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  1. I’d be interested to see Vince Coleman’s numbers, as well. I believe he stole 100 or more bases once or twice. To top that, St. Louis was a run-happy team. How often did they attempt a steal as a team that season, and is it the most ever?

    Comment by Paul A. — May 20, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  2. Every time I read something about Rickey and his exploits on the diamond, I become more and more impressed.

    What a man.

    Comment by Lintyfresh — May 20, 2010 @ 11:46 am

  3. In 1985, Coleman ran on just over 63 percent of his opportunities. The Cardinals as a team ran 18 percent of the time.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — May 20, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  4. I miss Rickey.

    Comment by Gabriel — May 20, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  5. that’s awesome, both for good and bad.

    assuming an expectancy of .7 to be break-even (i don’t know what the break-even was in that environment)., you would have to be 120 for 172 to be more or less break even.

    Rickey was 130 for 172, so in a way, going 11 for 11 is better than going 130 for 172?

    can that be right?

    I mean, I know that pitchers being distracted and stuff is largely overrated, but if you’re going so often maybe the pitcher is distracted? Did anyone ever look at the results of the batter behind rickey in situations where he was on base versus not on base, and factor in the opposing pitcher’s performance? the sample size should be just about minimally large enough.

    community blog attempt anyone?

    Comment by TheUnrepentantGunner — May 20, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

  6. I don’t know…I mean, if Rickey played today, he’d be lucky to steal 40 a year.

    Of course, this would be his Age 51 season so I guess 40 SBs would be decent.

    Is Rickey the greatest position player of all time? His numbers and production get more impressive with time, don’t they? Definitely Top 10.

    Comment by NEPP — May 20, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

  7. and before anyone intervenes, i know the breakeven is around 70% now, but arguably it was less in the 80′s. bigger parks (i still remembering thinking about cavernous busch stadium, not to mention veterans stadium being larger, along with weird places like montreal, no colorado etc.). Also more turf fields. etc etc.

    I guess you could argue with less power that running yourselves out of an inning or a 3 run homer wasn’t quite as devastating, and each percentage point lower than 70 for breakeven is significant for rickey.

    Anyway, if anyone wants to try to crunch some numbers saturday afternoon i have a couple hours and would be happy to help collaborate.

    Comment by TheUnrepentantGunner — May 20, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  8. I dunno. If you look at Rickey’s SB totals, and subtract those where the team was up by 5 runs, or subtract those where his steal had no “useful” bearing on the game, and could possible considered Rickey maybe showboating, I wonder what you end up with. Of course it’s a wildly subjective venture, but something that comes to mind. ALSO, it’s useful to note Rickey also has the all-time record for caught stealing (335).

    Comment by Wells — May 20, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  9. He also holds the record for most steals attempted. What’s your point?

    When you attempt so many steals, sometimes you’re going to get thrown out.

    Comment by Lintyfresh — May 20, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

  10. How about Tim Raines’ rookie season of 1981? 363 PA, 71 SB, 11 CS. Raines kicked off his career with a phenomenal 6- or 7-year stretch. Unbelievably consistent for a speed guy – or any guy for that matter.

    Comment by Choo — May 20, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  11. If you put 1980s’ Rickey into the current MLB and he ran on 76% of his chances, what would the leagues’ rate be?

    In other words, did people steal more in the 80s because Rickey played then, or did everybody attempt more steals?

    Comment by Jon — May 20, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  12. Question about the stat – of the 53 times he didn’t attempt a steal, how many of those were situations where he was running and the batter made contact on the pitch? Not sure how to look that up, but presumably he attempted an even higher percentage, right?

    Comment by Joe — May 20, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  13. There’s an article about this in the BPro “Baseball Between the Numbers” book, and I believe it’s actually based on a study Bill James did of Rickey in ’82. I don’t remember the exact details, but IIRC, Rickey actually only contributed about 4 runs or so with his base-stealing that year, because the 42 times caught stealing nearly negated all of his contributions.

    Make no mistake, it’s still an impressive accomplishment, but more from the point of view of setting the record, rather than actually helping the team out. I think I saw something else (Posnanski, maybe?) pointing out that he hit hardly any triples that year, ’cause he would stop at second to give himself an opportunity to steal third.

    Comment by Alex Poterack — May 20, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

  14. “The league average, not including Henderson’s craziness, was 7.8 percent.”

    Comment by The Hit Dog — May 20, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  15. How many of those SBs came from a double (or triple?) steal where he was the lagging runner? Presumably, they’d be a part of the 172 but not the 225 (as few as they may be).

    Comment by drbils — May 20, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

  16. that sounds about right to me. doing some backwards calculating here, but if each 3 times caught stealing negates 7 successful stolen bases, we can equate a caught stealing is worth an out, and a successful steal is .43 outs on the positive side of the ledger.

    130 steals = 57 outs saved. 42 times caught stealing is 42 outs to the negative side of the ledger.

    So rickey’s stealing saved 15 outs, or something like 5 innigngs worth of production which is ~=2.3 runs.

    That is even a little less than 4 runs, but my technique here is obviously primitive, and slightly flawed for a reason that you can probably see, but it’s close enough for our purpose. (then again, if you use a breakeven rate of 66% or so it should hit bill james’s 4 runs on the head).

    now if rickey purposely avoided triples, that alone negates the positive contribution of his steals.

    What i think I am going to do is try to figure out the all time most productive stolen base seaons this weekend.

    Thanks guys!

    Comment by TheUnrepentantGunner — May 20, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

  17. People made up stuff about Rickey all the time. Heck one of his most famous stories involving John Olerud was 100% false.

    I have no doubt the turning triples into doubles line was just pure speculation and not based in fact.

    Comment by Lintyfresh — May 20, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  18. He also stole home twice and was caught 3 times attempting to do so in 1982, but I’m guessing the percentage of steal attempts when on third is negligible.

    Comment by Wez — May 20, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  19. Me too, my personal favorite player ever. He wasn’t the greatest or the smartest, or the best team mate or what ever, but I believe he was the most entertaining, by far.

    And when I was 7 or 8, I honored the man in the only way I could, I dressed up as him for Halloween. Says a lot about how kids see the world when a little blond hair, blue eyed kid dresses up as black man.

    Comment by Wally — May 20, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  20. Lots of attempts does tend to imply lots of failures, and it’s typically the best who make the most attempts at the MLB level.

    Remember that Cy Young lost 316 games, the most ever for any MLB pitcher.

    This did not make him a bad pitcher or a liability for his teams.

    Ricky got caught more times than anyone else in MLB history, this does not make him a bad baserunner.

    If we HAD an award for the best basestealer I’d bet on it being called the Ricky for the same reason that the award for best pitcher is named for the one with the most losses.

    Comment by Doug Lampert — May 20, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  21. You’d have to also figure sometimes he wanted to steal but the hitter’s at-bat only lasted a pitch or two and thus ended before he could pick his spot to run.

    Comment by BIP — May 20, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

  22. We forget Rickey was a borderline Top-10 Power guy as well. Dominant player.

    Comment by JayCee — May 20, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

  23. RIcky;s SB records are indeed awesome. But while they are indeed more impressive and less likely to be approached then DiMaggio’s 56 or even Cy Young’s 511 there is still another set of records that is even more awesome and even less likely to be approached.

    I am of course refering to Barry Bonds’ 120 Intentional Walks in 2004 and his 688 for his career. For a career Barry’s 120 in 2004 would rank 76th all time. The 395 difference between Bonds’ 688 Career Record and the next best of 293 by Hank Aaron doesn’t even have one player (let alone the 43 Ricky’s record has) that has matched it. When Barry was in the lineup the game was managed differently and no player will ever make this kind of impact on how the game is managed ever again.

    Comment by giantsrainman — May 20, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

  24. In my opinion, if managers were smarter the IBB mark would at least be in play. There are so many instances where a pitcher is completely overmatched, but machismo gets in the way.

    Comment by JayCee — May 20, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

  25. I chatted with him in Newark for a couple of minutes a few years back as he was on-deck. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. First-ballot HOFers are special.

    Comment by JayCee — May 20, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

  26. Dude was insane.. 76% of the time.. thats ALL times.. whether it be fully healthy, not, any bug/annoyance/whatever.. 76% of the time, he ran. Oh, and lets not forget he also has the record for most Leadoff Homeruns. Didnt play a bad OF either. What couldnt he do? Did he ever pitch?

    Oh, and btw.. jus for speculation.. Rickey (running) in his prime vs Pudge (gunning basestealers down) in his.. Who wins? (assuming normal deliver by a league average pitcher).

    Comment by Cidron — May 20, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  27. Rickey steals 130 bases. Rickey is caught stealing 42 times. Those aren’t actually equal and opposite, as we know from the relative values of 1 base vs. 1 out. But it’s deeper than that.

    The 42 CS = 14 innings’ worth of outs. But less than 100% of those outs probably belong to Rickey Henderson. How many of those CS were the result of a failed hit-and-run or bunt situation where the hitter failed to make contact?

    A hit-and-run and a bunt don’t involve the hitter getting the same jump as a straight steal, but a SB or CS will still be the official scoring when appropriate. Any outs belong largely to the batter rather than the baserunner because the play was reliant on overall execution, not just the speed of the runner.

    Perhaps there would be a more glaring split between CS in the stat line and True Caught *Stealing* if we looked at the guys who aren’t speed demons who often run for a low overall percentage (think Ryan Theriot in 2009). But we are without context when just looking at the percentages.

    The A’s #2 hitter in 1982 was Dwayne Murphy, who tallied 12 sacrifice hits that year compared to 8 GIDP and 8 sac flies. And that team, as whole, hit a pathetic .236 with a .676 OPS. The A’s overall swiped 232 for 319.

    A SB from a blown h+r/sacrifice attempt is actually quite valuable – it makes lemonade from rotten citrus. They get the man in scoring position, avoid the double play, *and* unless it was a third strike, the hitter also is freed up to be more discerning in his swing. You don’t want the situation, but you’ll take the result.

    So a SB on a blown play is a bonus for the runner and the team, situationally. Meanwhile, a CS on the same play is largely at the feet of the man in the batter’s box (debating the manager’s decision is another issue).

    Also – what level of consistency has historically been afforded the “Defensive Indifference” ruling by the official scorer? In most blowout situations, a non-throw by the catcher is not ruled a steal. So that would negate some of the argument about his “padding” if there was DI.

    Comment by Dann M — May 21, 2010 @ 12:46 am

  28. Depends on who is catching the ball and applying the tag.

    Comment by joser — May 21, 2010 @ 4:34 am

  29. FWIW, Rally has him #14 overall. You could probably argue him into the top ten, if you felt so inclined.

    Comment by Kevin S. — May 21, 2010 @ 5:40 am

  30. Rally credits Rickey with 14 Bsr in ’82.

    Comment by Kevin S. — May 21, 2010 @ 5:44 am

  31. Rickey’s record will never be touched. Think about…You would have to average at least 70 SB a year for 20 straight years. Not going to happen!

    Comment by Josh — May 21, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  32. Disclaimer: I agree with the general approbation given Rickey for his skills and results – 100%

    But…

    It seems to me that if you try to do something – anything – twice as often as the guy in 2nd and 10 times more than the league average, you will be the league leader and it will not be close.

    So doesn’t that mean that the lead he has in number of steals is somewhat analogous to Pete Rose’s longevity regarding being the guy with the most hits?

    Just a thought experiment but if Raines were to have run 76% of the time and Rickey 36% of the time, wouldn’t Raines have been the steals leader and by a lot too?

    Rickey had a lot more going for him than the steals but he wasn’t the best base stealer of all time, any more than Rose was the best hitter of all time. Just the one with the most steals :)

    Comment by mike — May 21, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  33. You are incorrect. Rickey Henderson was the best basestealer of all time. You can say Pete Rose was not the best hitter of all time, because he did only one thing: accumulate hits. Hitting however, unlike basestealing, has many facets, including contact ability, batting eye, and power. In order to be the “best hitter ever”, a ballplayer would have to do well in all those areas.

    In basestealing, you only need to be good at one thing: successfully stealing bases. Rickey did that and he did it marvelously. If you ever watched a game he participated in, whenever he got on base he absolutely pwned the pitcher’s psyche. They could throw over to try to keep him close, throw exclusively fastballs to the next batter, even pitch out… it didn’t matter, Rickey was going.

    I would speculate that Rickey’s caught stealings came from some combination of those very strategies the defense used to try to get him out once he got on base. But there’s the key right there: Rickey AFFECTED the game when he got on base. He made the pitcher nervous and changed his approach to the next hitter. He made the catcher nervous and the opposing manager as well. When Rickey was on base, he was a force that couldn’t be ignored. He was the Gingerbreadman, yelling “catch me if you can!” And most often, they did not.

    And, if you’re going to claim that Rickey Henderson was NOT the greatest basestealer of all time, then you can’t make a completely negative case. Who, in your opinion, would you say deserves that title more than Rickey? We’re all waiting to know.

    Comment by JoeC — May 21, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

  34. Dumbbbbb. You are getting lost in your stats. It’s okay… it can happen to anyone. Hell, it happened to the entire Oakland A’s organization, with their insane philosophy to never sacrifice bunt, costing them a few league series against the Yankees and subsequent World Series trips.

    I see this all the time: young statheads who think they know baseball better than those incorrigible old-timers, who insist on moving runners over with the sacrifice bunt or, gasp, taking the chance of getting thrown out and stealing a base. I’m sorry, but you in your office chair with your Excel spreadsheet on your computer screen do not know how to win baseball games better than Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver. I know this because they’ve done it and you haven’t.

    Put up all the statistics you want in the world, nothing changes the fact that Rickey Henderson was about the only man capable of scoring runs for those crappy early-80′s Oakland teams. And he did it by getting on base and stealing his way to second and third, turning the few hits his teammates had into runs because he was in scoring position because of his steals instead of lolly-gagging, Jack Cust-style, on first base.

    Comment by JoeC — May 21, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  35. You bring up a good point about the value of Rickey’s steals. We like to average things out based on the league wide scoring environment and say you need 66-70% success rate to be a valuable base stealer. However, Rickey wasn’t playing in the league average environment. He was playing with a pretty terrible A’s offense that season. The team had just 2 other hitters post an OPS+>100. The team as whole had just a 90 OPS+, including Rickey’s 122. And those are the park adjusted numbers. The park itself had a 94 park rating for hitting.

    Over all that year the A’s scored about 4.26 runs/game, while the league average in 2009 was 4.82, more than an extra half a run. But that 4.26 includes Rickey’s steals. Someone with more time could probably figure out just what kind of run environment Rickey was facing playing on that anemic offensive club in a pitchers park to find the true break even point for Rickey specifically. I would be its quite a bit lower than the usual numbers we through around.

    Comment by Wally — May 21, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  36. Somewhere, somebody’s got the respective times for Rickey 1st to 2nd, the average pitcher getting the ball to the catcher, I-rod’s average throw’s time to 2nd, and the average time it takes to apply a tag, right? Maybe no one here, but it would be cool to know.

    Comment by Wally — May 21, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  37. Tim Raines certainly has a very strong case that he’s the best base thief of all time, considering how rarely he got thrown out. I’m pretty sure Ricky and Rock are the top two guys.

    Comment by Gingerbread Jameson — May 21, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

  38. While Pudge was great at throwing out runners in his prime, does he beat Yadier Molina? That guy is ridiculous. Not just strong arm but deadly accurate. Not many things more exciting in baseball to have someone like Molina behind the plate and Jose Reyes/Carl Crawford on first knowing they are going to run.

    Comment by Corey — May 21, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  39. I would argue the person who had the highest % and with a very high number is the “best” as in most efficient base stealer of all time. Like I said I don’t have any problem with where he is ranked – he earned it all.

    My point was more a “what if?” that supposed he and raines swapped aggression – what happens then. I’d say raines % goes down, rickey’s goes up and Raines ends up with many more SBs than Rickey.

    Most steals – no contest!
    Best stealer – if you are still meaning most steals see above but if you mean most reliable who stole a lot, I’d argue Raines

    Comment by mike — May 21, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  40. The marginal difference between Raines and Henderson is nearly 600 steals at a 76% success rate. I love the Rock’s efficiency, but with that much volume, you don’t have to be much above the break-even point to gain a lot of surplus value.

    Comment by Kevin S. — May 21, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

  41. Not sure how you can just toss aside Rickey’s longevity versus Raines. I also don’t get how you can say “let’s auto-magically make Raines attempt to steal as much as Rickey did” and then say “See, Raines would’ve been better!

    Well yeah, sure, but isn’t part of basestealing “knowing when to go” and also having the courage to go? Rickey had that in spades. You can’t just give that to some other player and assume that they would have the success rate that they had for all their other stolen base attempts. At the end of the day, you have to STEAL THE ACTUAL BASES!

    Rickey did it and Raines did it too, but Rickey did it better, because he was the best that ever was.

    Comment by JoeC — May 21, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

  42. I won’t assume that Rickey deliberately avoided hitting triples, but it is surprising how relatively few of them he hit. He never hit more than seven in a season, a career high that’s actually the third lowest among the 27 members of the 3,000-hit club (Eddie Murray’s career high was three, Rafael Palmeiro’s six; Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs are tied with Rickey with career highs of seven). Rickey’s 66 career triples put him in 431st place all-time–a very underwhelming ranking for the greatest speedster we’ll likely ever see, especially given how long he played and how many hits he collected.

    His ratio of triples to doubles is also surprisingly low. For his career, Rickey hit about eight doubles for every triple, which appears (at a quick glance) to be one of the more modest ratios among both the all-time hit leaders and the all-time stolen-base leaders. (The most prolific base-stealers among Rickey’s contemporaries, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman, had 2B/3B ratios of about 4/1 and 2/1 respectively, and most of the greatest base-stealers from other eras seem to have similar ratios.)

    I’m not sure how meaningful a stat that really is, and I certainly wouldn’t take it as proof that Rickey didn’t try to stretch doubles into triples, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Anyway, I share the general sentiment that Rickey was awesome. We’ll probably never see another one like him.

    Comment by DavidJ — May 22, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  43. Coleman might have had a chance at Rickey’s 130 steals if he was a better baseball player otherwise.

    Comment by Alireza — June 2, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  44. There was an article a while ago on how Rickey would GIDP more than one would expect. When one realizes that he hit from the right side (despite being left-handed, an oddity in itself), took a huge cut and hit the ball very hard, it isn’t as hard to believe. That also applies to triples becoming doubles. It is likely that outfielders got to balls more quickly and that Rickey just didn’t have as many chances to get to 3B.

    Comment by Alireza — June 2, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

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