MASTER NOTES: 'Go Rate'™ changes

A few fantasy stats depend heavily on manager decisions and team philosophy, and SB more than any other offensive stat, unless you’re in a league that counts bunts or challenges.

So I thought it might be interesting to look at all the MLB teams as they reach the one-quarter mark of the season to see which ones have changed their running games since last season. Most of them are doing what we might have expected. But some have stepped on the gas pedal in 2017, while others are hitting the brakes.

Method

I looked at all the MLB teams in 2016 and YTD 2017, about 40 GP. I calculated each team’s SBA%—the percentage of SB opportunities when a runner tried to steal. To save the hassle of caps lock, because I always HAVE TROUBLE REMEMBERING TO TURN IT Off, I’m going to call SBA% the “Go Rate”™, which also sounds snazzier.

Changes in Go Rate aren’t always the result of manager philosophy. Roster changes obviously matter. For example, CLE’s Go Rate went way down, mostly because Rajai Davis took his 33% to OAK in the off-season.

So to keep things fair, I counted only players who were on a particular team’s roster in both 2016 and 2017. I used these data:

  • SB Opportunities (SBO), using baseball-reference.com’s definition, a runner at first or second with the next base open.
  • Stolen Bases (SB) and Caught Stealing (CS), from baseball-reference.com
  • Stolen Base Attempts (SBA), SB+CS
  • And SBA% (Go Rate), SBA divided by SBO.

In 2017, the overall Go Rate was 5.7%, one-tenth of a percentage point more than last season. Twenty-three of the 30 MLB teams had modest changes, between +2 and -2 percentage points, including ATL, BAL, BOS, CHC, CHW, CIN, CLE, DET, HOU, KC, LAA, LA, MIA, MIN, NYM, NYY, OAK, PHI, PIT, SEA, SF, TAM and TOR.

Bulls

Let’s look at the three teams who increased their SBA% by more than two percentage points.

One of the main reasons for a big change in SBA% is a new manager. And in Arizona (’17: 11.6%, ’16: 7.3%, +4.3), new field boss Torey Lovullo has fired the starter’s pistol at the Phoenix Invitational Track Meet. Lovullo was not a baserunning threat as a player, with 17 SBA in eight MLB seasons. But he has pulled ARI from average into second place in Go Rate. Almost every D’Back is up from last season, and three—the injured A.J. Pollock, Chris Owings and Paul Goldschmidt—have Go Rates over 20%. When it comes to baserunning, Torey is not conservative.

Revisiting the Whitey Herzog era, St. Louis (’17: 6.9%, ’16: 2.9%, +4) runs more than North Korean stockings. These Runnin’ Redbirds are led by Tommy Pham, running almost one-quarter of his opps after just 5% last year. Randall Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Greg Garcia are all over 10%, all well above last season. The STL jump is the largest in relative terms, more than double 2016.

Texas (’17: 10%, ’16: 6%) was slightly over MLB average in 2016 but has jumped up among the leaders. Delino DeShields is running in 20% of his opportunities, and both Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor are five points higher than last year. It looks like Jeff Banister is being more aggressive. although he may have hung a red light around the neck of Carlos Gomez, whose Go Rate is down to 13% from 24%.

Bears

Four teams have Go Rates down more than two points. In Colorado (’17: 2.7%, ’16: 5.3%, -2.6), new manager Bud Black seems to be adopting his strategy from nine years managing SD, when he was generally reluctant to run (5%-6% Go Rate), except when his team lacked punch:

  • In 2010: One hitter above .770 OPS (Adrian Gonzalez), 8% Go Rate
  • 2011: Two hitters over .770 (Justin Upton, Miguel Montero), 10% Go Rate
  • 2012: A 31-HR guy (Chase Headley) but only one other double-digit HR hitter, 9% Go Rate

(Black also had five guys in 2012 who could really scoot, led by Everth Cabrera, who took off 30% of his opportunities and grabbed 44 bags on a 92% (!) success rate.)

Black looks like the kind of manager who adjusts his strategy to suit his personnel. He has plenty o’ pop in COL, so won’t risk outs on the basepaths. Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu might not even reach double digit bags, especially after starting the year 2-for-4 each.

In Washington (’17: 4.9%, ’16: 8.8%, -3.9), the decline of the team’s Go Rate is reflected in severe drops among SB producers. Trea Turner is down by almost half from last year’s 30% mark, and Bryce Harper is down to just 2% after ringing up a 16% last year. Like Black in COL, it could be that Dusty Baker thinks the Nats can bash their way to runs—without the risk of basepath outs.

In San Diego (’17: 6.4%, ’16: 11.0%, -4.6), Manuel Margot is sporting a useful 15% Go Rate, but the rest of the team lags, including Wil Myers, whose rate is off a couple of notches at 12%. Only Cory Spangenberg joins those two at 10% or higher. Like we need another reason to avoid Padres.

The biggest Go Rate decline is in Milwaukee (’17: 15.0%, ’16: 19.9%, -4.9). That's a little surprising, as the team still leads the majors in Go Rate. But all the Brwers' burners are well off 2016 Go Rates: Keon Broxton (down to 36% from 44%), Jonathan Villar (21%/32%) and Hernan Perez (27%/8%). Interestingly, slugger Domingo Santana is +10 points, to a playable 15%.

Weird Outlier

Finally, I must mention Baltimore (’17: 2.7%, ’16: 1.3%, +1.4). The Orioles’ increase this year has been modest, just +1.3 points. But the resulting 2.7% rate more than doubles last year, when their 32 SBA was the lowest team total since the 1960 Athletics had 27. If the club maintains this new rate, we could expect SBA to double, especially if the base-stealers keep swiping at a 78% rate, hugely better than last year’s 58% and positive for run creation. Keep in mind, though, that most of that gain is attributable to part-timers Craig Gentry, who is 3-for-3, and Joey Rickard, 3-for-4. Both Manny Machado and Adam Jones are running a very little bit more, but each is 1-for-2, not helping the runs dynamic.

Conclusion

Of course the usual sample-size rules apply, and so do alternative explanations. It might be that some teams went slow because of April cool weather.

That said, it does look the teams at the extreme ends of the Go Rate gains spectrum should be worth a closer look, especially if SBs figure in your strategic planning for the rest of this season.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.