Pitchers & Catchers to Exploit, Avoid When Chasing Steals

The value of a stolen base may vary from daily site to daily site, but on the site where I play my daily cap contests, a steal is worth five points. Throw in the fact that a runner has to get on base to be able to steal another one and a steal becomes worth seven or eight points. And that’s assuming they don’t come around to score or do anything else in their other plate appearances. You could certainly do worse than seven or eight points from a slot. Needless to say, I like guys who can run a little (or a lot) in daily leagues.

In order to be able to better pick base stealers in daily salary cap formats, I decided to look at the pitchers and catchers who are the most and least friendly to base stealers.

For pitchers I compiled a sample size of the 95 pitchers who have topped 100 innings in each of the last two seasons. I divided the number of steals a pitcher has allowed by the number of opportunities there were to steal bases against him. Baseball-reference.com describes an opportunity as all plate appearances in which a runner was on first or second with the next base open. Below are the pitchers (who currently have a starting job) with the best and worst percentages (at least one standard deviation or more above or below the mean). Best means the least favorable pitchers for base stealers, and worst means the most favorable pitchers for base stealers.

Best Percentages

Name

SB

SBO

SB/SBO

Johnny Cueto*

2

509

0.003929

Matt Harrison*

4

543

0.007366

Doug Fister

6

523

0.011472

Kyle Lohse

7

558

0.012545

Mark Buehrle

8

593

0.013491

Bartolo Colon

6

422

0.014218

Vance Worley

7

461

0.015184

Ian Kennedy

10

613

0.016313

R.A. Dickey

11

621

0.017713

Jeremy Guthrie

11

597

0.018425

* indicates player is currently on DL

Worst Percentages

Name

SB

SBO

SB/SBO

Felix Hernandez

48

665

0.07218

Tim Lincecum

48

621

0.077295

Edinson Volquez

38

488

0.077869

Ervin Santana

44

562

0.078292

Mat Latos

42

527

0.079696

Cole Hamels

46

535

0.085981

Ubaldo Jimenez

56

610

0.091803

Josh Beckett

50

468

0.106838

A.J. Burnett

62

562

0.11032

Tommy Hanson

61

411

0.148418

 

There are a couple of interesting things to note on the ‘best’ list. The first is that the list is almost exclusively made up of low strikeout, low walk guys without a ton of velocity. Collectively, they have a strikeout rate of only about 16% and a walk rate right around 7%. Individually, only four of them have a career K% over 16.5%, and the highest BB% in the group is 8%. As for velocity, Cueto tops the list with an average velocity of 93 mph. Guthrie is the only other one above 92 mph. The rest of the group sits 92 mph or lower with half of them averaging 90 mph or lower. On the ‘bad’ list, they collectively have a K% of almost 22%, a BB% of 8.8%, and every guy averages at least 90 mph on his fastball.

The other interesting thing is that all but two of them are right-handed. Lefties are generally thought to be better at holding men on since they face first base when they pitch. In fact, when I asked a friend to guess some of the names atop the list, he immediately started naming off lefties.

This list goes against the easy logic that lefties and/or guys who get the ball to the plate quicker with higher velocity make it harder to steal bases. I won’t go into a full look at why low velocity, control guys might be better at holding runners on, but one thought is that what allows them to have better control is a shorter, less complicated delivery. That short delivery might also be more helpful than velocity in getting to the plate quickly. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about mechanics to properly evaluate this theory, but it’s something I’d be very interested to see evaluated by someone with that knowledge.

As for catchers, I compiled a sample of all 52 catchers who have at least 1,000 innings caught over the last three seasons. To determine who is good at preventing steals and who is not, I used two stats. The first is simply the percentage of time a player was caught stealing when trying to run on a particular catcher.

The second is Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB). The Fielding Bible describes the stat as giving the catcher credit for throwing out runners and preventing them from attempting steals in the first place. You can find this stat under the advanced fielding tab here on the site.

Below are the lists of the best and worst catchers (who currently have a job) with best meaning least favorable to base stealers and worst meaning most favorable to base stealers.

Best

Name

CS%

rSB

Yadier Molina

0.42233

14

Ryan Hanigan

0.396266

5

Ivan Rodriguez

0.393258

5

Miguel Montero

0.379464

6

David Ross

0.365591

8

Jose Molina

0.359375

8

Matt Wieters

0.357143

16

Wilin Rosario

0.343137

4

Miguel Olivo

0.332031

12

Buster Posey

0.331878

8

Worst

Name

CS%

rSB

John Buck

0.229437

-7

Joe Mauer

0.225989

-4

Victor Martinez

0.214724

-3

Michael McKenry

0.206349

-2

John Jaso

0.197279

-5

Ryan Doumit

0.174963

-10

Francisco Cervelli

0.141304

-7

 

 

 

I don’t think you should necessarily pick speed guys facing starters or catchers that are bad at preventing steals on that fact alone. It would probably be wise to start with and consider other factors like the quality of the opposing pitcher and platoon splits. Use the lists of bad starters and catchers to help you make close decisions between a small number of guys, and use them to help you find potential bargains. However, I do think you can decide to avoid speed guys solely on the fact that they are facing a pitcher or catcher that is tough on base stealers. There aren’t too many players who steal a lot of bases who can produce exclusively with the bat. If a player’s production comes substantially from his legs, don’t pick him when facing the good starters and catchers.




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You can find more of Brett's work, including his podcast, on TheFantasyFix.com or follow him on Twitter @TheRealTAL.

8 Responses to “Pitchers & Catchers to Exploit, Avoid When Chasing Steals”

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  1. Ryan says:

    Interesting stuff, especially about the lack of lefties.

    It’s too bad Billy Hamilton is a Reds prospect– I’d like to see him try to steal a base off a Cueto-Hanigan battery.

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  2. astrostl says:

    “Below are the lists of the best and worst catchers (who currently have a job)”

    Ivan Rodriguez hasn’t played since 2011?

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  3. Alex says:

    perhaps runners are simply more cautious/less likely to run when a left hander is on the mound and that’s what’s contributing to skewing overall #’s?

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    • RL says:

      This can’t be right because what he’s tracking for pitchers isn’t SB/CS ratio but rather the total number of SB compared to SB opportunities. If base runners were more cautious against lefties, they ought to steal fewer bases against them.

      When it comes to catchers, however, this point is important. I’m not sure if this is true, but Mauer, for example, may have a reputation as a tough guy to steal against. If this is the case, only the best base stealers will attempt to run against him, and his CS% will be low despite his having prevented many stolen bases (merely by his reputation). Like I said, I have no idea if this is actually true in Mauer’s case, but I think you have to include the total number of attempted steals in any evaluation of a catcher’s ability to prevent stolen bases.

      By the way, is there a stat that tries to account for how badly a catcher’s pitchers are at holding runners. I’m sure that Brian McCann’s numbers, for example, were savaged by the presence of Tommy Hanson in the Braves rotation for the last couple years.

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  4. Paul Singman says:

    Really surprised to see Dickey on the best pitchers list.

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    • max says:

      The only reason I’m not is because of having watched hi on the Mets for a few years. Fister really surprises me, usually really tall guys cant hold runners at all.

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  5. donut says:

    I also wonder how much the overall quality of the pitcher affects stolen base rates. You would think if hits were hard to come by then the risk of out vs extra base would become more palateable.

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  6. ImDownWithOBP says:

    Brett, thanks for this article, I still use it as a reference (ie- I need SB in my head to head league, so I am starting Rajai Davis today against Andrew Cashner who had a .0724 SB/SBO last year). Is there any chance you can publish this whole list? If that is too much work, maybe you can provide the average SB/SBO and CS%. I think it would be helpful to know the league average as a point of reference.

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