Young’s Company

Earlier this week, Dave discussed Padres SP Chris Young and his inability to hold runners, essentially claiming that the former basketball prospect is worse at holding runners than anyone else in baseball is at any other skill. The data certainly matches this accusation, as baserunners are 131-144 off of Young in his career, a 91% success rate. In 2007, Young was historically bad, allowing 44 steals with nary a runner being caught. It is easy to blame the catcher for not throwing runners out but this definitely says more about Young than his backstops.

Curious to see who else has had historically bad seasons I queried my Retrosheet database for all seasons since 1954 in which runners attempted at least 30 steals off of a particular pitcher with a success rate of at least the break-even mark of 75% and sorted by success rate. For the record, though pickoffs are factored into failed stolen base attempts, they are ignored for the purposes of this post.

Not surprisingly at all, Young’s 44-44 in 2007 topped the list. Right behind him is A.J. Burnett, also in 2007, who saw 31 runners successfully swipe bags without any being thrown out. These are the only two seasons that match the querying criteria featuring a 100% success rate.

Four different pitchers benefited from having just one runner gunned down: Dennis Eckersley (34-35) in 1977, Mark Clear (33-34) in 1983, Tim Wakefield (30-31) in 1996 and Dustin McGowan (29-30) in 2007.

That 2007 season does not look too good for pitchers and their ability to hold runners on. Not only does the season house three of the six worst seasons in the Retrosheet era but it also saw Greg Maddux allow 37 steals out of 39 attempts, along with Tim Wakefield and Jose Contreras exceeding the break-even point at 41-49 and 25-31 respectively.

Nine of the 20 worst seasons in this regard have occurred since 2000, while only one took place prior to 1960: Glen Hobbie allowed 30 steals in 32 attempts for the Cubs back in 1959. There are not many pitchers who appeared on several occasions on this list, likely due to the fact that they changed some aspect of their delivery to circumvent the issue.

The most frequent violators were Nolan Ryan (10), Greg Maddux (9), Dwight Gooden (7), Joe Niekro (7), Mike Krukow (6), Tim Wakefield (6), Dennis Eckersley (5), Tom Candiotti (5), Bert Blyleven (5), and Hideo Nomo (5). These pitchers were predominantly either knuckleballers, those with freakishly long windups or notorious for caring very little about the running game.

The numbers and reputations of some of these pitchers certainly suggests that success can still be obtained with no ability to control the running game but they comprise a very small sample of the amount of successful pitchers. Chris Young lacks the stuff of a Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and Dennis Eckersley, so he really needs to fix this problem because it is only a matter of time before runners truly exploit his flaw.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

7 Responses to “Young’s Company”

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  1. Brent says:

    I realize Young will never be able to hold runners like Andy Pettite, but it amazes me that he hasn’t improved over the last few years. There’s little things you casn do w/o messing with your mechanics to at least reduce steal attempts.

    Also, bringing in a defensive minded catcher wouldn’t help. Blanco is probably better than Hundley, but he doesn’t catch Young.

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  2. Lee says:

    I’m just wondering if anyone has come up with an analysis to predict a catcher’s true CS% ability. For every Chris Young there is an Andy Sonnanstine, so it would be great to know what catchers benefit and get hurt by a pitcher’s ability to hold runners.

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  3. Matt says:

    Is it possible that Burnett/McGowan from 2007 were the result of a putrid Zaun? 2 of the worst 6 seasons on the same team makes me think the catcher played a large role, especially since AJ didn’t show up on the worst violators list…

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  4. LarryinLA says:

    I’m assuming he hasn’t gotten better because it isn’t fatal enough (I say before actually looking up numbers). In 2007, he gave up 44 SBs. The value of a SB is about 0.19 runs/SB (according to Tango’s Linear Weights). If we assume an average pitcher allows SBs at the break-even point, then Young is giving up an extra 8.5 runs in a historically bad season. He gives up ~70 runs in a normal season.

    OK, that is bad. Very bad. It looks like it is getting worse, too. On the other hand, he gave up more than 80 runs in 2006 and 66 runs in 2008. If ignoring runners means getting better at other run prevention skills (like more K’s or preventing HRs) then he might as well. He outpitches his FIP too, though that may be the ballpark. Other than embarassment, he may not want to change what he’s doing.

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  5. Samg says:

    The thing is with some of the other pitchers: it hurts much less when you let less runners reach first.

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  6. Brian Cartwright says:

    The past three seasons, Young’s SB-CS have been 41-4, 44-0 & 15-1. His catcher’s have also been below average when working with other pitchers. Considering the number of runners in stealing situations, and the records of his catchers with other pitchers, Young’s expected totals were 18-3, 18-2 & 10-2. Total observed for three years, 100-5 .048 CS%, expected 46-7 .132 CS%. MLB avg CS% (by catcher) is .240

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