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%.

10/19/17, 10/20/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/20/17 AFL Notes

Nolan Blackwood (RHP) Athletics – There is a lot to like about Blackwood. The 6’5” righty uses his frame to his advantage to achieve deception. He caught my eye in a previous outing when he made Francisco Mejia look ugly in a three-pitch strikeout. The fastball sits low 90s and is thrown from a sidearm angle. Hitters appear to struggle picking up the ball out of his hand, which helps everything play up. His change is in the low 80s, and both of the aforementioned pitches have quality sink. Today Blackwood also busted out a 75-77 mph curveball. It is a pitch he reserves for right-handed hitters. It was not used in his previous outing when he faced three lefties. I was muttering aloud trying to figure out who Blackwood reminds me of delivery-wise. A scout offered up Dan Otero as a comp.

10/19/17 AFL Notes

Yonathan Daza (OF) Rockies – I have seen Daza a few times this fall and have come away impressed each time. Daza is a plus runner posting home to first times around 4.2 from the right. He hits baseballs with authority, and I would love to see his Statcast exit velocity data. Looking at his Fangraphs page, I found he only hit three home runs in 569 plate appearances last year. His physique looks capable of more. Before the AFL ends I am shooting to catch a couple of his BP sessions and get a side look of his swing to gauge swing plane. Even if the home runs do not come, I think Daza is a high floor guy who should be at least a fourth outfielder. It is not hard to envision him launching gappers all over Coors Field.

 

10/13/17, 10/14/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/14/17 AFL Notes

Kirby Bellow (LHP) Diamondbacks – Bellow is a lefty who stands on the far right side of the rubber (hitter’s perspective) and pounds the opposite side of the plate with fastballs and curveballs. He was extremely predictable but effective nonetheless. Bellow’s fastball was mostly 90-91 but one touched 95. His curveball was high 70s and is probably his best pitch. It was generating a lot of swing and miss. When batters were able to make contact, it resulted in weak ground balls. He sparingly used a changeup around 83 as a weapon against right-handed hitters. His arm angle looks really tough on lefties. Curiosity got me, and I looked up his platoon splits. Last season in a 39 2/3 inning sample at AA-Jackson, RHH were held to a .654 ops and LHH were utterly dominated. They only had two hits in 61 plate appearances, resulting in a minuscule .098 ops. Bellow should excel as a LOOGY with the upside of a more conventional middle reliever.

(11/26 Edit – I learned that Bellow’s breaker is actually a slider not a curve as I wrote above.)

10/13/17 AFL Notes

Dean Deetz (RHP) Astros – I really liked Deetz’s three-pitch mix. It’s definitely worthy of a major league pen. His fastball sat 95-96 and touched 98, although it has been somewhat hittable in my viewings. His 83-85 slider had hefty two plane break, but his command of the pitch waivered. His change was 86-87, and he could spot it to both sides of the plate. Overall, the stuff was impressive, but the command was worrisome. I think Deetz a guy who could thrive in a middle relief role. I also think he’s a guy who could cause your favorite team’s fanbase a lot of stress in a high-leverage role, resulting in a myriad of prematurely balding heads.

10/19/17 Instructs Notes

Giants at Royals – Surprise, AZ – Surprise Stadium Backfields

Heliot Ramos (CF) San Francisco Giants – Ramos is among the best players in fall instructs. It’s a sexy bat. We are talking potential 60 hit and 60 power. He has good bat speed and a very compact swing. Overall, Ramos makes the game look easy. I know that sounds reductive, but it’s true! Physically, Ramos has a thick build and a big ass. A scout comped him to Juan Uribe. Currently listed at 6’2” 185, I think he’s closer to 200 and it’s not hard to envision another 20-30 lbs on him. Right now he’s an above average runner, posting home to first times around 4.25 from the right side. I would expect him to settle in to be an average runner at maturity. It’s possible slowing down would necessitate a move to an outfield corner, but I think the bat is good enough to profile there too. It’s an impressive profile, and it’s not hard to see why the Giants made him the 19th pick in last year’s Rule 4.

Joe Marciano (LHP) San Francisco Giants – The heir apparent to former Giants QB Jared Lorenzen’s nickname, Marciano is a hefty lefty. He’s listed as 6’5” 250 lbs which might be a little light. A lot of guys his size struggle with body control, but it’s not an issue for Marciano. He pitches with a gracefulness that I find oddly endearing. Marciano’s repertoire is headlined by a plus high 70s curveball with big two-plane break. I have seen him get swinging strikes in and out of the zone with it. His fastball hovers around 90. His third offering is a mid 80s change. Marciano has an outside shot to be an innings-eating backend starter, which would be an amazing outcome for a 36th round pick. In my humble estimation, it was a great job by the Giants amateur staff finding this guy.

Diego Rincones (OF) San Francisco Giants – He continued doing Diego Rincones things today. The approach is ultra aggressive. I think he saw five total pitches in four at bats. In spite of the approach, he makes a ton of contact. He reminds me of Vlad Sr because he is a good bad ball hitter and likes seemingly every pitch that he sees (*disclaimer not a comp*). Today he had another three hits. This is a wait and see guy for me because I am worried about how his approach will play at higher levels. Right now it’s working so you can’t bash it too much.

MJ Melendez (C) Kansas City Royals – The words defensive wizard will be used to describe Royals catcher MJ Melendez. He oozes athletic ability in a way few other catchers do. He displayed impressive quickness and a plus arm. I loved his blocking ability and a throw he made from his knees with a 1.90 pop. He likes to test runners and is able to get out of the crouch quickly to fire throws over to first. At the plate he took a 98 mph pitch from Melvin Adon to the opposite field for a double. If the bat can be a 40 or 45 this guy is a major league regular.

Khalil Lee (OF) Kansas City Royals – The first thing I noticed about Lee is he swings the bat extremely hard. At 5’10 170 (basically my build!) he does not have the look of a power hitter, but make no mistake, he can mash baseballs. There is a lot of loft in his swing due to an uppercut that should result in a high FB% and high ISOs. He hit a deep home run to right center in today’s game. In my looks there was a decent amount of swing and miss on breaking pitches. I don’t have a great feel for Lee’s arm, but have read that he was a two-way player in high school so it can’t be half bad.

10/14/17, 10/17/17 Instructs Notes

10/17/17 – Royals at Giants – Scottsdale, AZ – Giants Complex at the Intersection of Hayden and Camelback

Glenn Sparkman (RHP) Kansas City Royals – Sparkman was my favorite arm of the day. His arsenal featured a sinking fastball that ranged from 92-95 and moved either glove side or armside. The cambio was his top offspeed option. To my eye, it looked like he could manipulate it to either drop 12 to 6 or to have fade and drop. The change was in the 83-85 velo band. His curve was high 70s and was a serviceable third option.

10/14/17 – Dodgers vs White Sox (shared complex) – Glendale, AZ – Camelback Ranch Backfields

Justin Bruihl (LHP) Los Angeles Dodgers – “Crafty lefty” is a hackneyed term, but they were the first words that came to my mind as I watched Bruihl. His stuff was not overpowering. The fastball sat 90-91, touching 93. The slider was 74-77. And the change was 80-84. I was impressed by Bruihl’s willingness to throw seemingly any pitch in any count and pitch backwards. I also like his smooth low three quarters delivery, which he repeated well. Despite the positives, this is still a command guy who will need to hit his spots and sequence to succeed. The good news is right now he appears capable of doing that effectively.

 

10/07/17 Instructs Notes

Diamondbacks at Rockies & Rockies at Diamondbacks! (Shared Complex) – Salt River Field

Elvis Luciano (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Luciano will be 17 years old until next February. Now 17, Luciano was in the 91-92 range with his fastball and in the mid 80s with his changeup. His mechanics and arm action were repeatable for both pitches, which should help keep hitters guessing. The fastball touched as high as 94. Luciano also threw one curveball in this game. It came in 78 and was respectable but a clear third pitch. Luciano is only 17 and has a thick lower half, which suggests there could be more velocity down the line. This is a guy I like.

Matt Tabor (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Tabor sat 89-90 with his fastball and touched 94. It’s possible that Tabor, a relatively raw pitcher from the Northeast, may be able to gain a few ticks on his velocity. His change was in the mid 80s. Tabor varied his speed of delivery utilizing a quick pitch and a delayed delivery, taking a page from the Stroman book of pitching.

Will Gaddis (RHP) Colorado Rockies – Gaddis sat 88-90 with his fastball today, topping out at 91. The curveball was his most frequently used  secondary offering. It had good depth, and Gaddis was able to locate it in or out of the zone. This pitch caught my eye because he started Chris Owings and Yasmani Tomas with it. This was a wise way “steal strikes” and get the 0-0 count in his favor. Gaddis also showed a mid 80’s changeup that was used sparingly. I am wondering if the Rockies wanted him to focus on his curve this fall. Various reports say his changeup is his best offspeed pitch, but he used the curve more in this outing.

10/4/17-10/5/17 Instructs Notes

10/05/17 – Giants at Angels – Backfields next to Tempe Diablo Stadium

Trent Deveaux (OF) Los Angeles Angels – Deveaux smashed a triple to left and reached third in 11.70 seconds. It was a thing of beauty. He also made some circuitous routes defensively. One fly ball sticks out in my mind because he “got turned around” and made a last second adjustment to come down with it. I like his aggressiveness on the base paths, but it can border on reckless. He slid head first into home despite a teammate motioning for him to come home standing.

I found this article which gives some context to home to third times

http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2016/11/23/209340878/2016s-fastest-baserunning-feats-in-mlb

10/04/17  Giants at Rockies –  Field R1 directly south of Salt River Field

Jacob Gonzalez (3B) San Francisco Giants – The son of former Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez is still learning to recognize pro-caliber breaking stuff. Scouts opined he has looked somewhat raw at the plate, and he displayed occasionally stiff movements defensively.

Diego Rincones (OF) San Francisco Giants – Rincones has an uncanny ability to hit. There was very little swing and miss in my looks. And there is good bat control in this one (spoken like a true Jedi). I am hoping to see him another couple of times before the end of fall.