Breaking Down the Season’s Most Unlikely Double Steal

Some years ago, when they were up-and-coming instead of bad, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez were both Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are well known for their advertising campaigns, and in one they pitched Betancourt and Lopez as the “double play twins,” middle infielders who did everything together, both on and off the field. Betancourt and Lopez, at the time, had a lot in common. Today, they continue to have a lot in common, which is too bad. But they were teammates, and they were sold as a pair.

A much better pair of teammates today includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The two are commonly discussed as a duo, as they make up perhaps baseball’s most intimidating lineup core. Cabrera and Fielder are supposed to do some things together, like crush baseballs. In the third inning on Saturday, for example, they slugged back-to-back dingers. What they’re not supposed to do together is steal. Cabrera and Fielder, combined, have fewer career steals than John Kruk. But, Sunday afternoon, the two pulled off a most unlikely double steal, and this demands to be investigated.

Background

Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Cabrera is an all-world slugger, who wasn’t thought to be nimble enough to go back to playing third base. Fielder is a big boy, and while he can move, the way people say it is that he can move for a big boy. Cabrera stole nine bases in 2006, but he was caught stealing six times, and since then he’s never swiped more than six. Fielder stole seven bases in 2006, but since then he’s never swiped more than three. He stole one base in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

According to last year’s Fan Scouting Report, 190 players received at least 20 votes. Cabrera got a speed rating of 27, ranking 175th. Fielder got a speed rating of 25, ranking 178th. Cabrera got a first-step rating of 30, ranking 167th. Fielder got a first-step rating of 20, ranking 185th. Cabrera was seen as comparable to Mike Napoli, while Fielder was seen as comparable to Josh Willingham. These are slow baseball players, for baseball players.

In spring training 2010, Cabrera and Brandon Inge pulled off a successful double steal. In Double-A in 2004, Fielder and Jason Belcher pulled off a different sort of double steal. One was in spring training. One was nine years ago.

Setting

On Sunday, the Indians led the Tigers 5-1 in the top of the sixth. Corey Kluber was pitching, and Cabrera singled to lead off. Fielder followed with a five-pitch walk. Then Victor Martinez struck out swinging, and Jhonny Peralta wound up in a full count. Prior to the full-count pitch, Carlos Santana went out to the mound to have a little talk with Kluber. The two previous times Peralta had faced Kluber, Kluber had struck him out swinging. Standing on deck was Andy Dirks.

The Play

Cabrera was full of energy as he led off second. He bounced around, and he might have given a signal for the double steal. Alternatively, he might have just waved for no reason, or for no good reason. You can be the judge, because I won’t stop you. You don’t even have to consult with all the other judges.

cabreradssign

As the pitch was delivered, the runners broke. Peralta swung, but he missed. Santana, though, also missed, and no throw was attempted. The runners reached their bases safely, having stolen.

CabreraFielderDS.gif.opt

CabreraFielderDS2.gif.opt

Reactions

Santana, naturally, was less than pleased with himself, as he realized what had just happened.

santanads

Fielder was more pleased.

fielderds

Cabrera was the most pleased.

cabrerads

Discussion/Analysis

The circumstances must be noted, this having occurred on a 3-and-2 pitch. Had the pitch been a ball, Cabrera and Fielder would’ve just advanced normally. Peralta would’ve been prepared to swing at a strike, and indeed he did swing at a strike, and odds are that, when Peralta swings, he’s going to make contact. This wasn’t intended as a classic double steal, because Peralta wasn’t going to just stand there, inactive. The best-case scenario would’ve been a ball in play, to a vacated hole. Or I guess the best-case scenario would’ve been a home run?

One also must note this just happened because Santana dropped the baseball. If you read that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder pulled off a successful double steal, you assume someone on the defensive side must’ve screwed up. It’s unlikely that Cabrera and Fielder would out-run a well-executed play. It’s pretty apparent that, had Santana caught and transferred the ball cleanly, he would’ve had a great shot to throw Cabrera out by several feet:

doublestealbases

So this was a disaster for Detroit, right up until it wasn’t. This is an example of the value of making them make a play. This is why you can’t just evaluate a sacrifice bunt all simple-like using a run-expectancy table — sometimes, the defense makes a mistake. What we can’t know is the significance of the surprise of Cabrera and Fielder taking off. Santana wouldn’t have seen that coming, so he might’ve been more likely to botch the catch and throw. Indeed, the play was botched, but we don’t know how often that would’ve happened out of a million attempts. In my experience, it’s rare that a catcher just flat-out misses the baseball when he’s trying to throw to a base. Far more often, the catcher will make a wild throw, and Santana would’ve had some chance of doing that later on, but most stolen bases involve some element of surprise, and catchers usually do most things right. This was a double steal that almost certainly should’ve meant the end of the inning for the Tigers.

In that the Tigers began this sequence of events, they deserve some credit. In that it only worked out because of an uncommon mistake, they were fortunate. There was a pretty good chance of a swing and miss. In the event of a swing and miss, there was a pretty good chance of Cabrera getting nailed. Behind by four runs in the sixth, the Tigers weren’t in position to be aggressive on the bases, as outs were at a premium.

Conclusion

Sunday afternoon, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder pulled off a double steal in a game against the Indians. What you’d like to believe is that they pulled off a straight double steal. But, in reality, the batter swung, and the catcher didn’t even catch the baseball, so there wasn’t a throw to a base for one of the runners to beat. This didn’t happen because Cabrera or Fielder did something right; this happened because Santana did something wrong. Remember, in most circumstances, it isn’t all on an individual to succeed. Sometimes all a player needs to succeed is another player’s failure.



Print This Post



Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bad Bill
Guest
Bad Bill
3 years 2 months ago

I thought surely the “most unlikely” double steal was going to be the one that gave St. Louis what proved to be the margin of victory on Sunday. I mean, they don’t get much more unlikely than having the guy stealing second (Matt Holliday) apparently going to be out by about twenty feet, while the guy stealing home (Carlos Beltran) doesn’t start out stealing at all, but goes on a VERY delayed double steal. And both wound up making it safely. You normally don’t see that work at levels above, say, high school. Then again, the defending team was the Marlins …

Los
Guest
Los
3 years 2 months ago

The Pirates did the same thing with Garret Jones stealing second and then Cutch stealing home.

Ben
Guest
Ben
3 years 2 months ago

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that McCutchen being in that scenario alone makes it infinitely more likely than my Cardinals’ steal…

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
3 years 2 months ago

And when Carlos Santana is your catcher, the probability of failure is surprisingly high. As an Indians fan, while I love Santana’s offensive approach, he is always been a bad defensive catcher who seems to be getting worse (UZR and pitch framing numbers agree). It is hard to imagine him still being a catcher in another season unless something dramatically improves.

Nate
Guest
Nate
3 years 2 months ago

I’d like to give Santana the benefit of the doubt on this one. I imagine he would have had the ball safely in his glove but for the sudden realization: “WTF?!!!” Fielder and Cabs are going?!

I nearly dropped my drink as it happened. And Kuber didn’t throw that to me.

redcyclone
Guest
redcyclone
3 years 2 months ago

Yan Gomes seems geared to be his replacement at the position. Santana clearly a 1B/DH of the future.

jorgesca
Member
jorgesca
3 years 2 months ago

Is it really that rare that the batter swung? I mean I have no data, but just from watching games it seems most of the times the batter swings at the pitch to protect the runner.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 2 months ago

it was a 3-2 count, if it was a ball they would have just advanced on the walk, no reason to swing at a ball just to protect the runners

Jason
Guest
Jason
3 years 2 months ago

Is the probability that the defense will make a mistake not taken into account in run expectancy tables? If so I agree with the author’s conclusion that we can’t make decisions by looking at the tables without considering the potential for a defensive mistake. Also, someone who knows math should update the run expectancy tables to include the potential for a defensive mistake.

Spencer
Guest
Spencer
3 years 2 months ago

I’m pretty sure the chance of an error was included in RE tables, not 100% sure, but it’s definitely something you have to consider when making a move, even if the table said that the odds weren’t in the favor of the tigers duo on that steal I’d like to think the sheer unpredictability of it would give them an extra half a second which is a lot in the world of base stealing.

Joser
Member
Joser
3 years 2 months ago

The RE tables are based on actual outcomes of thousands of games, and as such include all sorts of unlikely events such as errors. But that also means they’re a kind of average over a lot of players and teams over a lot of time, so they only give you a baseline. They don’t give you accurate odds of what this particular player might achieve against that particular team. The RE outcome for bunts doesn’t change when you have a bad or good bunter at the plate, or a bad or good runner on first, though clearly the odds of a successful outcome does. In this case, the RE tables aren’t adjusted for slow runners or bad defensive catchers.

So while what Sullivan wrote was kind of misleading, he had a good point that just got a little muddled.

Billy
Guest
Billy
3 years 2 months ago

HOLY $&@%!!!

brendan
Guest
brendan
3 years 2 months ago

is the catcher only charged w/ a passed ball if the ball gets behind him? It seems to me that a ‘non-catch’ that allows the runners to advance might fall in the same category.

Misfit
Guest
Misfit
3 years 2 months ago

The rulebook might allow the official scorer to give Santana a passed ball there, but in general, if a runner breaks for a base before the pitch is delivered and makes it there safely he’s going to get credit for a stolen base every time. The only exception seems to be defensive/fielder indifference. If Cabrera and Fielder had taken off after Santana botched the catch then he probably would have been given a passed ball. Similarly, if his failure to catch the ball had allowed Cabrera to score he would have been given the same but Cabrera and Fielder would still be credited with a stolen base each.

AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC
3 years 2 months ago

This the same Cleveland team (well, it is and it isn’t) that allowed a stolen base to Jose Molina last July, as the lone man on base and with a throw from the catcher (L Marson that day). Maybe they just get entranced watching hefty fellas run.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 2 months ago

It ain’t Santana’s fault.

The awesomeness of Kluber’s pitch, when combined with the resonance of a double steal by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, creates a cascading effect of improbable and mind blowing to wash over the entire baseball field. Santana is lucky that it was not a double steal of home or the energy concentrated around Miggy from all of that may have caused his body severe damage when he slid into home.

Fortunately, Fielder and Cabrera released their energies with a smile after the play, so the fans were never in trouble.

Joanie
Guest
Joanie
3 years 2 months ago

Bottom line: They did it!

wpDiscuz