If you’re not privy to James D’s previous piece, click here before reading part 2
Here’s my second post on the value of RAJ’s steal attempts. Post 1 looked at the change in win probability (as measured by BRef) after RAJ’s SB and CS. His attempts improved win probability by about 1, less than 20% as much as his hitting did. My second approach was to see what actually happened after his steal attempts, including how many runs RAJ himself scored, how many runs he might have scored without trying to steal, and how the batters who were at the plate during his attempts did. This would incorporate any benefit that came from the steal attempts affecting the pitcher, which the WPA analysis would miss.
Method & Caveats
There are several issues with looking at it this way. First, it depends on the actions of the batters at the plate and subsequent batters, which may have been unusually good or bad by chance rather than as a result of the steal attempts. Second, it (or the way I’m doing it) requires an assumption that the batters at the plate and afterwards would’ve done the same in the absence of the steal attempts. That seems as good an assumption as any to me. Even if you don’t assume they would’ve done the same in each instance, it seems plausible that they would’ve hit similarly in the aggregate and that the overall results would’ve been similar. (Fwiw, I only found two instances when it looked obvious that the results might have been different without the steal attempts. On August 20 there was an IBB immediately after a successful steal, and on September 27, if RAJ hadn’t stolen, he wouldn’t have scored a game-tying run in the 8th and would’ve been on third when Albies tried to steal second and was thrown out to end the inning, and Albies might not have risked it with the game not tied.) Third, neither this way nor the WPA method considers the value or cost of having him running when the ball was put in play; I assume that between keeping the team out of DPs and giving him a better chance to take extra bases on hits, the benefits outweighed the costs of possibly occasionally being doubled up on line drives. Fourth, neither method considers any benefit to other batters during PAs when he was on but didn’t try to steal that might have been caused by the threat of him stealing.
How Often Did RAJ Score Because He Stole?
RAJ stole 73 bases and scored 32 times. (He had 71 chances to score – twice he stole second and third after reaching first, though he didn’t score either time.) If he hadn’t run those 32 times and the subsequent batters had done what they actually did, he would’ve scored anyway at least 20 times, and I think there were between 5 and 12 times when he wouldn’t have scored. The 20 were obvious cases such as home runs or combinations of walks and hits from succeeding batters with no intervening grounders that might have resulted in a force or a DP. I’ll list the other 12 at the end of this post, but depending on your assumptions, there were more or less 5 times he would not have scored without stealing, 1 time he probably would not have scored, 3 times he might have scored, and 3 times he probably would have scored anyway. I assume it’s just coincidence that 9 of the 12 of his apparently most valuable steals happened in the second half of the year and that four were in the last two series.
Nine or so extra runs has some value, but he also was caught stealing 14 times. (This includes two times when he was picked off and thrown out running to the next base, but it doesn’t include times he was picked off at the base he was on, as these aren’t counted as CS. I noticed two of the latter, but I wouldn’t have seen any that happened in games when he didn’t attempt a steal or any that happened after his last steal attempt of a game.)
Of RAJ’s 14 CS, there were 7 when I thought he would have or might have scored if he hadn’t run and 7 when he wouldn’t have scored anyway. I’ll list at the end of the post the seven times when I thought his unsuccessful attempt may have cost a run.
Those 14 CS also gave the team one fewer out to work with for the rest of the game, but that appears to be somewhat compensated for by the number of times his successful steals kept the team out of double plays – I found 7 times when I thought they probably did and 5 times when they may have, but I won’t list those unless anyone wants me to.
Did His Attempts Win or Lose any Games?
I only found one game in which it looked like the team probably wouldn’t have won without RAJ’s steal and one in which it looked like the team might have won had he not been caught stealing. Both are included in the lists at the end of the post, and both also are in the high-WPA-added/subtracted groups mentioned in my previous post.
The former was the September 27 game against the Cubs in which he had two high-impact steals. After the fact, it was the 8th inning steal that was essential and not the one that led to his game-winning run in the 10th, even though the 10th-inning one had a higher WPA before the fact. Had he not stolen second in the 8th, Albies’s single to right would’ve moved him to third, but the inning would’ve ended when Albies was caught trying to steal second as Riley struck out. If you don’t think Albies would have run with a runner on third down a run, well, Olson popped out leading off the 9th, and that would’ve ended the 8th anyway. Yates gave up a run in the 9th, so Ozuna’s HR wouldn’t have been enough (though the team would’ve had one more out to try and a runner on third) and the Cubs probably would’ve won. Instead, the game went to extras, and RAJ and Albies won it in the 10th with another single-SB-single sequence.
The latter was the May 30 2-1 loss to Oakland. If RAJ had not been PO/CS’d and had reached third on Olson’s single to center and scored on Riley’s 5-4-3 GIDP and all else had continued as it did afterwards, going into the bottom of the 9th the team would’ve been ahead either 2-1 or 3-1 (if Pillar had scored from third on Harris’s 4-3 groundout that was actually the 3rd out of the 5th but would’ve been the 2nd), plus it would’ve had an extra out with nobody on in the top of the 9th. In the bottom of the 9th, Riley probably could’ve taken a second out to let the second run score, and the team would’ve had a decent chance to win, either in 9 or in extras.
Those were the only two such games I found where it looked like RAJ’s steal attempts might have changed the outcome. Of the other 10 games in which he scored but might not have without a steal, the team won 7 by 2 or more runs and lost three. Of the other 6 games in which he was caught stealing but might have scored had he not run, the team won 5 anyway and lost the other by 4 runs.
How Batters at the Plate Did
BravesMarine’s comment in the Bar prompted me to see how the batters who were at the plate when RAJ tried to steal eventually did. In the 80 completed plate appearances (i.e., disregarding the five times he was thrown out to end the inning) during which RAJ attempted one or more steals, Braves hitters slashed .214/.313/.343, which is pretty weak considering that they were mostly Olson, Albies, Riley. 80 PA may not be enough to be draw any firm conclusions (if four outs had instead been two doubles and two HR, the slash line would’ve looked reasonable), but the data certainly doesn’t provide evidence against the idea that the steal attempts hurt the batters at the plate, and it doesn’t suggest that the successful steals distracted the pitchers on balance. I can think of two explanations for this. First, the poor performance might have been random, in which case RAJ’s steal attempts were more valuable (before the fact) than the what-actually-happened analysis above suggests. Second, his steal attempts (maybe batters taking pitches to let him run) may have put the batters in the hole in a way that the WPA analysis in my first post didn’t take into account. It doesn’t seem like batters were getting into bad counts by taking multiple hittable pitches per PA while waiting for him to run, because the total number of balls and strikes before the pitches on which he ran were almost even (net +2 balls). It would be interesting to see how the batters did who were at the plate during Rickey Henderson’s attempts in his 1982 130 SB/42 CS season, and if there’s a similar result, look at high-steal seasons of Lou Brock, Vince Coleman, and Maury Wills.
This after-the-fact approach and the at-the-time WPA approach from my earlier post strengthen my belief that RAJ’s impressive SB and CS totals were fun and had some value but weren’t nearly as valuable as his league-leading OBP or his HR total. On the other hand, there are lots of things we can’t know, like whether his aggressive baserunning helps him focus in general and helps his very valuable batting, and whether running often helps his speed enough to balance out the risk of injury. I noticed a couple of other things, mostly just counts of different aspects of his attempts, that I might post later.
(After-the-Fact) Valuable Steals
Here are the 12 times when RAJ stole and scored but I thought he might not have absent the steal:
-June 3 at Arizona, one out in the 3rd: Stole third, and after a walk scored on a SF. The next batter flew out to end the inning. (Result – Would not have scored.)
June 4 at Arizona, one out in the 7th: Stole 2nd and scored on a single. The next three batters went K, walk, popout to end the inning. (Would not have scored.)
-June 16 vs. Colorado, no out in the 1st: Stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Albies’s weak grounder to first, scored on a wild pitch that was ball 4 to Riley. Then TdA homered. If RAJ hadn’t stolen and the weak grounder to first had been turned into a double play, RAJ wouldn’t have scored. If the first baseman forced RAJ but didn’t get Albies out at first, Albies would’ve scored on the HR instead of RAJ and the team would’ve had the same number of runs. But since it was a weak grounder, the first baseman probably would’ve just taken the out at first anyway and RAJ would’ve scored anyway. (Probably would have scored.)
-July 3 at Cleveland, one out in the 3rd: Stole 2nd, scored on Albies’s single to right, Albies thrown out trying for second, next batter flew out to left (BRef says it was “front of home”) to end the inning, and the first batter in the fourth grounded out. It’s possible that if RAJ hadn’t run, he would’ve made it to 3rd on the single to right and Albies wouldn’t have tried for second and RAJ would’ve scored on the fly ball to left, but the “front of home” notation makes me think it might not have been deep enough for a SF. (Might have scored.)
-July 18 vs. Arizona, no out in the 6th: Stole 2nd, 4-3 groundout, scored on HR. Albies’s grounder was to the first base side of the 2B, so it’s not clear whether Arizona would’ve been able to turn a double play or would have even gone for the force at second, which would’ve prevented RAJ from scoring but wouldn’t have changed the number of runs the team scored. The pitcher was right-handed, so RAJ might have gotten a bigger lead and Albies batting left would’ve gotten to first a little sooner, fwiw. (Might have scored, team probably would’ve scored the same # of runs)
-August 12 (game 1) at NYM, no out in the 1st: Stole 2nd, to 3rd on first-to-pitcher groundout, scored on a short fly ball single to the right field line, then walk, lineout DP 6-4. If RAJ hadn’t run, I assume he would’ve made it to 2nd on the groundout, but with one out he might or might not have scored on the short fly single. (Might have scored.)
-August 20 vs. SF, two out in the 8th: Stole 3rd and scored the tying run on a throwing error. IBB and inning-ending K followed. (Would not have scored.)
August 28 at Colorado, no out in the 7th: Stole 2nd, went to 3rd on a 4-3 groundout that was on the first base side of the 2B, and the next five batters reached. The pitcher was left-handed, so there’s a chance RAJ wouldn’t have had a good jump on the grounder and Colorado could have turned two. (Probably would have scored.)
-September 27 vs. the Cubs, one out in the 8th: Stole 2nd and scored the tying run on Albies’s single to right. Albies was thrown out trying to steal while Riley struck out, ending the inning. Olson popped out to start the ninth, in case you think Albies wouldn’t have run down by a run with RAJ on third if he hadn’t stolen. (Would not have scored.)
-also September 27 vs. the Cubs, one out in the 10th: Stole 2nd and scored the winning run on Albies’s single to right. If RAJ doesn’t run, he probably still makes it to 3B with one out, so there’s a pretty good chance he scores anyway (win probability over 70%). (Probably would have scored.)
-September 29 vs. Washington, no out in the 1st: Stole 2nd, Albies K, stayed on second while Riley grounded out to deep short, and scored on the first of two singles before a groundout. If he hadn’t run, he probably would have been forced at second on Riley’s grounder. Riley probably wouldn’t have been doubled up, but it’s not clear that he would’ve scored on the two singles since the first one was up the middle. (Probably would not have scored.)
-September 30 vs. Washington, no out in the 3rd: Stole 2nd, K, scored on a single, 3-6-3 DP. (Would not have scored.)
(After-the-Fact) Damaging CS
Here are the 7 times when RAJ was caught stealing but I think would or might have scored had he not run:
April 3 at St. Louis, 0-0 top of the first, no outs: Caught stealing second, Olson then struck out, and Riley homered. (Result – Would have scored had he not run.)
May 30 at Oakland, 0-0 top of the first, no outs: Caught stealing second, then an Olson single to center and a Riley 5-4-3 DP probably would’ve scored him. The team eventually lost 2-1. (Probably would have scored.)
June 30 vs. Miami, up 7-3 in the fourth, two outs: This one’s a little messy, because with Albies up he stole second, then two pitches later was thrown out trying to steal third. Albies doubled to lead off the fifth and then Riley singled, so RAJ would’ve scored even if he hadn’t run either time. (Would have scored.)
August 1 vs. the Angels, 0-0 in the first, no outs: Picked off and thrown out at second, then Albies singled, Riley singled Albies to third, and Olson hit a sac fly. (Would have scored.)
September 9 vs. Pittsburgh, 0-0 in the first, no outs: Caught stealing second, Albies grounded out first to pitcher covering, Riley singled, and Olson flew out to deep left. If RAJ had still been on first and the first baseman had fielded Albies’s grounder and forced RAJ at second (or started a DP), then no runs would’ve scored, as Albies probably wouldn’t have made it to third on Riley’s single to left or scored on Olson’s deep flyout (and Ozuna grounded out to start the second). If the 1B had just taken the out at first, RAJ would’ve scored on the single or on the subsequent deep flyout. (Might have scored.)
September 11 at Philadelphia, game 1, 0-0 in the first, no outs: Caught stealing second while Albies struck out. Riley followed with a triple and scored on an error by the LF. (Would have scored.)
September 28 vs. the Cubs, up 5-1 in the fourth, one out: Caught stealing second while Albies struck out to end the inning. Riley led off the fifth with a double to center. (Would have scored.)