Like taking candy from a Barajas

Although I often prefer to indulge in the existential and theoretical questions surrounding fantasy baseball, today I thought I’d offer up some good old-fashioned practical information. At this point in the season, many of us are wrapped in extremely tight races in categories with crucial one or two point swings on the line. Stolen bases is a category that is often separated by small gaps, in terms of raw numbers. The last few weeks of the season can be a good time to make a move in stolen bases, if you’re opportunistic.

Before giving some useful info, let me explain why I think late season is a good time to go after steals. First, as I already mentioned, the gaps in that category are usually small in absolute value due to steals being a low volume category. Second, few owners actually play to maximize their team speed, so the competition for helpful waiver-wire additions may be low. Third, if you maximize your chances for steals by playing match-ups, shallow and moderate depth leaguers can often find players with above average base stealing ability on the wire. Fourth, and related, many of the late season call-ups are young -– fresh legs, eager to prove their worth and breadth of skill, while the position of catcher is often dominated by veterans. There’s a bit of a fresh runningback spinning and juking against a beleaguered defensive line dynamic here. And, fifth, good basestealing ability is often correlated with batting average skills, and batting average is not only a category where you can improve your performance, but the only category of the standard five that allows your opponents to regress.

A strategic pick-up of a speedy player with a favorable catcher match-up can really pay dividends. I noticed that an owner in one my leagues had dropped Coco Crisp for last week in order to make room for a spot start. By chance, I happened to notice Crisp on the wire and that he was due to play Boston and the weak throwing Victor Martinez. I put in a claim for him and watched Crisp swipe six bases this past weekend. Crisp’s spree has netted me 1.5 points in that category in four days, with another 1.5 potentially in range as well. Now, I realize this performance is not representative of what one should reasonably expect from executing this strategy, but a good unowned basestealer can easily swipe three in a series against a poor catcher. It is my opinion that one could reasonably expect a greater return on a strategic attempt to up stolen base production via a waiver wire pick-up than to improve home run production (homers are more of a fair comparison because, like stolen bases, they are less team-based). This contention is even stronger when you convert the relative value of a steal to a home run, in respect to the overall volume of the stat. And, just for good measure, it is quite likely that in order to make room for your new wheels, you will dump a player with very little chance to steal a base (there are tons of players who steal between zero and five bases every year, some of which aren’t even very good otherwise). The converse is not exactly true though. The marginal likelihood of you new speedster nabbing a base will almost undoubtedly be higher than your improved chance at a homer should you have tried to optimize that skill on your roster. This is likely to be true especially because players whose home run totals are egregiously low are often too valuable in other ways -– often, in steals –- to just drop in even a rational fit of short-sighted opportunism.

So, without further ado, below is a table of regular MLB catchers and their success at throwing out runners. Obviously, starting pitcher plays a role here, but if you’re going to look at this strategy in terms of the series as the unit of pick-up, here are the biggest marks and deadliest assassins who regularly suit up behind the dish.

Team Catcher Pct thrown out
PIT Doumit 10
LAD Barajas 11
NYY Cerveli 16
NYY Posada 17
BOS Martinez 21
CHC Soto 22
FLA Davis 23
WAS Rodríguez 23
TAM Jaso 23
OAK Suzuki 23
PIT Snyder 24
ANA Napoli 27
PHL Ruiz 28
TOR Buck 28
CHA Pierzynski 28
BAL Wieters 29
KC Kendall 29
TEX Treanor 29
TEX Molina 29
MIN Mauer 30
ARI Montero 31
CIN Hanigan 32
DET Avila 32
ATL McCann 33
CIN Hernandez 33
MIL LuCroy 34
SF Posey 34
SEA Johnson 35
HOU Quintero 38
SD Torrealba 40
CLE Marson 41
NYM Thole 43
COL Olivo 43
STL Molina 48

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Paul Singman
Paul Singman

Some catchers, maybe warranted or unwarranted, I think have the reputation of being easy to steal on and therefore managers will send guys running more often against them. I’m sure the catchers with a low throwout rate get run on proportionally more, but if there are any outliers, that would also be important to know. Opportunity is just as important as success.

Derek Ambrosino
Derek Ambrosino
Another interesting tangent to Paul’s point is that a catcher’ ability throwing out runner not only affects the frequency with which he is tested, but changes the complexion of the testers. Most basestealers are opportunists, these days. There are only a handful of guys who basically just go whenever they want on whomever they want. So, not only are the best catchers succeeding more often, but it stands to reason that they would be doing so against better competition. So, who is a better bet to attempt a steal, Ryan Theriot (20 SB) against Yadier Molina (48%), or Alcides Escobar… Read more »