Do Teams that Strike Out a Lot Steal More Bases?

This is a question that intuitively would seem to be answered by: Sure, why not?  The assumption was recently made in the comments section of this article by an FG writer:

Think about it — if you are Rougned Odor and you are on first base and, say, Joey Gallo is at the plate, there’s a good chance he’s going to cool down the stadium with some high-powered fanning.  He’s not exactly known as a high-contact guy.  There’s a roughly one-in-three chance that his at-bat is going to end in a backwards K sign being held up by someone in the stands.  So ‘Ned might decide this is a good time to steal because the ball isn’t likely to be put into play in the air, where, if caught, he would have to double back to tag.  Maybe he’s also thinking that, like Brad Johnson alluded, the break-even point for a steal (famously ~75% success rate as calculated by Bill James in Moneyball, ~66% in this more recent FG article) is lower if the guy at the plate is likely to cause an out, specifically a strikeout which normally doesn’t allow a runner to advance like a bunt, grounder or long fly might.

On the other hand, maybe Odor doesn’t have such a cynical view of Gallo, and doesn’t change his mindset on the basepaths.  Maybe he doesn’t try to assume what Gallo might do, so he doesn’t go for any more risky of a steal than he otherwise might.  So maybe he isn’t stealing at a higher rate than normal if the guy at the plate is a K machine.  Heck, maybe Joey Gallo is a specifically bad example here, because, though he does whiff a lot, he also hits a lot of home runs, which might cause a runner to take fewer risks when waiting on the outcome of his plate appearance.

So, let’s looks at what the numbers have to say.  I ran a simple correlation analysis between team stolen-base totals and team K%.  Here’s what I got:

So, no real correlation to be seen here.  But perhaps that shows that it could be a market inefficiency.  In 2016, the Brew Crew led the league in both K% and stolen bases.  Even without John Villar’s big SB season, they are a top-five SB team.  Below is a chart from last year — in yellow are the top five teams in both total SBs and K%.

Perhaps the Rays should have been trying to steal some more?  Though some of these anomalies could just simply be explained by personnel issues — maybe teams like the Orioles just have no one who can steal on the entire squad?

Here’s the same chart, for 2015, just for sugar and giggles:

For the Astros, this is starting to look like a trend — Orioles too.  I think my final answer to the question posited by this post is — Hmm, not sure exactly.  But maybe?



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