Rajai Davis & 80 Steals: Part One

Rickey Henderson is not one for conservative claims. Not during his playing career and certainly not now. Henderson, working as Oakland’s baserunning instructor, recently said that Rajai Davis could steal 80 bases. It’s been a while since one player stole that many bases on his own throughout a season. Jacoby Ellsbury took 70 last year, Jose Reyes grabbed 78 in 2007, Scott Podsednik hit 70 during 2004, Tony Womack swiped 72 in 1999, Brian Hunter and Kenny Lofton stole 74 and 75 in 1997 and 1996, and so on. The last time someone took at least 80 bases was 1988, when Vince Coleman lead the National League with 81 and that Henderson guy took 93 in the American League.

Davis’ career high in steals is 41 and he’s stolen 93 bases in 333 career games. He’s been caught 27 times, giving him a 78% success rate. That means Davis would need to attempt roughly 103 steals, if and only if, it is to be assumed that his success rate would remain static to his career rate. The odds of that occurring are highly unlikely. Yes, it’s just a throwaway spring quote meant to inspire confidence in a player, and yes, I’m totally going to overanalyze it.

Let’s start with the historic data. Since 1961 (or Baseball-Reference’s “Expansion Era” filter) there have been 18 players who successfully stole 80 bases. They averaged an 83% success rate with the lowest individual success rate belonging to Omar Moreno (74.4%). This makes sense, both intuitively and numerically. Managers are not going to allow wishy-washy basestealers to attempt upwards of 100 grabs a year if it means being thrown out 30 or more times. For now, let’s say Davis is going to need something like 90-110 steal attempts to make this thing a reality.

There are a few conditions needed to actually steal a base – among which, actually being on base is the most vital and obvious. Davis’ career on-base percentage is .336. If you simply multiply his on-base percentage by his career plate appearances, then divide that number by his steal attempts, then you will find that he’s attempted a steal in roughly 40% of the times he’s reached base throughout his career. But that’s just not true because Davis has been used aggressively as a pinch runner.

Say Davis lives up to his ~.330 projected OBP. That would be pretty low, but not the lowest (or even close to it) in the 80 steals club. Vince Coleman stole at least 80 three times with an OBP of .320 or below; including 1986 when he stole 107 bases despite a .301 OBP. Moreno got on base about 30.6% of the time in 1980, and even Maury Wills only had a .330 OBP when he stole 94 in 1965. It’s doable, certainly, but that means Davis will need even more pinch running appearances and even more plate appearances.

Oakland has a stacked outfield depth chart and he happens to be right-handed, meanwhile they have a switch-hitter (Coco Crisp) and two lefties (Ryan Sweeney & Gabe Gross) also on the depth chart. He’s not starting most days. That didn’t stop Eric Davis (487 PA) or Ron LeFlore (587) from swiping more than 80, but those are the only two players with fewer than 600 plate appearances to do it.

As you can see, the odds are stacked against Rajai. That doesn’t mean the discussion is over though. Check back later for the answer. Mostly for the sake of blowing this totally out of proportion, but also showing something about the relationship between stolen base success rate and runs added.




Print This Post





25 Responses to “Rajai Davis & 80 Steals: Part One”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Charlie says:

    Ricky Henderson once stole first base from second base, just so he could steal second again.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Joe R says:

      Rickey Henderson once scored on a sacrifice fly…from 2nd.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CJ says:

        I’ve seen Michael Bourn score on a sac fly from 2d base. That play used to be on YouTube, but I can’t seem to find it anymore.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Joe R says:

        Damn, I knew I should’ve gone with 1st.

        Yeah, MLB keeps their videos off the internet. Which stinks because it limits the hilarious statements from Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver that I can enjoy over and over again.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. The Usual SusBeck says:

    “This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Spunky says:

    You’re actually not allowed to steal a previous base according to Rule 7.08 i). Seems kind of silly to me but that’s baseball. It sounds like the type of thing Rickey would do though.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Joe R says:

      I wonder if that’s in there because someone actually did it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • milkman41 says:

        It is. I don’t remember who it was, but it was in the 1910s or 20s (or sometime around then). The guy was trying to coax a throw out of the catcher so his teammate on third could score, didn’t when stole second, then stole first, and then second again.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • jaw says:

        Yes; Germany Schaefer did it while playing for the Detroit Tigers.

        I read about the incident in “The Glory of Their Times,” by Lawrence Ritter. The incident is described in the chapter summarizing Davy Jones. The book is a fine read.

        -Jeff

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Eric T says:

    It used to be done in the very early 1900’s. With a man on third and a man on second, the man on second would steal first to illicit a throw so the man on third could steal home. This was done by Ty Cobb many a time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jaw says:

      Eric:

      I don’t want to say that it was never done except by Schaefer — and I’m sure Cobb did it at least once, because he was Cobb — but I doubt it was done “many a time” by anybody.

      Jones’ narrative describing Schaefer’s “steal” (referenced above) describes everybody on the field — including him — as being utterly baffled by the move. If it was that common, I think the players and officials would have known what to do about it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. jtshow says:

    so if someone stole first from second they would be called out?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Llewdor says:

    Rickey has said somewhere that he thinks the threshhold for success drops the more often you attempt a steal. He thinks that by attempting a steal basically every time you’re on base, you mess with the other team enough that it helps you win, even if you don’t break 75% all the time.

    Regardless of whether that’s true, Rickey certainly seems to think it is.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Joe R says:

      Part of me thinks that could be true, then again, when you’re a pitcher (especially a righty), you don’t even see if the guy took off; that’s the catcher’s job.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • B N says:

      Rickey is almost certainly right about the first part, though I haven’t seen any definite evidence pro/con on the second. If you try to run every time, that means you have to run against tougher pitcher-catcher combinations. I mean, last year you could have been Sloth and stolen a base off of the Varitek-Penny combo. Any fast runner could do that at a high 90’s success rate. As you steal more bases, you end up stealing in counts that aren’t as good for it and against pitcher/catcher pairs that are harder. So your success rate should be going steadily down as you make more attempts, unless you are a rock-dumb runner who doesn’t know who is a good bet to steal on.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Joe R says:

        An example of what Rickey could be talking about, mathematically, and unintentionally:

        A SB is worth about 0.3 runs. A CS is worth -0.52. If someone goes 7 for 10 on stolen base attempts, then he adds .54 runs of value.

        If someone else goes 52 for 80, then he adds 1.04 runs of value. Obviously his success rate is worse, but his running added more value.

        Just don’t get all Joe Morgan and try to make a claim that making outs on the basepaths is okay because it’s “aggressive”.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. PL says:

    The thing about Rajai Davis is that up until the 2nd half of last season, he was used strictly as a defensive replacement/PH type, rarely getting a start. In the 2nd half he was used everyday and put up a .372 OBP, which of course was inflated thanks to his astronomical . 380 BABIP over that time period.

    He also entered his prime, so maybe Davis both figured it out after being allowed to play everyday and just took his chance and ran (bad pun) with it. When players arent given meaningful playing time from the onset of their career, the numbers they put up during those sporadic times are often extremely skewed. Very few players are going to put up the same numbers pinch hitting as they are starting, so taking in Davis’s previous work is nearly bunk. We need to see him, just like any player, get 500 PA’s in a year before we can start making projections and writing them off.

    That being said: Davis was one of the biggest entertainment machines in the second half of 09, but even then he only swiped 30 bags in 71 games, so 80 looks like a bit of an overstatement. Davis however took a ridiculous amount of bags off sacrifices and singles so even if he doesnt get to 80 he should continue maximizing his value on the basepaths anyway. But how often will he get on? Time will tell.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. scatterbrian says:

    Curious why it’s “highly unlikely” for Davis to maintain a 78% success rate.

    I’m also curious why it’s assumed Davis is “not starting most days” when outfield playing time hasn’t been determined. You mentioned the A’s outfield depth, but the three guys you bring up defense-first guys with single-digit home run power. Davis is the closest thing they have to a leadoff hitter, and he’s got at least April to show whether or not last year’s .360 OBP was a breakout or a fluke.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Joey Matthews says:

      Pretty sure R.J. means “highly unlikely to attempt 103 steals”, and is not referring to the 78% success rate.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Jon says:

    Rickey Henderson made similar bold claims regarding Jose Reyes when he was a spring training instructor for the Mets. I believe he predicted Reyes would steal 100, which obviously never happened.

    Henderson was hired by the Mets full-time in mid-July, 2007. A couple of weeks, Reyes started averaging almost a stolen base attempt per game, after averaging about 3 attempts per five games the whole year. This led to 26 stolen bases in 31 games, the best stretch of its kind in Reyes’ career. However, it also led to a September in which Reyes was a terribly unproductive hitter, barely keeping his average above .200, and also stopped being an effective base stealer. Of course, we can debate whether this was cause and effect or coincidence, but I think it’s probably best to take Rickey’s predictions with a grain of salt, and in the best interest of the players involved to play within themselves and not try to emulate (at least the volume of) the most prolific base stealer in history.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. smokednoak says:

    “Oakland has a stacked outfield depth chart and he happens to be right-handed, meanwhile they have a switch-hitter (Coco Crisp) and two lefties (Ryan Sweeney & Gabe Gross) also on the depth chart. He’s not starting most days.”
    Ummm, Rajai is actually slated to start in LF and Gross *might* be the backup (not absolutely determined yet)… time to rethink your analysis?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. dbuff says:

    Last year Davis had a BABIP of .361. That’s pretty much in line with Bourne, who had a .366, and Crawford, who had a .342.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Royce says:

    intriguing read!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>