. It really shows. Last week, Seminati struck out three times in a game with some ugly swings. He made a mental error in this game after sliding back to first base on a pickoff attempt. Seminati made it back safely but voluntarily came off the bag before the first baseman threw the ball back to the pitcher and was subsequently tagged out. He has a muscular frame and looks older than 18. Overall, it is far too early to write this guy off. Fall instructs was his first exposure to pro ball.

Edwin Yon (OF) Cincinnati Reds – I saw Yon three times this fall and now understand both sides of the coin. He’s a guy with plus raw. Whether or not he can get to it in games will be the crux of his future success or failure. Like many young hitters he excels with fastballs and has trouble hitting offspeed pitches. He lacks the ability to track spin and is often fooled by offspeed pitches low in the zone. There is good bat speed here, and he can turn on velocity without too much trouble. A scout I spoke with thought his overall approach and outfield defense were a bit lackadaisical. The scout also believed he lacked #want.