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Thread: Moneyball and the stolen base

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    Member NJReds's Avatar
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    Moneyball and the stolen base

    I just finished reading Moneyball. Facinating read. I give Beane credit for what he's done in Oakland.

    My question to our top analytical minds on the board is about speed and stolen bases w/respect to the philosophy behind Moneyball.

    Obviously there are studies and statistics that show that the stolen base is overrated unless the success rate is extremely high.

    But in watching the A's and Tigers, I was wonder if the complete lack of fear of the stolen base has an adverse affect on the offense.

    If Team A doesn't utilize the stolen base, and everyone knows that they loathe giving up outs on the basepaths, I would think the following:

    - With a runner on first, even one with good speed. The pitcher doesn't have to worry about him taking off and thus can focus on the batter. Also, he doesn't have to worry about pitchouts.

    - The defense can settle in at double-play depth and not "cheat" to cover 2nd base.

    - The hitter is less likely to get a steady diet of fastballs.

    I doubt it can be proved, but there has to be some benefit to a team's offense when the threat of the stolen base exists. Even if they give the green light that often.

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    THAT'S A FACT JACK!! GAC's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by NJReds View Post
    I just finished reading Moneyball. Facinating read. I give Beane credit for what he's done in Oakland.

    My question to our top analytical minds on the board is about speed and stolen bases w/respect to the philosophy behind Moneyball.

    Obviously there are studies and statistics that show that the stolen base is overrated unless the success rate is extremely high.

    But in watching the A's and Tigers, I was wonder if the complete lack of fear of the stolen base has an adverse affect on the offense.

    If Team A doesn't utilize the stolen base, and everyone knows that they loathe giving up outs on the basepaths, I would think the following:

    - With a runner on first, even one with good speed. The pitcher doesn't have to worry about him taking off and thus can focus on the batter. Also, he doesn't have to worry about pitchouts.

    - The defense can settle in at double-play depth and not "cheat" to cover 2nd base.

    - The hitter is less likely to get a steady diet of fastballs.

    I doubt it can be proved, but there has to be some benefit to a team's offense when the threat of the stolen base exists. Even if they give the green light that often.
    Personally, I don't care if it can be proved or not. Just because numbers can be shown that it's success rate is low, does not mean that it should be forgotten or ignored. While it is obviously not for everyone, not everyone should be considering themselves a "base stealer", and it really depends on the situation, there are advantages to base stealing.

    But watching guys like Brock, Henderson, Morgan, and Coleman, once they got on base, practice the "art", and the way they analyzed pitcher's movement, trying to steal signs, and disrupt defensive alignments, was a joy to watch IMO.

    But these guys had a higher then normal percentage of success rate at stealing.
    Last edited by GAC; 10-16-2006 at 11:31 AM.
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    Posting in Dynarama M2's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    I've always looked at the metrics on stolen bases as a case for aggression on the basepaths, not against it.

    Think about it, you need to make it roughly 70% of the time for the SB to be an effective weapon. Here's my question. In this era of no-arm catchers and pitchers with no discernable move to 1B, what kind of reasonable quick player can't steal bases at at least a 70% clip? Seems to me that if you can run, MLB has set up an open invitation for increased scoring. Most teams literally can't stop the running game.

    And if you've got speed and are willing to use it, the steady diet of fastballs and taking the defense out of the DP setup will follow. I also think it causes pitchers to rush their deliveries, leading to a greater number of mistakes.

    Anyway, I think the numbers behind stolen bases make a compelling case to put the speed of the modern athlete to better use. IMO, it feeds into the core principles of big offense. In fact, I think we saw it on display with the Reds during the first half of the season.
    Last edited by M2; 10-16-2006 at 11:46 AM.
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    Member NJReds's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by M2 View Post
    Most teams literally can't stop the running game.

    Although it may be totally unrelated to their team's respective success, two catchers left in the playoffs are Pudge and Molina, who may be the best catchers in the games with respect to shutting down the oppositions running game.

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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by GAC View Post
    Personally, I don't care if it can be proved or not. There are advantages to base stealing. Base stealing is an "art" in my opinion and does take study and skill. It's not for everyone, nor should it be attempted in a majority of the time by alot of ballplayers that "think" they are base stealers.

    It really depends on the situation.

    But watching guys like Brock, Henderson, Morgan, and Coleman, once they got on base, and the way they analyzed pitcher's movement, trying to steal signs, and disrupt defensive alignments, was a joy to watch IMO.
    There are lots of things that requires copious skill and artfullness. That does not necessarily mean it contributes to winning baseball games. I'm not saying doesn't contribute to winning baseball games, that it doesn't actually take skill, or that it's not fun to watch. In fact, I agree with NJReds' premise that the true effects of speed (not just stolen bases per se') are nearly impossible to measure, and probably greater than sabermatricians currently give credit for. It's just that your points don't necessarily say anything about the value of speed in winning games.

    It is a very slipperly slope though. Could we not say the same thing about lineup order, power, weather, park design (shadows/glare off boxes), etc. There are a ton of hidden effects in the game that will never be measurable, which is definitely a good thing. I think there was a mini-debate over the course of a yahoo fantasy article series debating the value to the game of small ball -- not in terms of win probabilty, but aesthetically and historically. Even if we could prove that speed was pointless and it behooved teams to build lineups of Jason Giambis and Adam Dunns, would the game not be worse off for it? It's an interesting conversation, regardless of what perspective you have.

    I would also argue that the effect of speed is perhaps just as big on extra base advancement than it is speed. Reyes moving to third on LoDuca's soft single yesterday being a perfect example. The one thing I think the stats community has yet to really quantify appropriately is the value of runner advancement, be it giving credit to good baserunners, or extra credit to SLG% for the extra bases it allows runners to advance in addition to the batter.
    Last edited by RedsManRick; 10-16-2006 at 11:51 AM.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Ripsnort wheels's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    I know Steel's got a metric that he uses, but he doesn't seem to be posting lately.

    Maybe he's reading this though.

    This would be a good cue for his return.
    "We know we're better than this, but we can't prove it." - Tony Gwynn

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    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by M2 View Post

    Think about it, you need to make it roughly 70% of the time for the SB to be an effective weapon. Here's my question. In this era of no-arm catchers and pitchers with no discernable move to 1B, what kind of reasonable quick player can't steal bases at at least a 70% clip?
    I posted something to this effect a year ago or so. If I am the Reds I take the alternate approach to everyone else in Baseball. I load up on SB and defense guys, (of course, I would have also built the largest field that baseball would allow, but I digress) they are cheaper than sluggers and somewhat undervalued in todays game.

    I'd also contend (also said this a few times before) that 70% successful SB rate against Eric Milton (5.19 ERA) probably costs you runs, while a 70% successful SB rate against Arroyo (3.29 ERA) probably nets you runs.

    While SBs are likely overvalued during the season, I think they are undervalued during the post-season where the pitchers ERAs tend to be lower.

    GL

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    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Real speed on the bases and the running game disrupts the pitcher's flow and puts added pressure on the defense. It changes the way a catcher might call pitches to a particular hitter. It causes pitchers to lose focus and make pitches they might not usually make and rush to the plate. It takes infielders out of their regualr flow and causes them to hurry throws and sometimes look up to see where the runner is before fielding the ball not watching it into their gloves. It requires middle infielders to be moving and opens up holes in the defense. It causes outfielders to charge balls hard that they usually do not. It gives opposing managers ulcers. It puts everything on edge.

    From where I sit, speed is a very disruptive force in a baseball game.
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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    I think the problem becomes not in asking "Is speed valuable?" but rather, "How valuable is speed compared to X?" I think the standard answer is that power is way, more valuable than speed. Knowing nothing else, would you rather have a 40 HR guy or a 60 SB guy? Who would you pay more to?

    Speed doesn't do much to get on you base (unless you're Ichiro) and doesn't advance other runners. However, as you suggest, perhaps it does have a postive effect on the performance of your teammates, in addition to it's outright benefits of extra bases for the runner. The problem is measuring these benefits and properly weighting them. In the absence of thorough analysis, I think people are prone to a perception bias with speed, giving undue weight to the positive events it causes, largely because of its "novelty". People want speed to make a big difference, so in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they assume it does.

    IIRC, there was a study posted on BP which showed that having a speedy player on 1B (compared to a not-speedy one) did not have a statistically significant effect on the performance of the batter. That, of course, is just one of the suggested postive effects, but take it for what you will. Perhaps somebody has the actual reference handy.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by gonelong View Post
    they are cheaper than sluggers and somewhat undervalued in todays game.
    Wasn't that really the whole crux of Moneyball, to get more bang for your buck by utilizing what is undervalued by everyone else? I think a lot of people have attached Moneyball to sluggers who walk and strike out a lot, but I think the main point is more about going against trends to get more value for what you spend, or to avoid spending too much in areas that are overvalued.

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    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    I think the problem becomes not in asking "Is speed valuable?" but rather, "How valuable is speed compared to X?" I think the standard answer is that power is way, more valuable than speed. Knowing nothing else, would you rather have a 40 HR guy or a 60 SB guy? Who would you pay more to?

    Speed doesn't do much to get on you base (unless you're Ichiro) and doesn't advance other runners. However, as you suggest, perhaps it does have a postive effect on the performance of your teammates, in addition to it's outright benefits of extra bases for the runner. The problem is measuring these benefits and properly weighting them. In the absence of thorough analysis, I think people are prone to a perception bias with speed, giving undue weight to the positive events it causes, largely because of its "novelty". People want speed to make a big difference, so in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they assume it does.

    IIRC, there was a study posted on BP which showed that having a speedy player on 1B (compared to a not-speedy one) did not have a statistically significant effect on the performance of the batter. That, of course, is just one of the suggested postive effects, but take it for what you will. Perhaps somebody has the actual reference handy.
    Why do you have to choose between the two? I'd like a little of both. The key is balance. Get too overloaded either way and you are going to have problems.
    Talent is God Given: be humble.
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    Hey Cubs Fans RFS62's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by OldRightHander View Post
    Wasn't that really the whole crux of Moneyball, to get more bang for your buck by utilizing what is undervalued by everyone else? I think a lot of people have attached Moneyball to sluggers who walk and strike out a lot, but I think the main point is more about going against trends to get more value for what you spend, or to avoid spending too much in areas that are overvalued.


    Exactly right.
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    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by RANDY IN CHAR NC View Post
    Why do you have to choose between the two? I'd like a little of both. The key is balance. Get too overloaded either way and you are going to have problems.
    Well you don't have to choose one or the other to be sure. Even the Red Sox needed a stolen base to get to the World Series. But there's a whole of grey area to be negotiated in between. And given fixed resources, if you spent 10% of your payroll on a Juan Pierre, that's gonna have a significant effect on your ability to sign other players with other skill sets. It's a question of the right distribution of talent and money.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Balance.
    Talent is God Given: be humble.
    Fame is man given: be thankful.
    Conceit is self given: be careful.

    John Wooden

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    Mon chou Choo vaticanplum's Avatar
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    Re: Moneyball and the stolen base

    Quote Originally Posted by OldRightHander View Post
    Wasn't that really the whole crux of Moneyball, to get more bang for your buck by utilizing what is undervalued by everyone else? I think a lot of people have attached Moneyball to sluggers who walk and strike out a lot, but I think the main point is more about going against trends to get more value for what you spend, or to avoid spending too much in areas that are overvalued.
    That's how I see it. The story of Beane and the A's is a more of a business one than a baseball one to me, though certainly I learned a ton about baseball from it and I think it sparked a new way of looking at baseball for a lot of people. The market of baseball now has disparities between individual teams that did not always exist, and management of the teams should adjust as such, which may sometimes utilize new ways of looking at the sport itself. This is what Beane did, to good success, when other managers were refusing to do so.

    It's a how-to manual for management, not a how-to manual for baseball. Though the baseball info, taken in accordance with a lot of other things, could help a lot of teams.
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