The Risk of the Stolen Base

I was watching the Chicago White Sox take on the Minnesota Twins. There was one play during the game that stood out to me. It bothered me in a way as well.

The Twins were leading 4-3 going into the bottom of the 11th. Mark Kotsay led off the inning by striking out. Then Alex Rios followed with a single. This is where my problem begins. I’m generally against the idea of trying to steal bases. I get the idea of trying to get into scoring position, but for me I think there is too much risk involved.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Dodgers

According to “The Book” by Tom Tango a runner on first base with 1 out the team has a run expectancy of .573 runs per inning. Alex Rios attempted to steal 2nd base. He was thrown out. Now they have no men on with 2 out. A team can be expected to score an average of .117 runs per inning. Him being thrown out the expected number of runs decreased by .456 runs. Even if Rios was safe he only increased the expected number of runs by .152 per inning. On average stolen bases are worth only .174 runs and getting caught stealing is worth -.467 runs. I think this shows that the risk is worth more than the reward in regards to stealing bases.

To make matters worse Omar Vizquel followed with a single. I know you can’t assume Vizquel gets the same pitch, but for arguments sake they could have men on first and second with 1 out. A team can be expected to score an average of .971 runs per inning. Based on the percentages it’s likely the Sox tie the game if they don’t attempt to steal second base and Vizquel still gets on.

My point is not to criticize Ozzie Guillen or the Sox, but it’s to show that there is risk involved in trying to steal bases. If the Sox or any other team hopes to win they should be more careful on the base paths. I think most teams would be better off playing the percentages.

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