How Jarrod Dyson Stole the Biggest Base of his Life

It’s too bad that the playoffs have to continue uninterrupted, because I’d be content to think about and write about Tuesday night’s wild-card game for the next month and a half. While it wasn’t actually a demonstration of smallball vs. Moneyball, the Royals resembled a team from the 80s, or more accurately, the Royals resembled themselves, beating the A’s with exactly their own brand of offense. The Royals this past season were the best base-stealing team in the league, and while it’s easy to downplay baserunning as a significant overall factor in determining wins and losses, the small picture doesn’t always work like the big picture, and Tuesday night, stolen bases were very much a huge reason behind the Royals’ stunning advance.

That was a key we all thought to watch for. Aggressiveness was part of the Royals’ game plan, as they tied a playoff record with seven steals. There’s blame going the way of Derek Norris, who replaced an injured Geovany Soto, and to be sure, Norris could’ve had a better game. But something we’ve really come to understand in the past few years is that steals are more off of pitchers than catchers, and this wasn’t so much the Royals taking advantage of Norris as it was the Royals taking advantage of the batteries. The Royals read and the Royals ran, and there was no bigger stolen base than Jarrod Dyson‘s arrival at third in the bottom of the ninth.

Let’s quickly go through these things one by one. Seven steals, excluding whatever it was Billy Butler was trying to do:

1

SB1

This is Norichika Aoki, before Soto came out. Obviously, Soto’s throw wasn’t good, but I don’t think it would’ve mattered. Jon Lester took more than 1.6 seconds to get the ball to home plate. The pitch was in such an area that it wasn’t easy for Soto to quickly get the ball in his bare hand while rising. Lester’s advantage is being left-handed, so runners can’t take super-aggressive leads, but if they don’t think he’s going to throw over, they can get going without much fear, and Aoki stole this off the pitcher.

2

SB2

Bad throw again, here by Norris, but Alcides Escobar had it all beat anyway, and Norris’ pop time wasn’t bad. Norris reacted quickly, and the pitch was a good one to allow for a throw, but Escobar got way too good a jump. With a four-run lead in the eighth, it’s possible Lester just didn’t want to worry too much about one runner with more important hitters at the plate.

3

SB3

Throw was okay, if a bit low, and the pop time was reasonable given the pitch location. Lorenzo Cain mostly stole this off Lester, and considering Cain got there in 3.4 seconds, he would’ve been safe under many circumstances. Lester just isn’t that quick to home, maybe in particular in stressful situations while fatigued.

4

SB4

About 3.2 seconds. You don’t throw out Terrance Gore. He’s one of the fastest players in baseball, see. If you allow a big steal to Terrance Gore, it’s mostly because you’re a baseball team, and Terrance Gore has an open base. Runners are 21-for-21 against Luke Gregerson the last two seasons, this steal included. With Gore and Gregerson combined, Norris didn’t have a chance.

5

SB5

Alex Gordon stole second on this, but Norris didn’t even think about throwing down, not with Gore 90 feet away as the tying run. The priority was getting the strikeout, not letting the ball get by, and keeping the runner on third.

6

SB6

Jarrod Dyson. We’re going to talk about this in greater detail in just a minute, but it’s my belief that Norris couldn’t really do anything with this. This was Dyson reading and stealing off of Sean Doolittle.

7

SB7

I’m pretty comfortable putting that one on Norris. Two pitches later, the game was over.

So, Norris could’ve been better. But the pitchers could’ve been better, and with certain runners, there’s just no one at fault but the math. If a guy can move up in about 3.2 seconds, for example, it’s almost out of the battery’s hands. I can’t blame the A’s for allowing Terrance Gore to advance — the real key is keeping people off bases in the first place. But again, I want to talk about the biggest steal of the game. Maybe the biggest steal of the season? When Jarrod Dyson stole third base in the bottom of the ninth, it was worth .133 WPA to the Royals. When Josh Willingham opened the frame with a single, it was worth .133 WPA. When Aoki brought Dyson home, it was worth .133 WPA. Stolen bases are usually incremental factors, but Dyson got himself to third with one out in a one-run game, and the numbers tell you how important that was. Now let’s look at how Dyson stole the base off Doolittle, leaving Norris almost helpless.

Dyson led the American League this year in swipes of third, with ten. He was topped in the majors only by Billy Hamilton, and Hamilton was caught one more time than Dyson was. Dyson was rather famously picked off at second by Joe Nathan just a few weeks ago, but that wasn’t representative of his skills. Also, Dyson had just been inserted into the game, for a rather obvious purpose. Also, it happened before Dyson could get a good read. When Dyson was caught stealing this year, it was within the first one or two pitches. When he moved up to third, it was always after observing multiple pitches, sometimes several of them. Dyson got to see a lot of Doolittle before he finally took off.

Things began with an unthrown pickoff attempt. Dyson was in basically no danger.

Dyson1

Here’s the thing I want you to watch. Look at Doolittle’s head, and look at his right leg. On this play, Doolittle looks back to second, looks home, waits, and then lifts his leg. That’s going to be our signal.

Dyson2

In the pickoff attempt, Doolittle looked home first, before beginning his motion. Here, he lifts his leg as he turns his head away from second. Dyson’s reading him, and takes a big secondary lead.

Dyson3

Same thing here again. Doolittle checks on Dyson, and then he begins his motion as he looks back to home, picking up the plate on the fly. He turns his head to home slower, slightly changing his look, and Dyson doesn’t hop off as much, but the read is still developing.

Dyson4

Same pattern, and Dyson is picking up on it. Doolittle looks at Dyson, and then he starts his motion as he looks at the catcher. There’s no pause. Dyson at this point is approaching a certain read, but maybe he could use one more indicator?

Dyson5

Doolittle looks at Dyson, then turns to home without beginning his motion. There’s a pause, just like before the first pickoff attempt, and Dyson immediately starts back to second when Doolittle lifts his leg and turns. So what Dyson has seen, to this point: two pauses, two pickoff looks. Three non-pauses, three throws to home. With a 2-and-1 count on Aoki, there’s still a good opportunity to move up. Aoki’s a contact hitter, so Dyson can trust in his ability to put the bat on the ball even with two strikes. And then Dyson can score on almost anything.

Dyson6

Doolittle looks back at Dyson, and then as he turns his head, he starts his motion, and Dyson is off to the races. No pause probably means no pickoff. No pickoff means a pitch, and a pitch means a pretty good shot at getting to third base, unless Norris makes a perfect throw. Norris’ throw was good, and he unleashed it quick, but because Dyson runs so well, and because he had such a good read on Doolittle, he was virtually unthrowoutable. This is why, to be a good base-stealer, you don’t need to be a great sprinter. So much of it is about what happens before the pitch is even on the way. And if you have great speed and great awareness, you’re a great base-runner, and Dyson’s one of the best.

So to review, Doolittle’s look before pickoff attempts:

pickoff

Doolittle’s look before pitches:

nopickoff

Maybe it’s something Doolittle’s aware of. Maybe it’s not. Most of the time, it’s not something Doolittle has to worry about, but if this is part of his delivery, the last thing he wants to do is alter his routine and motion in the ninth inning of a one-game playoff. Pitchers are going to stick to their habits, and runners like Dyson can pick up on those things. That’s how you make a big stolen base in the Royals’ biggest game in decades, and while there still wasn’t a guarantee of Dyson getting home, it was all about improving the odds with something other than a swing of the bat. Swinging the bat is where the Royals struggle most, so it’s up to the legs to make things as promising as possible.



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
Dave Roberts
Guest
Dave Roberts
1 year 7 months ago

Jeff, great article. The only thing you left out on how to steal that big postseason base is “balls of brass”

Chris
Guest
Chris
1 year 7 months ago

You’d think that dragging those would slow him down a little bit

lewish
Guest
lewish
1 year 7 months ago

Yeah, but then come to think of it, why didn’t they slow down Johnny boy Elway :?

RMR
Guest
1 year 7 months ago

Excellent insight!

Grant
Guest
Grant
1 year 7 months ago

What a fantastic analysis and a perfect illustration of what it means when base runners get a “read” on a pitcher.

attgig
Member
attgig
1 year 7 months ago

I wonder what he looked like while Dyson was on first. maybe Dyson just had a better read when he was on second vs when he was on first. Maybe the royals scouted this ahead of time, and noticed his tendencies already….

GH
Guest
GH
1 year 7 months ago

Doolittle was one-looking. You don’t need advanced scouts to pick that up.

MGL
Guest
MGL
1 year 7 months ago

Correct. You teach 13 year olds to “vary their looks” with a base stealing threat on second. Doolittle did not do this. It is as simple as that. The steal is on him.

It is also the catcher’s (and coaches’ and manager’s) responsibility to call time out and say to the pitcher, “Hey, don’t forget to vary your looks.” So it is on Norris too.

Esoteric
Guest
Esoteric
1 year 7 months ago

This is one of the finest “micro-articles” I’ve yet seen you do on Fangraphs. You broke down EXACTLY how Dyson — a veteran basestealer — was able to quickly figure out Doolittle’s ‘tell’ and exploit it properly. The .GIFs are incredibly useful in explaining how Dyson marked his man and really hammer home how successful base-stealing isn’t just about speed, it’s about intelligence and situational awareness.

By the way, Jarrod Dyson’s Twitter handle, according to B-Ref, is @mrzoombiya. Which, c’mon…you gotta love that.

wobatus
Member
wobatus
1 year 7 months ago

Someone’s crying, Lord, Zoombiya.

Hutch
Member
Hutch
1 year 7 months ago

Sorry, I may have missed this somewhere, but why doesn’t Lester ever attempt pickoffs to first? Moral opposition? He’s bad at it?

Brett
Guest
Brett
1 year 7 months ago

He has a really shitty move. Only bad things can happen with him throwing to 1st.

Jim S.
Guest
Jim S.
1 year 7 months ago

I read that Lester had exactly ZERO pickoff throws to first base this season. Hard to believe.

N8*K
Guest
N8*K
1 year 7 months ago

The thing is, the Royals were running on first movement. So it didn’t really matter how bad his move was. Just the fact that he doesn’t throw over gives runners that extra jump. There is definitely value in lobbing the ball to first every once in a while.

He would have had a pickoff in GIF 1, can’t tell in GIF 2, and probably a pickoff in GIF 3.

My experience as a LHP has been that very roughly half of my pickoffs have come on runners going on first movement where deception doesn’t even come into play.

james wilson
Guest
james wilson
1 year 7 months ago

Lester has an affliction which is more common to hard throwing lefties than any other pitchers–they can’t throw to bases. They also have great difficulty throwing at reduced velocity. Because Lester is all too aware of his issues he may also have developed the yips to go with it. The entire Boston infield is terrified of taking a throw from him, and he’s terrified of making one. He makes a better throw, not good, but better, to second on a fielded ball because it is farther away and he can line up and cut loose.

Pennsy
Guest
Pennsy
1 year 7 months ago

Have to argue the point that Soto’s throw on Aoki’s steal “didn’t matter.” Aoki slid right past the bag! If the throw is on point, and the SS is able to keep the tag on as Aoki slides through, that’s a clear out. Just about the same can be said for Escobar’s first steal, though it’s not quite so blatant.

lewish
Guest
lewish
1 year 7 months ago

Very cool article.

scb
Guest
scb
1 year 7 months ago

Also, Dyson’s slide was awesome. I don’t know anything about slide mechanics or what gets you to the base quickly, but that slide just looked so cool in real time.

noseeum
Guest
noseeum
1 year 7 months ago

Fantastic. Doolittle can thank you next year when he never does this again.

Jacob
Guest
Jacob
1 year 7 months ago

Great article on the best game of the year. Thank you.

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
1 year 7 months ago

This is an incredible article. I will forward it to people.

GreenMountain Boy
Guest
GreenMountain Boy
1 year 7 months ago

Maybe the best, most well-analyzed post I’ve seen on Fangraphs. EVER. It’s not often I learn something new that I didn’t catch in real time, but this time I did. I look forward to more great analysis, Jeff. Great job!

kharbaugh
Member
kharbaugh
1 year 7 months ago

I don’t even know how you picked this up, Jeff. Seriously incredible analysis and article.

Pesach Wolicki
Guest
Pesach Wolicki
1 year 7 months ago

Fantastic analysis! Thank you Jeff.

jimfetterolf
Guest
jimfetterolf
1 year 7 months ago

Nice to see pitchers getting some responsibility for steals.

Stopwatch will deliver three times, pitcher to plate, catcher pop time, and runner time between bases. Base coaches inform runners of the times and whether they have a shot. Pitchers may try to adjust with a slide-step, knocking a tenth or so off, but then tend to throw the ball high to the plate, helping the hitter.

Base coaches also study film and the pitcher in the game for “tells”. Stuff like that is why the conversation at 1st, it’s more than just “nice job”.

Carl Grace
Guest
Carl Grace
1 year 7 months ago

If you go back and watch it on TV, Norris’s signals for the inside move were very easy to pick up, even with multiple signs/indicator. It looks like a “longhorn” or a “hang loose” and it was flashed multiple times in the sequence. I knew the spaghetti move was coming in both cases thanks in part to Norris’s neon yellow nails. Dyson may have, too.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
1 year 7 months ago

Not to pile on, but this was an absolutely phenomenal analysis. Organized perfectly, and not a superfluous word or image.

Sincerely, wonderful.

Thank you.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
1 year 7 months ago

Just wanted to join in and say I thought this article was pretty amazing. The analysis is thorough and helps catch how the game is played and what leads to the stats we analysis and even gives a taste of just how great of a game it was. I’m glad I got to watch it.

thecodygriffin
Member
thecodygriffin
1 year 7 months ago

Can we vote for article of the year? This has my vote. Thanks Jeff.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
1 year 7 months ago

I wonder if that tendency from Doolittle comes from being a converted hitter? Maybe a more experienced pitcher would not have been so easy to read.

Buford
Guest
Buford
1 year 7 months ago

Also helping Dyson was Donaldson not straddling third base to catch the ball where he could just bring his glove straight down for the tag. Instead, he caught the ball while standing a few feet toward home plate and had to swipe back for the tag.

Although Dyson may have had the bag regardless, this reaching for the ball then swiping back for the runner occurs way too often in MLB games.

Dan
Guest
Dan
1 year 7 months ago

Nice article, but I think it’s going a little far to call this piece “absolutely phenomenal, “fantastic” or “incredible”. I don’t know, it just seems like some pretty good basic analysis. Nice work.

“Maybe the best, most well-analyzed post I’ve seen on Fangraphs. EVER.”

Really? Yeesh.

Doolittle one-looks to second and doesn’t vary his delivery enough to stop someone from swiping third, and he does this because he’s a closer who generally doesn’t worry about this sort of thing while he’s concentrating on the hitter. This would make him like a lot of guys.

About 99.5% of the time I side against the people who say “You stat guys don’t really know anything because you’ve never played the game,”, but this may be an exception. As a matter of fact, some of these comments seem like they come from people who only recently began watching baseball after switching over from soccer.

In between all the down-voting I’d like to hear from the people (if any) who at least somewhat share my viewpoint, because I’m genuinely curious how alone I am with this. Okay, go!

lewish
Guest
lewish
1 year 7 months ago

Well, I don’t know, and all these words kind of throw me off, but I love this article like lots of Jeff’s articles, because it has lots of pretty pictures to look at.

lewish
Guest
lewish
1 year 7 months ago

…but what I really like is soccer :)

TheStretch
Guest
TheStretch
1 year 7 months ago

Does anyone else think they MIGHT have had him at third if Donaldson lets the ball get deeper before catching it? It seems like he was out in front of the bag there and then had to try to sweep the glove back to have a shot…which he didn’t have.

Hank
Guest
Hank
1 year 4 months ago

Lester gets 100 million and doesn’t ever attempt pickoffs…unbelievable. I wonder if Dyson would tell you he analyzed it like this. I bet he just got a good jump and used his speed…and got really lucky…lucky we are not still talking about the Detroit pickoff.

wpDiscuz