Does Crime Pay?

If you’re looking for a hard hitting article that sheds light on crime in sports, you clicked on the wrong article. This article might be more to your liking.

Is stealing bases worth the risk?

This article is about a different crime; The Stolen Base. If you’ve watched the Royals for any amount of time this season, or previous seasons you’ve probably noticed that the Royals organization wants you to know that the Royals are pretty good at stealing bases. In fact as of this writing (mostly on Thursday 8/18/11, all stats referenced in this article are based off the games ending on 8/17. By the time today roles around they will have changed) they are tied with Yankees as league leaders in stolen bases at 120. The problem is the Yankees are tied with the Boston Red Sox in another statistic; Wins, 74. It’s nice that the Royals lead the league in a positive offensive category. However, as a fan I’d like to see that offensive category mean something. The Yankees are stealing bases and winning games. If the Yankees are doing it, it must be a good idea, right?

I’ve been writing for I70 Baseball for about six months. This will be my first attempt at using statistical analysis to make a point. Maybe I should clarify. I haven’t actually done the research yet we’ll find out together. The way I look at it, when a team is on offense the goal is to score runs. I do not fancy myself a Stathead, but I know one thing: Teams that score more runs than their opponents at the end of nine innings are undefeated. Because of this I’m going to look at the correlation between a team leading the league in stolen bases, and see if that means they end up near the stop of the league in runs scored.

To accomplish this I looked back five complete seasons; essentially the Dayton Moore era in Kansas City; and looked at the top five teams in stolen bases from the American League. Here is the Data:

1. LA Angels – 148 SB, 11th in RS, 766 R, 89 Wins, 2nd in ALW
2. NY Yankees – 139 SB, 1st in RS, 930 R, 97 Wins, Lost in ALDS
3. Tampay Bay – 134 SB, 14th in RS, 689 R, 61 Wins, 5th in ALE
4. Baltimore – 121 SB, 10th in RS, 768 R, 70 Wins, 4th in ALE
5. Seattle – 106 SB, 13th in RS, 756 R, 78 Wins, 4th ALW

1. Baltimore – 144 SB, 9th in RS, 756 R, 69 Wins, 4th in ALE
2. LA Angels – 139 SB, 4th in RS, 822 R, 94 Wins, Lost in ALDS
3. Tampa Bay – 131 SB, 8th in RS, 782 R, 66 Wins, 5th in ALE
4. NY Yankees – 123 SB, 1st in RS, 968 R, 94 Wins, Lost ALDS
5. Minnesota – 112 SB, 12th in RS, 718 R, 79 Wins, 3rd in ALC

1. Tampa Bay – 142 SB, 9th in RS, 774 R, 97 Wins, World Series Runner Up
2. LA Angels – 129 SB, 10th in RS, 765 R, 100 Wins, Lost ALDS
3. Boston – 120 SB, 2nd in RS, 845 R, 95 Wins, Lost ALCS
4. NY Yankee – 118 SB, 7th in RS, 789 R, 89 Wins, 3rd in ALE
5. Minnesota – 102 SB, 3rd in RS, 829 R, 88 Wins, 2nd in ALC

1. Tampa Bay – 194 SB, 5th in RS, 803 R, 84 Wins, 3rd in ALE
2. Texas – 149 SB, 7th in RS, 784 R, 87 Wins, 2nd in ALW
3. AL Angels – 148 SB, 2nd in RS, 883 R, 97 Wins, Lost ALCS
4. Oakland – 133 SB, 9th in RS, 759 R, 75 Wins, 4th in ALW
5. Boston – 126 SB, 3rd in RS, 872 R, 95 Wins, Lost ALDS

1. Tampa Bay – 172 SB, 3rd in RS, 802 R, 96 Wins, Lost ALDS
2. White Sox – 160 SB, 7th in RS, 752 R, 88 Wins, 2nd in ALC
3. Oakland – 156 SB, 11th in RS, 663 R, 81 Wins, 2nd in ALW
4. Seattle – 142 SB, 14th in RS, 513 R, 61 Wins, 4th in ALW
5. Texas – 123 SB, 4th in RS, 787 R, 90 Wins, World Series Runner-Up

The average rank in runs scored is 7.16, or a little worse than half. Average number of wins is 84.8, might win you a bad division. There are two World Series runner-ups in this group. There are the 2010 Mariners, who were one of the worst offensive teams in several years. Ten of the teams made the play-offs. There is no correlation between stealing bases and scoring runs, and there is even less correlation to overall team success. When I look at who the teams are on this list I make two observations. The first, teams with bad offenses use the stolen base to make up for their line-up’s weaknesses. As you can tell this doesn’t work that well. The stolen base will not make up for a weak offense. The second, is teams with good offenses do everything well, and will use the stolen base get better.

It’s obvious the Royals strategy to be aggressive on the base paths is coming from the front office. I thought the problem was a Trey Hillman thing, but Ned Yost has been even more aggressive. The Royals were 6th in stolen bases last season, see how well that worked out? Now that we have some evidence that stealing bases is a break even proposition at best. Let’s try and figure out if attempting a crime spree is hurting the offense.

I tried to find a statistic of caught stealing runners that would eventually score had they remained at first and their out not been recorded. But apparently I’m not smart enough to find it. If someone knows where I can find it send me an email. I find it hard to believe no one is tracking this. But no fear, we’ll see if the Royals have enough caught stealing numbers to impact their runs scored numbers.

Remember when I said the Yankees lead the league in stolen bases? They do NOT lead the league in caught stealing. The Royals do, 47. Right now the Royals are 6th in the league in runs scored, 540. Even if all the 47 caught base runners scored; which is preposterous; they would only move up to 4th in runs scored, 587. If you use the Pythagorean Expectation this is worth 2.33 wins for the Royals. But that is a best case scenario. Let’s say all of those guilty base runners were in scoring position. A base hit would score them. The Royals are batting .267 as a team. This would net the Royals another 12 runs. Throw that back into the Pythagorean Expectation and you’re looking at .60, just a little over half a win.

I’ve been concerned that the Royals aggressive base running has been hurting their chances of scoring more than it’s been helping. After going through these numbers I’m not sure it matters. Bad offenses will struggle to score no matter how many bases are stolen. If you want to increase wins, preventing runs is the best way to do that. But I don’t need to write an article to spell out the Royals shortcomings on that side of the equation.

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