Diamondbacks Acquire Tony Campana’s Base Stealing

The Arizona Diamondbacks outfield roulette continued today, as they announced they’d shipped a pair of low level minor leaguers to Chicago in exchange for Tony Campana. Yes, the Diamondbacks just traded for another outfielder, despite the fact that their OF is already one of the most crowded in baseball. With Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra in the fold, it doesn’t seem entirely clear why Kevin Towers felt that the organization needed another speed-and-defense center fielder.

What is clear, though, is that Campana can help a big league team even though he can’t hit. In fact, Campana might be one of the most interesting bench players in baseball.

Campana has been in a position to steal a base — on first with second open, on second with third base open — 152 times in his Major League career, often because he’s been inserted as a pinch-runner for someone more capable of getting on base than himself. Campana has taken off in 59 of those 152 opportunities (39%), and has been successful on 54 of those attempts (92%). That’s an extraordinarily high stolen base success rate, especially given the frequency with which Campana runs.

Let’s put this into context. In the Major Leagues last year, there were 66,083 stolen base opportunities, and baserunners attempted a steal in 4,365 of those opportunities, or a SB per SB attempt rate of 6.7%. Of course, that includes a lot of sloths who never run, so we don’t necessarily care about the league average, but more what the average is among guys who do run.

So, let’s just look at players who stole at least 10 bases last year, and then look at their stolen base attempts and successes in relation to their opportunities. There were nine players who ran in at least 30% of their opportunities last year.

Player SBO SB CS SB% SBA/Opp SB/Opp
Rajai Davis 118 46 13 78% 50% 39%
Tony Campana 79 30 3 91% 42% 38%
Dee Gordon 110 32 10 76% 38% 29%
Anthony Gose 52 15 3 83% 35% 29%
Darin Mastroianni 71 21 3 88% 34% 30%
Emilio Bonifacio 101 30 3 91% 33% 30%
Carlos Gomez 134 37 6 86% 32% 28%
Jordan Schafer 119 27 9 75% 30% 23%
Everth Cabrera 160 44 4 92% 30% 28%

In terms of frequency of stolen base attempts, only Rajai Davis ran more than Campana last year. In terms of successful stolen bases per opportunity, Davis narrowly edges Campana out for the top spot, but only does so because of the extra usage rate. While Davis stole 16 more bases in 39 more opportunities, he also was thrown out ten more times. Additional steals at a 61% success rate have negative value, so it’s fair to say that Campana was probably the best high volume base stealer in baseball last year.

That’s why Campana finished in a tie for sixth in the Majors in 2012 by wSB, which measures the runs added by a player through base stealing, even though all of the players surrounding him on that leaderboard were essentially full-time players.

If you extend the leaderboard back to 2011, you’ll actually see that Campana rates #2 in Major League Baseball in runs added through base stealing, behind only Coco Crisp, a player with 750 more plate appearances. Campana has created more runs through base stealing the last two years than Michael Bourn, despite the fact that Bourn has almost 1,100 more plate appearances and is one of the game’s best baserunners.

Put simply, Tony Campana is probably the very best base stealing weapon in Major League Baseball right now. He runs even when everyone knows he’s running, and he’s been ridiculously successful even without the element of surprise. He can’t hit, and Cubs fans aren’t as kind in their defensive evaluations as the very-small-sample-metrics have been, but there should be little question that Campana can create a significant amount of value as a pinch runner, and potentially as a defensive replacement as well — there aren’t too many examples of big leaguers this fast that weren’t above average defensive OFs, after all.

With Jason Kubel around, the Diamondbacks have a starting outfielder who needs a defensive caddy and could certainly be pinch run for in late game situations. Parra was presumed to be the guy filling that role, but he may also be Arizona’s best left-handed bat off the bench and could be pressed into fairly regular starting duty if Cody Ross continues to struggle against right-handed pitching, as he has for most of his career. Having Campana on the roster gives Kirk Gibson the ability to start Parra without losing the ability to pinch run for Kubel any time he gets on base in a high leverage situation, and Campana has the ability to get himself into scoring position with regularity.

Jack Moore noted last year that the offensive decline in baseball has made the stolen base more valuable than it used to be, and while a guy like Campana might have seemed like a wasted roster spot 10 years ago, a player with his unique skills can be a significantly larger weapon in this day and age. Even if he doesn’t hit, and even if he isn’t a great defensive outfielder — the jury is still out in that regard — he’s probably still capable of producing close to +1 WAR as a pinch-runner extraordinaire.

We don’t often talk about the value of bench wins, but they’re real, and they can add up. If Campana ends up replacing Eric Hinske on the roster, this could end up being a significant improvement for the D’Backs, especially if he’s deployed in a role that maximizes his baserunning skills without asking him to hit too often.

The days of simply evaluating a player based on his ability to hit are over. Or, at least, they should be. There are ways to produce value in the big leagues without being a good hitter. Tony Campana is probably one of the best people alive at producing that non-hitting value. Instead of focusing on what he can’t do, let’s acknowledge what he can, and note that Campana likely makes the Diamondbacks a better baseball team than they were without him.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

64 Responses to “Diamondbacks Acquire Tony Campana’s Base Stealing”

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  1. Matt Hunter says:

    “Tony Campana is probably one of the best people alive at producing that non-hitting value.”
    So so very true. In fact, he’s the only guy in the modern era to have a season with a K% > 20%, ISO 0 (min 150 PAs): http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/2/18/4002112/tony-campana-cubs-diamondbacks-grit

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    • Matt Hunter says:

      Well I screwed that up. Supposed to be K% > 20%, ISO 0.

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    • Anthony Todd says:

      Dave Cameron, I’m sure you know, but you never have anything nice to say about KT. You should put in your résumé for the next opening for a GM job. I’m sure you could do it. “He can’t hit????” Campana hit .262 points higher than you ever could. Check yourself loser. You’re a nobody that hides behind s computer.

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      • Dennis says:

        what a moronic comment…obviously you are a tool but seriously only former major league players can do analysis?? are you really that dense? if Dave is a nobody what does that make you? if you dont like it dont read it

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      • DbacksSkins says:

        Clearly you don’t read much. Dave Cameron has probably been one of the SABR authors least critical of Kevin Towers this offseason. Try not being a homer and not posting stupid comments.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yeah Dave

        Campana had a higher batting average than you, so you can’t say anything about him.

        Dp the folks that say stuff like this complain about anything? The President? Congress? God? Their boss?

        I mean I haven’t run a country, make laws, ruled a universe, etc but I can still point out a few negatives along with the positive here and there, right?

        At a Cubs game last year I saw the best/worst of Camapana. Fast as heck, no doubt. Saw a triple. Then on a soft liner, he initially broke back on the ball, charged hard on it and then dove to try and catch it and it got by him. Played an out into a triple for the opposition.

        But his base stealing numbers are outstanding.

        The data tables remind me of some of the data/formulas we use to make [1] baserunning aggressiveness and [2] baserunning ability ratings for custom/historical rosters on MLB: The Show.

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  2. AJT says:

    But is he gritty?

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    • chuckb says:

      We know that he wouldn’t be on the roster if he wasn’t.

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    • Hicks says:

      Is he gritty? This article has convinced me that he’s going to make a 10-year career of just sliding into bases. His uniform will be so covered in grit that Kirk Gibson may soil himself (and THAT would be gritty!).
      I only wish the Braves had come up with this data. They could’ve traded Jordan Schafer and a bag of good old-fashioned grits straight-up for Justin Upton.

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    • ezb230 says:

      He’s tiny, white, swings at everything, and runs like hell. Is there another definition of “gritty” that I don’t know about? Maybe this is the definition for a “grinder”, while grittiness involves more running into walls and not being afraid to get a big hit? I get those two confused sometimes.

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  3. Tristan says:

    This actually gave me some faith in the move. Second coming of Juan Pierre anyone?

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    • Northsider says:

      I chuckle when I hear people compare Campana to Juan Pierre. As a Cubs fan, I’ve heard it before. Campana has the speed to be the same type of player as JP, but he has one major flaw: He cannot find a way to get on base. JP’s bunting, slap infield hitting skills, and ability to take a walk always made him a threat to get on base. Campana has the speed but is drastically missing the hitting skills and patience at the plate to make it happen.

      Campana would need to seriously improve at the plate before ever getting a chance as a full time MLB hitter. Currently, he is a one-tool player. Campana will probably be the all-time pinch runner or a 4th OF at best.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      Yeah, JP’s contact tool is actually rather elite. His approach just didn’t evolve as he aged and lost some power/speed. He was never willing to trade groundouts for walks.

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  4. Old School says:

    I’d take Mike Trout.

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  5. Matty Brown says:

    I’m excited to see my Jays running rampant on the diamond with Davis, Gose, Bonifacio, Reyes, and crazy Lawrie.

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    • Oh, Beepy says:

      Here is a question from a Jays fan to an apparent Jays fan;

      Why did you ask this question on an article about Tony Campana, the DBacks and the Chicago Cubs? Because they mentioned a Toronto player without even referencing his team? Why on Earth did you make this comment? To whom was this comment directed? My head hurts.

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  6. Tim says:

    I don’t see how it’s possible that he’d get anywhere near 1 WAR as a neutral fielder, when each of the last two years he’s been worth about four runs on the bases, a number that’s been boosted by a reasonable number of plate appearances. His batting runs have more than made up for his baserunning runs in those years. If you give him no PAs he has fewer baserunning opportunities and therefore will be worth fewer runs there.

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    • Tim says:

      Also, while “base stealing is getting more important” is a theoretically true statement, the difference in base-stealing value between the best and worst team in 2012 was 36 stolen bases – about four runs, via linear weights. It remains essentially meaningless in the context of strategy for winning baseball games.

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  7. AIS says:

    I feel like this article clearly dictates that Rajai Davis is the best base runner in baseball right now, at the Major League Level.

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    • JeffMathisCera says:

      Except it didn’t show all of the elite SB guys.

      Mike Trout was 49/54, and while not as aggressive was more valuable on the bases.

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      • AIS says:

        Fair point. I guess I should rephrase my comment to “the best of the base stealers mentioned in this article”, since this article was really only about “high volume” base stealers.

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  8. Steve says:

    Once again, Kevin Towers demonstrates his inability to adequately manage a professional baseball team. Campana is nothing more then a chuckle and a pass; meanwhile, bye bye 2 17 year olds…

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    • Richard J says:

      All I think that this move shows is that Towers is expecting to be very competitive this season. Small moves, rounding out your bench to cover a lot of situations, this makes a huge difference in the long run…especially in the NL. I think that a lot of AZ fans are disillusioned by the quality of this minor move considering how bad some of the rest look!

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  9. Antonio bananas says:

    Knowing all the moves the d’bags have made this offseason, are you sure Towers likes him for his elite SB ability and not his scrawney scrappy white guy grit?

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    • scrappy doo says:

      Ha, “D’bags”. Priceless! That’s like so…perfect. Because their team is ineptly assembled. I mean, the GM is totally supposed to tell us truthfully and precisely the metrics he uses to evaluate players just like we expect a Wall Street or Silicon Valley CEO to expound on the black box of what they do. I mean, you can totally access proprietary secrets from any of these firms on Yahoo Finance! Get on this Tim Cook! Duh!

      Plus it’s, like a forgone conclusion guys with big platoon splits or ones who only do one thing well are totally overvalued and therefore worthless. I mean, Christ, after this offseason there’s no way they’re winning anything more than 75 employing this strategy. That’s a recipe for disaster trying to fit a team to a ballpark and exploit platoons! Craaaay-zeee.

      Holy shit did I mention how clever changing “backs” to “bags” was? Terrific. And not at all misogynistic either. Clearly you’re a writer… I mean, you’d just have to be to come up with a gem like that. Well done, sir.

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      • 4233 says:

        Mr. Towers: Get away from your keyboard before we bitch slap you with all of ours……

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      • thirteenthirteen says:

        There’s nothing misogynistic about calling someone a douchebag.

        P.S. I am a woman.

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      • Oh, Beepy says:

        This is the perfect amount of tongue being held against cheek.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        This is the first paragraph from Fangraphs Q&A with Kevin Towers:

        Kevin Towers is smarter than the so-called experts. That isn’t meant sarcastically. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM knows what he’s doing, and has both the background and track record to prove it. Skeptics panning his recent moves don’t have his 16 years of experience as a big-league general manager, nor have they been a minor-league pitching coach or scouting director.

        As for the “D-Bags” comment, the only surprise is that there was a poster/commenter on this thread that hasn’t already heard it 100+ times.

        Every GM article should just say “GM’s are dumb and teams win by luck.” I/We get it. <—- Sarcasm.

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      • Jason says:

        Are you feeding the troll purposely or unintentionally?

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  10. jpg says:

    Two statements that I’m shocked were written by Dave Cameron:

    “…he’s probably still capable of producing close to +1 WAR as a pinch-runner extraordinaire.”

    There is no way I’m buying this. He got 192 plate appearances and 11 pinch running appearances in 89 games last year and accumulated 0.6 WAR. That’s enough playing time to consider him a legit part time player not just some base stealing weapon. I can’t see him getting to within even 50 PAs of his 2012 total as the 5th outfielder and last man on the bench in Arizona. Even if you double his pinch running appearances, I just don’t see how he gets on the field enough with Parra and Eaton both on the roster to accumulate a full win. I mean, again, he only got to the 0.6 WAR mark last year in a more prominent role.

    “there aren’t too many examples of big leaguers this fast that weren’t above average defensive OFs, after all.”

    Roger Cedeno could run like a dear and was one of the defenders I’ve ever seen. Otis Nixon had a five year period where he stole almost 250 bases. In that same five year period he accumulated -47 UZR. Rajai Davis is a poor defender. Johnny Damon was always a poor defender. Vince Coleman was a poor defender. Shannon Stewart was a poor defender…. There examples aplenty.

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    • AIS says:

      The guy at the top of his list, Rajai Davis, is also considered by most eyes (and the fangraphs metrics) as a below average defensive OF.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Roger Cedeno could run like a dear and was one of the defenders I’ve ever seen

      Entertaining typo.

      Wanna know one of the outfielders I’ve seen? I’ve seen a lot.

      Lonnie “Skates” Smith was a defender I’ve seen. *grin*

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  11. Paul says:

    Cubs fan here. Campana is a liability on defense; doesn’t use his speed well or glove particularly well, and has the rag arm you’d expect. For fans who actually watched the games, the jury is not still out on his defense, and all I can tell you is that defensive metrics still aren’t really worth much or authoritative. His hitting, you don’t need me to tell you about. Slap hitter, can’t get on base, doesn’t walk.

    His base stealing and baserunning are amazing.

    But it just isn’t enough to make him very useful, IMO. He’s a player who on an NL team is really only useful after rosters expand. While he’s taking the spot of a real hitter and/or fielder, or pitcher, he’s a liability.

    This trade is unlikely to matter at all for either team, but just based on potential and potential value, it’s a robbery. We know what Campana is and isn’t. He’s reached his ceiling and it wasn’t very high – arguably not high enough to be in the big leagues. The Cubs were dropping him for nothing, now they get two 17 old lottery tickets with live arms (who can strike people out and apparently have good control). Good trade.

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  12. I think Tony’s skillset is vastly underrated. Too many one run games in baseball where he can make a big difference.

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    • Dbacks21774 says:

      I agree. In 2011 Arizona had one of the highest come-from-behind percentages. However in 2012 they couldn’t win late to save their lives. Towers and Gibson are looking to find the magic again this season. I’m not certain but I believe they won 46 comeback victories in 2011.

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  13. J says:

    Ask the Yankees if Dave Roberts could affect a game on the base paths.

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  14. Darren Ford says:

    When do I get invited back to this Major League party??

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  15. thirteenthirteen says:

    I like Tony Campana, primarily because he’s about my height. (I am 1 Altuve.)

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  16. Levski says:

    Jeff Duncan will listen if Kevin Towers called.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/duncaje01.shtml

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  17. Forrest Gumption says:

    Regardless of how good he might be even in a perceived way, that trade was beyond awful for AZ. 17 year olds are ceiling-less, they could be anything, they could be everything, they could be nothing. My point is they are a lot more valuable than 25 year olds at AA, which is what Tony Campana should have been acquired for.

    Its like all of MLB are trying to give the Cubs a good team. Theo has been butchering teams in trades this offseason.

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  18. Dan says:

    Carrying Tony Campana would make sense if you also carried only 10 pitchers, maybe 11. Using the roster spot for an effective platoon or a potent bench bat would probably help far more than Campana ever can by stealing that extra base that you may or may not need.

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  19. Oakland A's says:

    We did it with Herb Washington (in the 70′s… for a year…), I don’t see why it wouldn’t work!

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    • Dan says:

      The 1974 A’s did not carry 12 or 13 pitchers. Also, Herb Washington stole bases at a 64.4% clip that season, so I’m doubting it made much of a difference, as fun as the idea was.

      Tony Campana is a complete and total waste of regular season roster space.

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  20. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I see this as a short term experiment, when that team starts to lose the once a game base stealing thrill gets old.

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  21. SR says:

    Very thoughtful analysis, thank you Mr. Cameron.

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  22. Hunter says:

    Cubs fans might remember a fella by the name of Ced Landrum. Same type of player – didn’t really have a position and couldn’t hit, but put him on the base-paths and he could burn. The Cubbies won several games in 1991 by using him as a pinch-runner late in games.

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