Between the Numbers: The Big Caught Stealing
Beware: do not read this post.
It will remind of last year’s most gutwrenching losses. It contains positive comments about both Dave Henderson and Willie Bloomquist. As such, it such may be dangerously shocking to people with heart conditions, pregnant women or children. So if you’re a pregnant child with a heart condition, for the sake of all that’s decent, do not read on.
Those who have longed for an exhaustive treatise on Willie Bloomquist’s stolen bases, join me after the jump.
When the M’s played San Diego, Dave Henderson lauded Dave Roberts, and by proxy, the Pride of Port Orchard. In so doing, he offered a guiding principle.
Dave Roberts’ steals are a lot like Willie Bloomquist’s, Henderson said, because they’re “big steals” when you really need them, late in close games. Looking only at the quantity of steals and caught stealing statistics, Hendu opined, is misleading: you can’t just look at the numbers.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you’ve got to look between the numbers.”
At first, I sneered at Henderson for conflating two cliches (reading between the lines and going inside the numbers). When I looked closer, “between the numbers” actually seemed like a sensical, if awkward, way to get across what he was talking about.
Similarly, I assumed that his substantive point — the Bloomquist had some big stolen bases — had no basis in fact. Human memory is a tricky thing. Often, we remember what we want to. Surely, this what Henderson was doing.
In both cases, my gut impulse was wrong.
Looking at Bloomquist’s game logs from this year and from last year, I examined all the steals and caught stealings he amassed. I checked out the game situations in which they occurred. All of that data’s down at the bottom.
Guess what? Several of those steals happened in key situations, late in close games. (None as big as Roberts’ steal, of course, but that’s a pretty unfair standard).
It’s not just the big situations, either. Over the past three years, Bloomquist has gone 3-1 (so far), 13-2 and 4-1 in stealing success. That’s a solid rate of success, and the fact that Willie is overrated in general shouldn’t prevent us from acknowledging the parts of his game that have been useful.
What did I learn? Willie Bloomquist has actually had some big steals. In fact, you could even make the case that the majority of his 2004 steals occurred in important situations. I also learned that the stolen base is often a two-edged sword. A few times, Bloomquist did what he was asked to do — only to have the other team, predictably walk a good hitter. It’s also superfluous at times: a Bret Boone grand slam that follows a Bloomquist steal is a run-scoring club compared to the flyswatter of advancing a base.
Most importantly, I was reminded of some eye-poppingly bad stomach-punch losses from last year. April 14, the M’s rally to tie in the 9th … and the bullpen loses it. July 31: Ichiro! ties the game with a ninth inning homer! Bret Boone scores Ichiro with the go-ahead run in the 11th! Eddie comes in … and gives up the game with a two-run bomb. Man, that was a hard team to watch.
Now, saying Bloomquist has had some big steals isn’t to say that any type of specific clutch stealing skill exists. Many of these swiped bags were the result of opportunity — Bloomquist being put in to pinch run in the late innings.
Also, the larger point about human memory is valid. When an image is created of someone, that image tends to stick — and so you remember “the big steal” as opposed to “the big caught stealing.” Bloomquist being picked off of second in a tie game earlier this year really stung the M’s chances to win, and a less-beloved player might have borne scars as a result. He was caught in two 2004 situations that meet the key” criteria I applied above, too.
So go ahead and laugh when Dave Henderson lectures Rick Rizzs about the importance of the bunt. Go ahead and get steamed when anyone tells you that Willie Bloomquist just needs a few hundred more at-bats as a starter to prove he belongs.
Don’t laugh when Henderson tells you that Willie has stolen some important bases, though, because that’s actually true.
5/08: Stole second in the fifth inning with the M’s leading 2-1. Did not score. Mariners won 6-4 on a Richie Sexson grand slam.
6/17 (2): Stole second and third in the fourth inning with the M’s leading 4-0. Did not not score. Mariners won 5-0.
5/01: Picked off second in the fifth inning of a 1-1 tie. Oakland won this game 3-2.
4/11: Stole third in the 10th inning with the Mariners leading 6-4. Scored on an Ichiro groundout. Mariners won 9-4 afterBret Boone followed up the big steal with a two-run homer, scoring Randy Winn.
4/14: Stole second in the top of the ninth. Scored on a Dan Wilson single to tie the game. Mariners lost 6-5 when Mike Myers, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Julio Mateo gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth.
5/25: Stole third in the 11th inning of a tie game — but was thrown out trying to score on a groundout. Mariners won 5-4 in the 12th on a Raul Ibanez single.
6/06: Stole third as part of a double-steal with Bret Boone in the bottom of the ninth of a 4-4 tie — resulting in an intentional walk being issued to Edgar Martinez. The Mariners won 5-4 after Billy Koch blew up for three runs in the bottom of the ninth, walking Jolbert Cabrera with the bases loaded (!) to give up the game-winner.
7/10: Stole second in the fifth inning with the M’s leading 2-1. Did not score. M’s lost 3-2.
7/19: Stole second in the eighth inning, down by two runs. M’s tied the game in the ninth on homers by Miguel Olivo (!) and Edgar Martinez off Keith Foulke, then won 8-4 in the 11th on a Boone grand slam.
7/20: Stole second in the fourth inning, trailing 1-0. Went to third on a wild pitch, but did not score. M’s lost 9-7.
7/27: Stole second in the 7th inning, trailing 4-3. Did not score. Mariners lost 5-3.
8/01: Stole second in the ninth inning of a tie game — but that just resulted in an intentional walk to Raul Ibanez. After Ichiro tied the game with a ninth inning homer, and Boone put the M’s ahead with a single scoring Ichiro in the top of the 11th, Eddie Guardado served up a two-run homer without getting an out in the bottom half for a gut-wrenching 9-8 loss.
8/03: Stole second in the eighth trailing 4-3. Scored on a double-error by Miguel Tejada error to tie the score. But (stop me if you’ve heard this) Tejada doubled off George Sherrill in the bottom half to beat the M’s 5-4.
8/11: Stole third and scored on Henry Blanco’s throwing error to score the winning run in the ninth, 4-3.
8/21: Stole second in the third inning of a 3-3 tie. Did not score. M’s lost 11-10. Some guy named “Guillen” who plays for the Tigers had six RBI.
8/31: Stole third as part of a double-steal with Jolbert Cabrera in the eighth. Scored go-ahead run on Dan Wilson’s single. M’s won 5-3.
7/22: Picked off first in the seventh inning of a tie game. M’s won 4-2 after getting two in the bottom of the eighth.
8/22: Caught stealing third in the third inning, down 3-1. Did hit a game-winning home run later, his first tater in 13 months.