Gerardo Parra: Stop Trying To Steal

Gerardo Parra is probably one of the most underrated players in baseball. He’s been on the Diamondbacks roster since 2009, but they never saw fit to give him a regular job, keeping him as a part-time reserve and injury fill-in, despite the fact that his production suggested he was good enough for a starting role. Finally, this year, a series of injuries to Adam Eaton, Cody Ross, and Jason Kubel have forced Kirk Gibson to put Parra in the line-up everyday, and he’s responded with his best performance to date. Through 335 plate appearances, he has a 133 wRC+ and UZR continues to rate him as an elite defensive outfielder, so he’s already at +3.1 WAR with half a season left to play.

However, in the midst of Parra’s excellent overall performance, there’s one glaring problem; he’s threatening to post one of the worst base stealing seasons in recent history.

Parra has attempted 15 stolen bases this year, but he’s only been successful on six of those 15 attempts, a dreadful 40% stolen base rate. The Major League average this season is 73%. Despite the fact that Parra ranks 19th in the majors in stolen base attempts, he’s #1 in getting caught stealing, and is the only player running on a regular basis who isn’t succeeding at a high rate. For reference, here are the 20 players who have attempted at least 15 stolen bases this year, along with their success rate:

Rk Player SB SB Attempts SB%
1 Everth Cabrera 31 38 82%
2 Jacoby Ellsbury 32 35 91%
3 Starling Marte 22 30 73%
4 Nate McLouth 24 28 86%
5 Jean Segura 23 25 92%
6 Ben Revere 20 24 83%
7 Juan Pierre 18 23 78%
8 Jason Kipnis 17 22 77%
9 Mike Trout 18 21 86%
10 Jose Altuve 17 21 81%
11 Alexei Ramirez 16 19 84%
12 Andrew McCutchen 15 19 79%
13 Alex Rios 13 18 72%
14 Elvis Andrus 16 18 89%
15 Carlos Gomez 15 18 83%
16 Michael Bourn 11 16 69%
17 Brett Gardner 11 16 69%
18 Coco Crisp 13 16 81%
19 Gerardo Parra 6 15 40%
20 Rajai Davis 14 15 93%

As a group, the other 19 highly aggressive base stealers are succeeding at an 82% clip, and only three of the other 19 — Rios, Gardner, and Bourn — have a success rate below the league average. Generally, guys who run a lot are good at it, which is why they run a lot in the first place.

Parra, though, has been a disaster stealing bases this year, and by wSB — which is the runs a player has added or lost through base stealing — he’s already cost the Diamondbacks 2.6 runs through his base stealing efforts. At -2.6 wSB in half a season, Parra is on pace to easily dethrone Luis Castillo‘s -4.1 mark from 2003 — he was 21 for 40 in base stealing that year — as the worst wSB season of the last 12 years, which is as far back as our play by play data goes.

Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, we can spotlight other terrible baserunning seasons before 2002, however. If we go back to 1990, which was when the crazy baserunning of the 1980s started to fade away, we can look at the success rate of every player in a season where they attempted at least 15 steals. Using that query, we find seven players that have stolen at a lower success rate than Parra’s 40% clip in a season where they tried fairly regularly, with Jay Payton‘s 31% success rate in 16 attempts back in 2000 ranking as the most futile SB% season since the beginning of the 1990s.

For sheer recklessness during this period though, the actual leader might be Greg Gagne back in 1994; he was just 10 for 27 in base stealing. No other player during that time has attempted 20+ steals while succeeding at a rate below 40%. In terms of all time base running futility, 1987 Will Clark is tough to beat, as he went just 5 for 22, a hilariously putrid 23% success rate that stands as the lowest mark of any player in the last 100 years for a player who attempted at least 20 steals.

Parra’s not going to be quite that awful, but we’re only halfway through the season and he’s already tried to swipe 15 bases despite the fact that he’s terrible at it. Even before this season, Parra had a career 68% success rate, and his terrible performance this year has lowered that down to 62%. Put simply, a player who gets thrown out 38% of the time they try to steal should just stop trying. Outs are too valuable to simply be given away, and the occasional successful advancement doesn’t outweigh the cost of giving outs away.

Gerardo Parra is an excellent player, and one of the main reasons the Diamondbacks are in first place this season. But, really, there’s no reason he should still be allowed to try and steal second base with any kind of regularity. It’s time for Gibson to give Parra a firm red light before he runs himself into the kinds of history books you don’t want to be associated with.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Kevin Towers
Guest
Kevin Towers
3 years 2 months ago

I make him steal because I want to see grit. I want to see his will to win. My strategies for success can be found here: https://twitter.com/WhatWouldKTDo

Enjoy!

The Real Kevin Towers
Guest
The Real Kevin Towers
3 years 2 months ago

You have a problem with first place?

stupid manager+good team=win
Guest
stupid manager+good team=win
3 years 2 months ago

You can have a completely incompetent manager with amazing players and win the division.

Look at Leyland and Detroit–he’s not the brightest bulb in the store but any joe could win the AL Central with that team and the lack of competition they have.

The Real Kevin Towers
Guest
The Real Kevin Towers
3 years 2 months ago

We’re talking about the GM, although I suppose he was choosing players to fit the manager, and his own philosophy. Not trying to suggest results > process. The Upton trade hasn’t worked out great thus far, but there I am looking a results again.

supporting evidence
Guest
supporting evidence
3 years 2 months ago

See: Eric Wedge, Cleveland, 2007

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
3 years 2 months ago

Again, Eric Wedge is/was not a GM.

scraps
Guest
scraps
3 years 2 months ago

I assumed that WhatWouldKTDo was funny. #BoyWasIWrong

Some Douchebag
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Some Douchebag
3 years 2 months ago

I was hopeful that it “KT” was Ken Tremendous.

AC_Butcha_AC
Guest
AC_Butcha_AC
3 years 2 months ago

Too bad we have wSB data going back to 1871!!!!

Guess Dave got confused by UBR, which actually just goes back to 2002.

In fact, Will Clark was absolutely horrendous in 1987 with a wSB of -6.5. Easily the worst season in terms of Stolen Base value since WWII.

The worst season ever belongs to Duffy Lewis of the 1914 Red Sox. Costing them a staggering 8.7 runs via SB-attempts.

Wow
Guest
Wow
3 years 2 months ago

Wow, you use an overused and arguably incorrect narrative and still keep going with it.

This may be the lowest level of baseball fandom.

Scraps
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Scraps
3 years 2 months ago

Twitter?

Seriously, I can’t tell who you are replying to.

Wow
Guest
Wow
3 years 2 months ago

Yes. I clicked reply on his post but it buried it down here. His Twitter is pathetic and it’s just another pompous fan that is running with an overused narrative.

Scraps
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Scraps
3 years 2 months ago

Got it, Wow.

Pat
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Pat
3 years 2 months ago

Still a much better GM than Colletti will ever be.

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Buck Martinez would call him a real game changer on the base paths who is distracting the opposing pitchers.

Rippers
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Rippers
3 years 2 months ago

Another Buck blunder.

buckblunders.com

Basil Ganglia
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Basil Ganglia
3 years 2 months ago

One thing that needs to be considered is that caught stealings include busted hit-and-run plays. With respect to Will Clark, for example, I wonder how many of his attempts truly were attempted steals and how many might have been hit-and-run plays where the batter didn’t make contact.

The Sports Philosopher
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The Sports Philosopher
3 years 2 months ago

I would think that missed hit-and-runs played a big role with Clark’s ’87 season since he spent the bulk of it hitting in front of either a strikeout-prone player (Chili Davis), or a slow double-play risk (Bob Brenly).

scraps
Guest
scraps
3 years 2 months ago

5 for 22, though. I don’t know; busted hit-and-run plays that much? Even close to that much?

Will Clark, anyway, stole 9 for 10 the year before, and stole 25 for 31 three years before, so I think he was probably straight stealing most of the time.

Stuart
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Stuart
3 years 2 months ago

You got yours befores mixed up with your afters.

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
3 years 2 months ago

I’m sorry, what? It looks right to me; but ever since my stroke I sometimes mix up (as you say) my befores with my afters.

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 2 months ago

So far as tactics go, it shouldn’t matter. Even on a busted hit-and-run, fast guys often make it. If you’ve got a guy as lousy at running as Parra is, you can’t just can’t call the hit-and-run with him on base, simple as that.

Anthony Lucci
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Anthony Lucci
3 years 2 months ago

Basil makes a great point. Anybody have data that separates Steals & Caught Stealing between hit-and-run and solo?

I’d love to see if there are different players at the top of each list.

AJ
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AJ
3 years 2 months ago

Measuring intent on the basepaths is incredibly difficult.

Can you explain a clearly defined rationale for the difference between a busted hit and run, a player missing the sign, etc.?

Blastings!
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Could bad luck have anything to do with it? Particularly strong throws from catchers, picking easy-throw pitches to run on, and bad calls by umpires? Last year David Wright had 15 SB and 10 CS, but I think early on he was like 2 for 10, and it’s a good thing he didn’t just give up, right then, the thought of being a base-stealer.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 2 months ago

Luck could be a part of it, sure, but even if Parra reverts to his below-average career form for the rest of the year he’ll still cost the team runs.

RL
Guest
RL
3 years 2 months ago

Parra is 0-for-3 stealing against lefties, so it’s possible he could be getting burnt trying to go on first movement. This could be considered bad luck or bad judgment on choosing which pitches to run on. Regardless, there’s no way of knowing if first-movement bad luck/judgment is even a factor without seeing the actual plays.

Incidentally, Norichika Aoki, the subject of another Fangraphs article today, is also having a terrible year stealing bases. His success rate now stands at 50%, though for most of the year it has been below 50%. Last year he was 30-for-38, a 79% success rate. I doubt that he has suddenly become a much poorer base stealer, so I have to think that luck plays a large part here. Would we make any kind of judgment about a batter’s true ability based on 20 at-bats? I think you would have to include a lot more factors to get at a player’s real ability to steal bases, including:

1. Play-by-play analysis of each steal attempt. Is the player being thrown out by a lot, or could the calls have gone either way? On his successful attempts, did he easily beat the throw?

2. The quality of the catcher’s throws and the pitcher’s speed of delivery on steal attempts. Perhaps most of the steal situations Parra has been in have been against pitchers with quick deliveries and good pick-off moves. Maybe the catchers have made extraordinarily quick and accurate throws against him.

3. Pure speed. How fast is Parra in getting to second? If he’s as fast as other baserunners, then it’s likely just bad luck if he’s had poor success. Of course, he could be getting bad jumps, but that is something that should be measurable as well. I have no idea if major league teams keep track of these stats or not.

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 2 months ago

#2 is attributable to Parra in the aggregate. A successful base stealer gets good reads on pitchers and knows the strength of the catcher’s arm. That’s why your #3 isn’t as important as you seem to think—fast guys with low baseball IQs will get thrown out a lot. Stealing has never been a pure speed thing.

Eric R
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Eric R
3 years 2 months ago

Parra through 2012 36 of 65 [68%] and 40% this year.
David Wright, through 2011: 151 of 213 [77%]; 2012, 60%.

Parra’s drop-off is much bigger, but even his track record suggests that he probably shouldn’t bother taking too many chances.

Sure, you mentioned something about Wright’s start — though there is no evidence of it from the game logs. He had a 0-3 start and then ran at a 68% success rate.

Blastings!
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Hmm, yea that was purely anecdotal. I remembered him having a terrible rate that took a while to make into anything close to respectable. Anyway, this year he’s 12 for 13, so all is right with the world.

Jake
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Jake
3 years 2 months ago

This article makes me curious about year to year changes in SB success rate. For example, Craig Biggio was 15 of 32 in 1993, good for a robust 46.9%. But then in 1994 he was 39 for 43, good for 90.7%. The +43.8% has to be some kind of record.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 2 months ago

I’m sure somebody (a pitcher or catcher, maybe) has gone from 0% one year to 100% the next at some point. If you set a minimum of, say, 25 attempts, though, Biggio’s feat is probably pretty high on the list.

scraps
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scraps
3 years 2 months ago

Will Clark does the opposite, mentioned in the comments above: 1986 9-10 90%, 1987 5-22 23%: -67%

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 2 months ago

In 2011, Brett Gardner had 5 SB and 6 CS through mid-May, but went 44 out of 51 the rest of the way.

Parra’s not a good candidate for that sort of comeback. He did have a 15-for-16 a couple of years ago, but even in the minors, he was just 87 for 123 (71%). Not very impressive.

Will
Guest
Will
3 years 2 months ago

Since steal attempts are done while the player knows the game state, I always felt this was the one area where WPA is a better metric than linear weights. By that tally, he has cost his team 0.85 runs (0.83 if you also count his decision to run in what was judged DI). To be sure, that still means he cost his team more than he gained them, but his average SB gain in WPA was .22 and average loss was (.24), much better than context neutral linear weights assumes.

matt w
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matt w
3 years 1 month ago

Correction: His average SB WPA gain was .022 and his average loss was (.024); so his total WPA loss was .085, which scales to 0.85 runs as you say.

Jay29
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Jay29
3 years 2 months ago

Hate to be that guy, but you’ve made the “everday”/”every day” error two columns in a row, Dave. (An everyday player plays every day.)

Bill
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Bill
3 years 2 months ago

If you hated being that guy, you would refrain from being that guy.

Jay29
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Jay29
3 years 2 months ago

Good point. I guess I just hate the replies that corrective comments inevitably get. But I like reading Cameron so if he sees my comment maybe he’ll never make the mistake again, and I’ll enjoy reading him that much more in the future.

tenags
Member
tenags
3 years 1 month ago

whocaresaboutspacing?

Erubiel Everlasting
Guest
Erubiel Everlasting
3 years 2 months ago

Smaller sample size, but still a stunning reversal: Albert Belle 17 of 20 in 99, 0 for 5 in 2000. at least he stopped trying.

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
3 years 2 months ago

2011: 15 sb, 1 cs
2012: 15 sb, 9 cs
2013: 6 sb, 9 cs

…do you even cardio bro?

Jose Molina
Guest
Jose Molina
3 years 2 months ago

Parra is just so damn slow.

Bengie Molina
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Bengie Molina
3 years 2 months ago

I agree bro.

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Just perused Kirk Gibson’s page and was surprised as I thought he was better. Top power year was 29 HRs and best wOBA was under .390… Under 300 career HRs. I guess living near the midwest and hearing from Tigers fans he was the greatest clutch hitter to ever live skewed my thinking. #learning

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
3 years 2 months ago

That and believing (I assume) the media who gifted him with an MVP.

Yesterday or the day before I discovered that he didn’t make it to 100 RBI any single season. (Yes, I know that RBI doesn’t make a player good or bad. But I thought Kirk Gibson had at least one.)

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

I’m with you on even the counting stats not being all that great (HR/RBI/R etc). Just surprised.

Nick O
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Nick O
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry, but how is this any different than saying that a hitter in an 0-for-20 slump should be benched (or that a guy who went 10-for-15 needs to play every day)? Kemp went 19-for-34 one year (and started way worse than that IIRC) and then went 40-for-51 the next year. Seems like just a SSS issue.

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
3 years 1 month ago

Since he wasn’t a good base-runner before, I’d guess it is maybe remotely similar to “benching” the 0-20 guy who is a career .225 hitter.

I put “benching” in quotes because having a player with bad speed and/or instincts on the base-paths, not run in most situations is very different than taking them out of the game entirely. Sure if that benched player is a great base runner and fielder, perhaps he is best used as a defensive replacement and pinch runner [and perhaps pinch hitter in a favorable match-up?].

FeslenR
Guest
FeslenR
3 years 1 month ago

To me Gerrado Parra is the Daniel Murphy’s of outfield-good player, but not good enough to catch my eyes in fantasy baseball.

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