Ichiro is, again, smarter than his manager and the press covering him

DMZ · February 27, 2008 at 9:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

ichiro ichiro ichiro

I know, our fanatical Ichiro devotion here at USSM taints our judgment of all things Ichiro. But I want to take a second and point something out.

McLaren is the manager of the Mariners. He made a comment about Ichiro being capable of stealing 80 bases, and his meaning was kind of hazy, but it appears he’s trying to put the idea in Ichiro’s brain. From mlb.com’s story:

“He has done everything so well in his career, winning batting battles and Gold Gloves, that the bar is set high for him,” McLaren said. “He’s a numbers guy, and I just like him and others to think, ‘I am capable of doing this.’ That [80] was a number I pulled out of a hat.”

Batting battles? Titles?

Great motivation there, McLaren. You’re doing a heckuvajob.

(イチロー photo by BobbyProm, cc-licensed)

When asked if McLaren’s forecast was possible, Ichiro said, “I could steal 80 bases … if I would get thrown out 70 times. When you run that much, there is a risk involved.”

Good point there, Ichiro. Ichiro’s a smart player, he knows it doesn’t make sense to run 200 times and get thrown out 150. He knows when he can take advantage of the battery to take an extra base successfully, and there are situations when it’s worth more risk. He’s awesome, is my point.

So. Jim Street goes on to talk to Harold Reynolds, who thinks that the running game puts pressure on the defense (sigh)…

The success rate during Ichiro’s seven-year MLB career is 81 percent (272-for-338), and his base-stealing percentage has been better the past three seasons (86 percent) than it was in his first four seasons (77 percent). That is a clear indication that he reads pitcher’s pickoff moves better now than earlier in his career.

His base-stealing rate last season was essentially the same as his first year, when it’s reasonable to assume he was a hair faster, but he attempted 70 steals that year — he found a lot more chances he liked and went for it. Today, he’s picking his spots with the same success, but not running as often. That doesn’t say “better at reading pitchers” to me. That says “continued awesomeness at knowing what his abilities are.”

Over the course of last year’s season, Ichiro ran 37 times and was thrown out 8 times, which is an 80% rate. It’s about his career average of 80%. 80%’s sweet. Above 75% is unquestionably a positive, and there are all kinds of stats and studies you can look up that put the break-even there.

Given permission to largely run whenever he wants, Ichiro’s picking his spots, he’s productive, contributing to the team’s success, and he’s shown season after season that his judgment is pretty outstanding. He’s not doing it as often as, say, Carl Crawford (50 SB/10 CS) or Juan Pierre (64/15), but Juan Uribe was thrown out 9 times and stole successfully once. Willy Taveras was 33/9. My point is, Ichiro’s fine. He knows what he’s doing.

Here’s a rough measure of Ichiro’s selection. He was on base 284 times (232 non-HR hits, 49 walks, 3 HBP) not counting fielders choices where he made it to first but the runner on first got thrown out (GDP? 7 all year). Of all the times he was on base, all the pitches he saw he could have taken off on, he carefully selected 45 times to take off where a play could have been made on him (so we’re not counting “took off, ball fouled off”). His careful selection resulted in a high success rate and a contribution to the team.

What if he ran every time — really, every pitch thrown where he was on base, he attempted to steal. He’d be thrown out all the time. They’d pitch out and even the Kendall/Estrada types would nail him more often (I have a whole other rant about that, but that’s for another time).

So unless you believe that Ichiro’s judgment isn’t good and that being way more aggressive about when to run would improve his judgment, that’s our range of possible outcomes:
Ichiro uses his superior baseball intellect: 80% success
Ichiro runs every pitch: let’s call it 15%. Instead of 37-8 he goes 42-240.

His 80% success rate gives the team a couple runs a year easily, and that’s a larger impact than it seems when I write it that way.
A 15% success rate and running every pitch would entirely destroy the value of his hitting. He’d be the worst offensive player in baseball.

Within that range, the actual success rate is going to vary a lot. If he picked the next best ten times to run, and they were 70% chances, he’d have been at 44-11 (+7, +3), which is still nice. Figure that each additional ten, the percentage goes down 5% again (and this certainly isn’t meant to be representational of the actual probabilities, I’m just working my way to a point). You can get Ichiro to go 57-19 on the season, a nice 75% success rate, and that certainly looks a lot more impressive.

The problem is that it’s not. Those extra 30 attempts have a success rate of 65% — he’s not actually helping the team by taking those, unless you believe putting the game in motion (and so on and so forth). Each of those thirty new attempts are counter-productive.

And to return to Ichiro’s quote, if you start the counter at 75% and drop the success rate 3.5% for every extra five attempts, Ichiro can get 80 stolen bases… but he gets thrown out 70 times, too (79-71, a 56% rate)

In a way, it’s like criticizing him for his defense. Ichiro made 424 put-outs last year. The franchise record for an outfielder is Mike Cameron’s ridiculous 485 in 2003. With Ichiro’s speed and good glove, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to break that. He just needs to charge at every fly ball hit anywhere, fair or foul, sprinting full-out, and knock other fielders out of the way to get there. It would certainly increase his putout numbers, and he could certainly break the franchise record… what could go wrong? (And how different would it be than than the 2008 outfield defense anyway?)

Ichiro’s right to shrug off the standard pre-season blather about running more, or better, or how awesome the Angels are. Unless you believe that by taking more chances Ichiro’s going to suddenly uncover a set of outstanding base-stealing chances that he was previously blind to, we should put our trust in him and continue to enjoy his play, rather than stretch to find areas of improvement where he is already doing an fine job.

Comments

106 Responses to “Ichiro is, again, smarter than his manager and the press covering him”

  1. MarinerDan on February 27th, 2008 9:16 am

    I always kind of laugh when these preseason stories come out about teams “running more.” That old tired line has been used for decades and never amounts to anything. Similar to the line that “so-and-so came in to camp in better shape/leaner/more muscular” and then he proceeds to have the same season he has had for the past 5 years. I think Houston said they were going to “run more” this year. They probably won’t. If they do, it won’t be advantageous. And the beat goes on.

  2. smb on February 27th, 2008 9:18 am

    The only thing I should hear out of McClaren’s mouth about Ichiro’s baserunning is, “I don’t tell Ichiro anything about baserunning–he knows when to run and when not to, so I stay out of it.” If only…

  3. Mike Snow on February 27th, 2008 9:38 am

    Well, when Hargrove came in talking about aggressive baserunning, it looked real enough when the season started, and it was a disaster. I can’t remember if that was last spring or the spring before (that is, Hargrove talked about it every year, just like everyone else does, but this one year he seemed particularly serious about it).

  4. drw on February 27th, 2008 9:43 am

    While I agree that having Ichiro run more is not useful, I don’t accept your premise/assumption that the next 10/20/30 attempts would be below his historical average. We simply do not know. To reach that conclusion based on his “awesomeness” and the assertion “he knows what he’s doing” and his “superior baseball intellect” opens you up to the same sort of ridicule that is routinely showered on those who would say that any other players know what they are doing and that empirical evidence is unnecessary to support their choices.

    So where’s the evidence that the next 10 would be less successful?

  5. Jon on February 27th, 2008 9:52 am

    McLaren is a veritable blather machine. What a disappointment! Listening to his recycled gibberish makes me long even more for Lououou’s unvarnished, stream-of-consciousness rants and ramblings. Perhaps Mac’s actual managing skills will rise above the humdrum of his oratory. It won’t be hard.

  6. CCW on February 27th, 2008 9:53 am

    So where’s the evidence that the next 10 would be less successful?

    As you say, drw, it is impossible to prove that Ichiro’s next 10 attempts would be less successful. However, it is definitely true that at some point, stealing more leads to less success. DMZ very clearly described that end of the spectrum. How you get from one end of the spectrum (not running at all) to the other (getting caught all the time) is certainly not linear nor can I see any way to actually predict how the curve looks in the middle.

    Here was DMZ’s point, I believe, though: if you’re going to let one person try to predict when the best times to steal are, in order to increase his success rate, who would that person be? Clearly, it’s the guy who’s ACTUALLY DOING THE STEALING and who has an 80% historical success rate. Ichiro, not McLaren. Duh.

  7. gwangung on February 27th, 2008 9:56 am

    While I agree that having Ichiro run more is not useful, I don’t accept your premise/assumption that the next 10/20/30 attempts would be below his historical average. We simply do not know. To reach that conclusion based on his “awesomeness” and the assertion “he knows what he’s doing” and his “superior baseball intellect” opens you up to the same sort of ridicule that is routinely showered on those who would say that any other players know what they are doing and that empirical evidence is unnecessary to support their choices.

    So where’s the evidence that the next 10 would be less successful?

    This is a fair point on the surface.

    However, base stealing is physical ability and judgement. Part of judgement involves picking the time to steal. Pressuring him to steal more, INHERENTLY means that he’s going to choose situations where he thinks he can’t steal as successfully. You are intentionally degrading his base stealing by degrading his judgement. Prima facie, that means he’s going to be less successful.

    Now, your turn. What’s the mechanism for maintaining his rate if you pressure him to steal more, against his better judgement?

  8. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on February 27th, 2008 9:57 am

    we should put our trust in him and continue to enjoy his play, rather than stretch to find areas of improvement where he is already doing an fine job.

    I think that’s my new motto for the next couple of seasons – “In Ichiro we trust.”

    I understand John McLaren thinks he needs to push everybody to be a good manager. I realize this is the first time he’s managed out of the gate, and he may not really know when he’s saying something stupid. I don’t think he should ignore Ichiro, or leave him completely alone – there are some things he can say to him that might be meaningful and helpful (one that comes to mind is, “I won’t be running out gas can pitchers in middle and late innings of close games to completely neutralize any advantage you and others give me.”). I don’t think it’s wrong for McLaren to encourage Ichiro to be a clubhouse leader and mentor to other players. But Ichiro clearly knows more about baseball (at least as far as his role in it is concerned) than McLaren, and I am not sure it does McLaren any good to have Ichiro continue to demonstrate that disparity of knowledge when he is asked to respond to stupid statements.

  9. AuburnM on February 27th, 2008 10:10 am

    I don’t get it. If McLaren want Ichiro to steal more bases he just calls more steals. Why talk about it?

    Same thing with plate discipline. Just direct the players to take more pitches.

    John, there are is this technique managers use to control the game from the dugout called “signs”……

  10. TumwaterMike on February 27th, 2008 10:11 am

    As much as I like Ichiro and trust in his abilities I would much rather talk aboiut [deleted, ot, moved to the Boone thread]

  11. gwangung on February 27th, 2008 10:18 am

    I don’t get it. If McLaren want Ichiro to steal more bases he just calls more steals. Why talk about it?

    Same thing with plate discipline. Just direct the players to take more pitches.

    John, there are is this technique managers use to control the game from the dugout called “signs”……

    True micro-management, eh?

  12. Oolon on February 27th, 2008 10:23 am

    Ichiro is a very successful base stealer – no question. It seems to me that he’s very selective in when he makes the attempt – often it’s at a time in a game when the extra base doesn’t really mean as much and thus the defense isn’t watching him as closely or pitching out or throwing over to first. Games where the Mariners are ahead or behind by multiple runs are the places that I remember Ichiro most often making the attempt.

    There have been many times where he leads off the 8th or 9th inning with a single in a tied or game where the M’s trail by a run. Those situations seem like prime times for him to use his talents to steal second. He doesn’t. Or at least that’s my impression – I don’t have the statistics to back it up.

    I think this is some of the reason that his success rate is so high – he steals most often when the stolen base means little and the opponents aren’t as concerned with the extra base.

  13. Doc Baseball on February 27th, 2008 10:25 am

    So where’s the evidence that the next 10 would be less successful?

    Now, your turn. What’s the mechanism for maintaining his rate if you pressure him to steal more, against his better judgement?

    The key question is: is Ichiro stealing EVERY time he believes he has an 80%+ opportunity? That seems like an easy enough question to ask him … he likely would not say he is doing so EVERY time, but he probably can say either he tends to go essentially every time he feels he is 80%+, or he has been more selective or conservative — and he could talk about whether he is open to/interested in explicitly moving toward going every single time he judges the situation to be 80%+.

    The core points of Ichiro has extraordinary judgment, McLaren babbles without much apparent thought, and the local media do not ask intelligent probing questions … remain.

  14. Evan on February 27th, 2008 10:28 am

    The only thing I should hear out of McClaren’s mouth about Ichiro’s baserunning is, “I don’t tell Ichiro anything about baserunning–he knows when to run and when not to, so I stay out of it.”

    Both Hargrove and Piniella used to say things like that about Ichiro. I don’t know how he does what he does, so I just stay out of the way and let him do it. That’s a great management style for Ichiro.

  15. AuburnM on February 27th, 2008 10:29 am

    #11

    WTF? Isn’t that what managers do? They move fielders around, and tell players when to do things like bunt and steal.

    When Holmgren calls plays is he micromanaging?

  16. JMHawkins on February 27th, 2008 10:41 am

    The franchise record for an outfielder is Mike Cameron’s ridiculous 485 in 2003. With Ichiro’s speed and good glove, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to break that. He just needs to charge at every fly ball hit anywhere, fair or foul, sprinting full-out, and knock other fielders out of the way to get there. It would certainly increase his putout numbers, and he could certainly break the franchise record… what could go wrong?

    Cameron… charge fly ball… full-out… knock other fielders out of the way… could certainly break…

    Could certainly break…

    Could certainly shatter

    What did Mike Cameron shatter again? Oh, that’s right. His face. Go wrong indeed.

  17. Ralph_Malph on February 27th, 2008 10:43 am

    Same thing with plate discipline. Just direct the players to take more pitches.

    I don’t agree with this. Plate discipline means having the judgment to see when a pitch is going to be a ball and take it. And being less likely to swing at the pitches that are close.

    When a manager puts the take sign on, he’s telling the batter to take the pitch no matter where it is.

    That’s not plate discipline. If anything, it’s the opposite of plate discipline, since it has nothing to do with the batter’s eye or his ability to tell where the pitch is going to be thrown.

    Now if the manager could see where the pitch is going and flash the take sign while it’s on the way to the plate, that’d be pretty cool.

  18. gwangung on February 27th, 2008 10:43 am

    WTF? Isn’t that what managers do?

    That is, most probably, one of the lesser functions of managers. Moreover, with your better players, you tend to let them pick their spots and override only rarely. I think managers do this overtly much less than you think.

  19. vj on February 27th, 2008 10:47 am

    Oolon, I take it you suggest that Ichiro does not steal when it is important but rather when his chances are best. It might make an interesting case study to go through last year’s game logs and check when Ichiro stole and when he was caught.

  20. darrylzero on February 27th, 2008 10:52 am

    I think the key here is that Derek is saying that in the absence of other evidence, we should be giving Ichiro the benefit of the doubt about how selective he is. If he was claiming that Ichiro is definitely maximizing his efficiency on the basepaths, then I think drw’s comment would be spot-on. If there was some statistical or other evidence that Derek was trying to refute with this post, that would also be problematic.

    But there’s nothing like that (unless you count McLaren’s so-called baseball wisdom, and I don’t). So, in the absence of other evidence, I think this piece does a great job of describing why, intuitively, it makes sense to trust that Ichiro is appropriately selective.

    I’d like to know the answer to Oolan’s question myself, but I would guess that the important part of that answer is that other elite base-thiefs are equally frustrating to watch in some regards, because they also routinely choose not to steal in situations where we hope they would (though some may have more high-pressure steals than Ichiro, I don’t know). If anyone could come up with anything more than anecdotal evidence to the contrary, I’d love to hear it, but most of the arguments I’ve had about this devolve into people talking about how their favorite base-stealer stole this one crucial base at some crucial moment that turned the game. That one moment for them proves their man is a better base-stealer than than Ichiro, who supposedly racks up all his steals in low-pressure situations.

    Well… maybe. But I bet your guy mostly does too. And I bet if I scoured the boxscores or even my memory banks I could come up with a couple crucial wins keyed by an Ichiro steal. So, to bring any closure to this, someone’s going to have to do a ton of legwork to prove Ichiro is taking more advantage of easy steal-situations than his peers. Until then, I agree with Derek. In the absence of other evidence, we should give Ichiro the benefit of the doubt that he is being appropriately selective.

  21. Oolon on February 27th, 2008 10:54 am

    #19 My thought exactly. A look at his number of steals by inning and also the score differential when he stole bases would be very interesting.

    Is there a source of information like this?

  22. Tek Jansen on February 27th, 2008 10:58 am

    It amazes me that people think that since Ichiro is successful 80% of the time stealing bases that he should then attempt 100 SBs so he could steal 80. Ichiro obviously knows more than his critics

    I am always suspicious of individuals who question Ichiro’s baserunning, basestealing, and fielding (his refusal to “dive”). He is great at all of these. My own instinct tells me something else, and a little more insidious, leads to the criticism of him about the things he does exceptionally well.

  23. Jeff Nye on February 27th, 2008 11:02 am

    If you are looking to improve the team on the field for 2008, Ichiro! is one of the last places you should be looking for performance improvements.

    But then again, they’re having Richie Sexson do bunt drills, clearly they’re smarter than we are.

  24. Tek Jansen on February 27th, 2008 11:05 am

    #23 — There are simply having Richie make solid contact to boost his confidence.

  25. DMZ on February 27th, 2008 11:06 am

    You could go through the game logs for those 45 attempts and mark out the game situation in each case. Wouldn’t be too hard.

    Let us know what you find out.

  26. msb on February 27th, 2008 11:09 am
  27. Dave on February 27th, 2008 11:17 am

    Ichiro’s play log for 2007. Just sort by play, and you’ll see all his steals right there at the top, with inning, out, score, base state, and leverage index (LI) all right there.

    The average LI for Ichiro’s successful steals were 1.02, meaning that he stole bases in situations that were slightly more important than the average play. The idea that he pads his SB totals by running in situations where the other team doesn’t care has no merit.

  28. PositivePaul on February 27th, 2008 11:20 am

    Actually, msb, the typo in the sentence makes it all the more hilarious:

    “I don’t want to just run to run,” he said. “It defeats your purpoise when you force things.”

    Purpose/porpoise…

    DE-FEET THE PORPOISE!!!!

  29. galaxieboi on February 27th, 2008 11:25 am

    Is there a source of information like this?

    Yeah, one of us. I’m gonna try to use the ‘win expectancy matrix’ and the particular game situation to figure it out. It’s a slow work day.

  30. eponymous coward on February 27th, 2008 11:26 am

    DMZ, sounds like you need to redo your spring training update.

    Or, well, maybe not.

  31. thefin190 on February 27th, 2008 11:26 am

    Great article Derek. If only Ichiro was more fluent in English, I would totally support him to be a player-manager, that guy is smart and witty, and seems to understand the numbers of the game a whole lot better than John MacLaren does.

    What I gather, this is the same idea as maximizing profits. After a while, even if you are producing more, the profits steadily go down. It seems Ichiro is just about the maximization of his success rate. I don’t know if that is done intentionally by Ichiro, or if it just turned out that way. But I agree, I would much rather see him hustle in CF to break Mike Cameron’s put-out record. With the Mariners’ current corner outfielders, that shouldn’t be too hard to achieve.

  32. Dan In NY on February 27th, 2008 11:36 am

    I read this and had two quick thoughts

    First of all, while a steal is in general a good bet if you can do so with a 75% success rate, it seems to me that if he has an average success rate of 80% his marginal success rate is probably closer to 75% if not lower, so there is likely not much extra value that can be gained by running in lower success probability situations.

    Secondly, shouldn’t we expect defenses to be concentrating on him more in high leverage situations so that there would be fewer “good” running opportunities (in the sense of success probability near 1) there than in the lower leverage ones? So the fact that he is stealing with a leverage of approximately 1 would imply to me that he is more likely to take a risk in those situations than in others. Which is the rational thing to do since a single run is more valuable then.

  33. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on February 27th, 2008 11:47 am

    The idea that he pads his SB totals by running in situations where the other team doesn’t care has no merit.

    Thank you, Dave. I was about to say, “what the heck do you base Ichiro stealing only when it is not important on?!?” But in reading through the comments was glad to see you already addressed it.

    Unlike Derek’s point, that Ichiro’s selectivity is likely linked to his success rate in basestealing, the “I have a recollection that player ‘x’ always does this” does not constitute a valid theory, despite the numerous times we see it employed (even by our own Geoff Baker – whom I like). If a person watches 162 games, there is no way the mind accurately accounts for every scenario in which the player did or did not do something, and we are prone to remember spectacular plays, or extremely poor ones, but will not recall the hundreds of routine situations in-between with any accuracy.

    I am not sure why people think those with statistical inclinations (who watch most of the games,too, by the way!) are going to be swayed by this kind of argumentation from recollection. It’s the same thing with Raul Ibanez, when we hear, “honestly, from watching the games, I don’t think Raul cost the team many games with his defense” type arguments. Basing a skills/talent analysis on how hundreds of variables not in a players control work out is foolish, at best, and that error is only made worse when memory is the evidence used to support it.

  34. milehighmariner on February 27th, 2008 12:04 pm

    Interesting post. It got me thinking about Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman.

    R Henderson

  35. joser on February 27th, 2008 12:14 pm

    The last couple of years we’ve heard about how the Angels, as a team, “run more” and thereby “put pressure on” the other team which improves your chances. The former is true, and if you believe the latter to be, then I can understand why you’d want to see your team run more. But that only works if your team can run — that is, if by good luck or good acquisition strategy you have a lot of fast legs in the lineup. The Angels have done that. The Mariners have not. Young legs tend to be faster than old ones (Ichiro, as he is in so many other ways, is an exception). So if you have a team made up of “gritty” veterans who have been through the wars (and have the injuries to prove it), you probably don’t have a team that can “run more.” The team needs to realize that they can’t be all things at the same time and stop talking out of both sides of their mouths. Building a roster involves compromises and they implicitly decided to have a slow team when they decided to chase other attributes. To magically think they can overcome that now just by announcing a new “plan” is simply fantasy.

  36. milehighmariner on February 27th, 2008 12:19 pm

    Sorry, accidently posted before I was done.

    R Henderson
    1980 – On Base 288 times and attempts 126 steals or 44% of the time he is on base. Successful 79% of the time(100 SB)
    1982 – OB 247 times and attempts a ridiculous 172 steals or 70% of the time he got on base with a 76% success rate
    1983 – 241OB, 127Att, percentage attempted = 53%, success rate = 85%

    VColeman
    1985 – On Base 209 times, attempted 135 stolen bases, stole 110 bases, successful 81% and attempted a SB 65% of the time he reached base.

    Coleman’s next two years are nearly identical with a little better success rates.

    I know these guys were freaks when it came to stealing bases but I’d have to say teams knew they were going to steal more than half the time they were on base and it didn’t seem to effect their success rates too much.

    I’m not suggesting Ichiro should attempt 100 steals or anything. The post just made me think of those two and these are the numbers I found. Amazing to think they had years where they were attempting 65-70% of the time they were on base! That doesn’t even take into account times they reached with bases loaded or guys in front of them. The actual number could be closer to 80%.

  37. Oolon on February 27th, 2008 12:21 pm

    Thanks Dave for the link to Fangraph. Here’s what it shows:

    Ichiro attempted 13 of his 45 steals in the first inning (part of the Japanese traditional strategy of getting ahead early?) and was successful on 10 of those attempts. He attempted 11 steals (10 successful) in the third inning (I doubt that he batted too often in the second and only had 1 attempt). So 25 of his 45 attempts came during the first three innings of a game.

    Of the 45 attempts only 9 of them came in innings 7 through 9. I don’t have a number of times that he was on first with an opportunity to steal – but I would assume it would be a similar number to the number of times he was on base in innings 1 through 3 (where he attempted 45 steals). Of course in the last inning of wins at Safeco the Mariners wouldn’t be batting – so the total number of opportunities would be lower maybe by about 20%.

    Of the attempts in innings 7 through 9 when the score differential was 2 runs or less – he attempted only 2 stolen bases – successful once and unsuccessful once. These are the situations that always caught my attention.

    Of the 45 attempts 8 came with a 4 run differential or more (one when down by 7 runs and another when ahead by 8). Many (18) of his attempts came with the score tied – all but one of them in the first three innings. Only 6 of the 20 attempts after the third inning came with a 2 run differential or less.

    Very interesting to look over the Fangraph. Thanks!

  38. hcoguy on February 27th, 2008 12:32 pm

    A better study would probably be to see which batteries he attempts against. He probably knows who he can get to second (or third) on and who he simply cannot more than half the time.

    After a quick scan, it appears the Padres were the team he picked on the most, by a landslide. Maddux, Young, and Germano all make repeat appearances and who might be the common denominator here??? Josh Bard.

    14 of his stolen bases came in 0-0 games. Not sure what that means but they certainly were not behind or ahead by an insurmountable number of runs.

  39. mln on February 27th, 2008 12:49 pm

    There should be a list of all the nitpicking Ichiro-related complaints that have accumulated over the years:

    -Ichiro doesn’t dive enough.
    -Ichiro doesn’t steal enough.
    -Ichiro doesn’t steal enough in clutch situations.
    -Ichiro doesn’t give interviews in English.

    Ichiro is obviously a drag on the team and should be replaced by a player who gets his uniform dirty diving for balls, steals bases in clutch situations, and speaks English….

    WFB–he’s the anti-Ichiro!

  40. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on February 27th, 2008 12:50 pm

    #36 – They were freaks, you are right. I think I agree with Derek’s point about Ichiro knowing his own ability and is there something to consider about the the era as well? Are pitchers/catchers better trained in a formal way to pick off runners these days, even from their early days in the minors? I honestly don’t know.

    Coleman stole over 100 bases 3 times in his career:

    ’85 – 110, CS – 24
    ’86 – 107, CS – 14
    ’87 – 109, CS – 22

    That’s pretty amazing to keep an 82 – 88 % rate and steal that many bases(even at an admittedly different time in baseball).

    Henderson’s 100+ basestealing years looked like this:

    ’80 – 100, 26
    ’82 – 130, 42
    ’83 – 108, 19

    The rates aren’t quite as nice, but during Henderson’s career he seems to have made good decisions about when he chose to run, and his rates were almost always decent.

    Does anybody have a good article to point to about how the modern era seems to affect the art of the steal? Have the players simply shifted focus to other skills (power hitting, etc.)? Or is there a theory that points to better defensive training as a culprit? Is it a combo?

  41. msb on February 27th, 2008 12:50 pm

    Great article Derek. If only Ichiro was more fluent in English, I would totally support him to be a player-manager,

    I’m guessing his English is more fluent than Ozzie Guillen’s :)

  42. Oolon on February 27th, 2008 12:53 pm

    Dave wrote: The average LI for Ichiro’s successful steals were 1.02, meaning that he stole bases in situations that were slightly more important than the average play. The idea that he pads his SB totals by running in situations where the other team doesn’t care has no merit.

    Yes, the average LI for all of his successful steals is 1.02. My point is that it’s the late game critical situations that are where Ichiro doesn’t help the team with his speed on the basepaths.

    Remove Ichiro’s 10 successful steals in the first inning and Ichiro’s average LI for innings 2-9 falls to .88. He’s no longer stealing in situations that were slightly more important than the average play – he’s now stealing in situations that are definitely less important than average play.

    Take out the first three innings (21 successful steals) and it falls even more to .75.

    Maybe all those steals in the first inning are worth an LI of 1.37. And maybe it’s not padding his numbers by taking them – but for the rest of the game, after the first inning, Ichiro isn’t stealing in high LI situations and isn’t helping the team with his speed.

  43. Steve T on February 27th, 2008 12:54 pm

    So where’s the evidence that the next 10 would be less successful?

    Well, for starters, Ichiro is already attempting a steal in ALL of the situations where success is virtually guaranteed. That alone is enough to reduce his likely success rate in additional attempts.

    The real fallacy in McLaren’s thinking is that steals really don’t matter that much. Only in the negative do most players’ steal totals impact their club, since it’s a LOT easier and faster to destroy offense by making unnecessary (and extremely costly) outs than it is to add tiny amounts of value by taking bases. Even a player like Ichiro adds, as you say, a couple of runs a year. Even if he COULD continue to steal even more at the same rate, it’s not that big a deal.

    When you get up into the Rickey Henderson numbers, it starts to make a significant difference. But Rickey Hendersons are even rarer now than they were then. And Harold Reynolds should just shut up; Harold’s base-stealing was a net negative; he cost his teams many, many runs over the course of his career with his terrible base-swiping. 35 for 64 in 1988!

  44. Kingfelix34 on February 27th, 2008 12:54 pm

    One thing I want to point out in the original post, is that you gave indications that you disagree with H.R.’s assumption that the running game puts pressure on the defense. I’d like to hear your reasoning behind that. I played middle infield for a long time and I can assure you that when a runner gets on base there is a lot more pressure because there are a lot more possibilities for the offense to score runs. When they put runners in motion, second basemen and shortstops are always on the move opening up a hole on one of the sides of the infield. They also align themselves defensively in a much different manner if they feel the runner on 1st is likely to steal. The margin of error is smaller when runners are going and there are definitely a lot of things going on in the fielders mind as a runner takes off from first.

    There are many actions in baseball that are quantifiable and can be predictable but putting pressure on the defense is not one. Anytime a runner that is a threat to steal is on base it becomes much more of a pressure situation for the battery and infielders. H.R. was a big leaguer for many years, you can’t dispel his experience in those situations and conclude that his statement is false or some kind of “myth.”

  45. Steve T on February 27th, 2008 12:58 pm

    @40, my theory is that people are taking a more realistic view of what stealing gets you. A base? Meh. It’s nice. But when the risk is AN OUT (and not just an out, but an out and a lost baserunner), the calculus changes dramatically. Outs kill innings a lot more thouroughly than the failure to move up one does. There aren’t very many Rickeys in the world. For most players, basestealing is at best barely more than a break-even proposition even if they’re good at it.

    Maybe I’m giving ‘em too much credit.

  46. hawgdriver on February 27th, 2008 12:59 pm

    Should he steal less often (by the same analysis)? That is, if he attempted 5 fewer steals, would his projected higher success rate result in increased offensive production? Or do we assume that about 80% is an asymptotic limit? I wish I could work it out but don’t have time.

  47. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on February 27th, 2008 1:00 pm

    . . .but for the rest of the game, after the first inning, Ichiro isn’t stealing in high LI situations and isn’t helping the team with his speed.

    Well, he may still be helping the team with his speed. How many hits, runs scored and plays in which he takes more than one base (going from 1st to 3rd) are there in close games after the first inning? It’s an incomplete thing to say Ichiro isn’t helping with his speed in later high leverage situations, when you have not yet accounted for what else he might be doing that utilizes that ability (and putting aside defense altogether).

  48. Doc Baseball on February 27th, 2008 1:15 pm

    Calculating the Leverage Index for Ichiro’s UNsuccessful steals shows it as 1.38 (versus 1.02 for successful steals). With such small sample sizes it is hard to achieve statistical significance, but this difference is statistically significant.

    What does this show? I think it provides one answer to my earlier question and shows that Ichiro probably is hitting on his threshold judgments correctly. As the leverage increases, and teams play much more aggressive defense against the steal, his probabilities go down and so he is probably stealing at about the right volume relative to probability of success.

    And let’s stop complaining about Ichiro complainers – pretty much everyone here adores Ichiro and dismisses the naive complaints – this is about: is there any way to assess whether there is validity to McLaren’s request to run more.

  49. Steve T on February 27th, 2008 1:20 pm

    @44, this “pressure” is one thing, but if it doesn’t lead to anything else that DOES show up in the numbers — runs, hits, errors, outs — then it doesn’t matter. You don’t get extra credit for creating pressure. Only results. And the results do show up.

  50. Dave on February 27th, 2008 1:23 pm

    Yes, the average LI for all of his successful steals is 1.02. My point is that it’s the late game critical situations that are where Ichiro doesn’t help the team with his speed on the basepaths.

    Leverage index accounts for “late game critical situations”. You have a preconceived belief that the 9th inning is more important than the 1st inning. It’s a popular belief, and it’s totally wrong. Your perception is that he’s not helping the team in innings that you believe to be more important, but the distinction here is that your belief isn’t true, and therefore, Ichiro shouldn’t care about it.

    Remove Ichiro’s 10 successful steals in the first inning and Ichiro’s average LI for innings 2-9 falls to .88. He’s no longer stealing in situations that were slightly more important than the average play – he’s now stealing in situations that are definitely less important than average play.

    Arbitrarily removing his first inning steals because you don’t think they are important isn’t analysis. The facts are there in black and white; he’s stealing bases in slightly above average situations. You can cherry pick a specific set of situations that you feel is more important, but that’s your perception, not reality, and it’s critical to know your own biases.

    Maybe all those steals in the first inning are worth an LI of 1.37. And maybe it’s not padding his numbers by taking them – but for the rest of the game, after the first inning, Ichiro isn’t stealing in high LI situations and isn’t helping the team with his speed.

    A steal in the first inning with an LI of 1.37 is worth exactly the same to the team as a steal in the ninth inning with an LI of 1.37. If the order of his stolen bases was different, your perception of him would change, even though the value of those steals would be exactly the same. That’s a problem you need to rectify if you’re going to take an objective look at this issue.

  51. whiskeychainsaw on February 27th, 2008 1:32 pm

    So where’s the evidence that the next 10 would be less successful?

    Well, for starters, Ichiro is already attempting a steal in ALL of the situations where success is virtually guaranteed. That alone is enough to reduce his likely success rate in additional attempts.

    How do you know these are the only times it is “virtually guaranteed?” How do we know he perceives with perfect alacrity the ideal times. Maybe he is under-appreciating his own inherent ability to steal bases.

    In this land of stats, please show me statistically where he most certainly will go down in percentage by running more frequently. I haven’t seen anything here proving that premise.

  52. Dan In NY on February 27th, 2008 2:11 pm

    All we really need to believe in order to conclude that his success probability will go down should he steal more is that his judgment of success probability is unbiased (Actually we need even less than this, but this is sufficient) No matter how much alacrity he is making his decisions with, it shouldn’t matter that he is making them fast.

    If he is making systematically bad judgments about when to steal it is amazing he has done as well as he has so far. If he is systematically underestimating his ability to steal it will move the cut point of where he tries to steal, but the “missing” steal tries will be of lower quality than the ones he actually attempts.

    I would readily accept that he is quite possibly passing up opportunities to steal in blowouts, though I am not asserting that this is true.

  53. galaxieboi on February 27th, 2008 2:18 pm

    please show me statistically where he most certainly will go down in percentage by running more frequently.

    The point is is that it’s assumed that Ichiro has a green light most of the time. He picks and choses the best times to steal (as witnessed by his 5 thefts off of Josh Bard in two games). If you start forcing him to go it stands to reason that you’ll force him into running during situations he normally wouldn’t. Thus, lowering his overall percentages.

  54. julian on February 27th, 2008 2:27 pm

    Given that this is a discussion on base-stealing, some of you might find this paper (presented at last year’s Joint Statistical Meetings conference) interesting:

    Assessing pitcher and catcher influences on base stealing in Major League Baseball

    For those of you not able to get access to the fulltext article, the key (and most interesting) sentences from the abstract:

    “The presence of variation among players at the respective positions is interpreted as evidence that stolen-base defence is a real skill exhibited to varying extents by different players. Furthermore, the variance component for pitchers is greater than that for catchers for both response proportions, indicating that pitchers have greater potential to affect stolen-base attempts and successes.”

  55. whiskeychainsaw on February 27th, 2008 2:28 pm

    So “it stands to reason” and “all we really need to believe in order to conclude” are used to support a point of statistical contention?

    It is my equally undefinable contention that he may not realize his own ability to steal more often, due to the inordinately high success rate that he has. He is careful to only steal in high percentage situations, which in turn results in potentially being more careful against pitchers and catchers who perhaps he could further manipulate (like the Josh Bard case. Perhaps that could happen with many more catchers who are not elite throw-out catchers.)

    …the “missing” steal tries will be of lower quality than the ones he actually attempts.

    I ask will those missed steals be of an exponentially higher risk, or a gradually higher risk? If gradual then perhaps the difference between the next 25 or even 50 attempts are in fact negligable on the risk/reward scale than the self-assumed cut off point Ichiro has maintained for himself. If the scale exponential then I agree he is at the maximum efficiency. However I simply do not see a way for us to gauge that, therefor I’m unwilling to discount the possibility that he could potentially safely grab a whole lot more bags without increasing his risk of put out.

    His risk of injury and our lack of OF depth– concepts that would terrify me if I was M’s brass– are different matters entirely.

  56. Evan on February 27th, 2008 2:33 pm

    but for the rest of the game, after the first inning, Ichiro isn’t stealing in high LI situations and isn’t helping the team with his speed.

    Wow, I never would have guessed that if you don’t count the steals that happen in the inning where the score is most likely to be tied, Ichiro’s leverage index goes down. /sarcasm

    Your position is very nearly tautological, and you’re presenting it like it’s news.

  57. DMZ on February 27th, 2008 2:46 pm

    It’s pretty easy to show that Ichiro steals more when opportunity presents and he can. Go look at his career lines: he’s stolen a lot more frequently in previous seasons.

    I don’t see where we could argue that in 2001 he was a 50-base stealer with a good head for selection, while today he manages the same rate but is voluntarily attempting ten or fewer steals a season for no reason.

    It just doesn’t make sense.

    There isn’t going to be a statistical test that I think satisfies what people seem to want in “proving” that the next ten or fifty steals he attempts are likely to be higher-risk than the ones he already runs on.

    Showing other players of similar raw speed who steal more have worse rates? They’re not as smart.

    Players who attempt the same number of steals and don’t do as well? Not as fast.

    Comparing the population of stolen base opportunities in general and the success rate there as a proxy for the value of further steals? Not applicable to Ichiro’s selection and ability.

  58. darrylzero on February 27th, 2008 3:00 pm

    Is there an easy way to compare leverage index for steals across players? Or does it have to be calculated each time? Apologies if this should be obvious to me by looking at fangraphs, but it’s not.

    I’m sold by Dave’s argumentation above, but I’m still curious where he ranks among top base-stealers.

  59. tg on February 27th, 2008 3:10 pm

    I have to say that it’s pretty awesome that within 15 minutes of someone saying they wanted to figure out in which situations Ichiro steals, Dave posted a link to the complete data set, but it’s probably not quite right to use leverage index as the measure of importance for base stealing in particular. It seems pretty clear that bottom of the ninth, tie game, two outs, men on 1st and 3rd is a high leverage situation, but it’s also not one where a stolen base is very valuable (although a caught stealing would obviously be a disaster). Also, I would imagine that 1.02 is a below average leverage index for situations with a man on base, no?

  60. Dave Clapper on February 27th, 2008 3:26 pm

    I agree with everything Derek is saying here. I’m curious, though, whether the myriad calculations and write-ups on the value of stolen bases (vs. caught stealing) that puts the number at 75% calls into play the effects of potential base-stealers on hitters. I’m not sure how it COULD do this, but it seems to me that there is likely greater value in outs by the hitter that are turned into hits because a runner was being held at first. What would normally be a double play ball becomes a two-base single, i.e., the runner at first goes to third (assuming that a ball hit through the right side of the infield will go to RF, necessitating a longer throw to beat he baserunner coming from first).

    Based on a ball being hit in the same place (between first and second), I can see a few different outcomes here:
    1) Runner at 1st steals before the ball in play, no hold at 1st on BIP, runner goes to third, batter out. One out, runner on third (almost certainly third if runner is going on BIP).
    2) Runner at 1st caught stealing before BIP. Batter out on BIP. Two outs, bases empty.
    3) Runner at 1st is held on BIP, BIP goes through, runner safe (potentially at third), batter safe. No outs, runners at first and either second or third.
    4) Runner at 1st is not held on BIP. Double play. Two outs, bases empty.

    That’s all pretty jumbled, and I’m not sure exactly how such a study would be conducted. My question is whether such a study HAS been conducted, and how, if at all, it influences the 75% break-even point.

  61. gwangung on February 27th, 2008 3:34 pm

    I agree with everything Derek is saying here. I’m curious, though, whether the myriad calculations and write-ups on the value of stolen bases (vs. caught stealing) that puts the number at 75% calls into play the effects of potential base-stealers on hitters

    All the studies I’ve seen (not many, granted) indicates that both OBP and SLG goes down with a runner on. I don’t know the conditions and I don’t know the synergistic effects with successful basestealers, but…

  62. Evan on February 27th, 2008 3:41 pm

    I always would have expected runners on base to increae OBP just through selection bias. If there’s a runner on base, that’s evidence that the opposing pitcher allows runners to reach base.

  63. Gomez on February 27th, 2008 3:44 pm

    To the notion that Ichiro is being held back from stealing more bags, here’s an idea on why Ichiro swiped 50 in 2001 but fewer since: could it be that teams scouted him over that first season and have ‘booked’ him, i.e. have adapted their approach to somewhat neutralize the things Ichiro does to get an edge in stealing bases?

    Obviously, there is only so much teams can do to defend against an Ichiro steal, as he has swiped 30+ per over his other MLB seasons… but maybe he swiped 50 that 1st year because teams did not have the read on him then that they had once they saw him over a full season.

    In other words, to say that he can just turn and steal 50 bases and is somehow being artifically held back from doing so belies the idea that maybe he swiped 50+ bags in 2001 because he had a element of the unknown that he does not have now.

    Just an idea to consider.

  64. msb on February 27th, 2008 3:49 pm

    weird.

    “Travis Blackley relieved Jamie Moyer and worked three scoreless innings Wednesday in the Phillies’ 8-1 win over the Reds.”

  65. Doc Baseball on February 27th, 2008 3:55 pm

    I think it appears that Ichiro has got things pretty well calibrated. In 2001, the team was winning a few games — there would have been more opportunities to steal in lower leverage situations. Now, there are fewer low-leverage steal situations. Low-leverage steals are a higher probability of success (pitchers, catchers, managers all not quite as intensely focused on stopping him). The Leverage on his successes in 2007 was 1.02 — the Leverage on his Caught Stealing’s was 1.38. If he stole more often in more high-leverage situations, he’d be caught more. So, perhaps he might get a few more steals in low-leverage situations (to get to McLaren’s 80) but that won’t help the team (low leverage) — and if he steals more in high-leverage, he’ll hurt the team.

    Evidence/analysis in my view seems to imply: trust Ichiro.

  66. DMZ on February 27th, 2008 3:55 pm

    Come on, msb, you used to at least try to conceal the OT-ness.

  67. Doc Baseball on February 27th, 2008 4:05 pm

    Come on, msb, you used to at least try to conceal the OT-ness

    I’m sure it’s totally on-topic, because surely what msb was referring to was that Blackley had both a pick-off and a Caught Stealing in his 3 innings, while Moyer had neither in his 3….

  68. lailaihei on February 27th, 2008 4:29 pm

    Having Ichiro on first in a critical late-game situation helps out whoever is at the bat regardless of whether or not he steals. The fact that he is a great base-stealer and steals many bases every year alone disrupts something with the piching/defense, even if he never actually tries to take second during these critical late-game situations.

  69. jalopy37 on February 27th, 2008 4:33 pm

    I often find myself irritated by friends who claim Ichiro is a good stolen base threat. He isn’t. He is a successful base-stealer, sure, based on his rate of success.

    By my rough calculations:
    Juan Pierre stole 64 bases at a rate of 81% in 2007. 61% Of Pierre’s steals came when his team was tied or within one run of the opposing team; 46% for Ichiro.

    8% of Pierre’s steals came when his team was tied or within one run of the opposition in the 7th inning or later; 3% for Ichiro.

    Both players stole 27% of their bases in the 1st inning; 16-17% of their bases in the 7th inning and beyond.

    13% of Pierre’s swipes came when his team’s score was separated by four runs or more from the opposition; 22% for Ichiro.

    When McLaren says he wants Ichiro to steal more bases, maybe a lot more bases, I would assume he still wants Ichiro to be successful, and he could certainly be correct in assuming it’s not wholly unreasonable.

    There are many things that would potentially enable Ichiro to steal more bases and maintain his rate of success. Just as there are many things Ichiro could do differently to make him a better player. Ichiro is certainly uniquely talented, but this is different than supremely or optimally talented.

    It’s not unreasonable at this stage of the game for his manager to want to make him better at what may already be a strength of his.

  70. scraps on February 27th, 2008 4:40 pm

    It seems to me that in high-leverage situations — especially situations like late-and-close that can have very high leverage — the stolen base attempt becomes a much poorer play. The batter can have a huge positive effect, but the positive effect from a stolen base is likely much less, while losing a baserunner can be catastrophic. The “profit” line for a stolen base attempt would rise well over 75%, making it a much riskier proposition. Players shouldn’t be stealing in such situations, generally.

    Whereas in the first inning, a stolen base attempt in the base-out situation has a much lower failure penalty because so many more outs remain. So good base stealers should try more steals earlier in the game, generally.

    Am I insane?

  71. scraps on February 27th, 2008 4:42 pm

    Having Ichiro on first in a critical late-game situation helps out whoever is at the bat regardless of whether or not he steals. The fact that he is a great base-stealer and steals many bases every year alone disrupts something with the piching/defense, even if he never actually tries to take second during these critical late-game situations.

    Except that studies have shown that stolen base attempts, successful or not, have a negative effect on the hitter. The reasoning sounds good, but it doesn’t actually work that way.

  72. whiskeychainsaw on February 27th, 2008 4:49 pm

    Scraps, as an alter perception, wouldn’t it be “easier” to steal in late-and-close moments due to potential arm/reaction fatigue by the catcher, who in theory should be more wore at during the late stages of a game than the base runner.

    Uhm, considering the ground Ichiro will have to cover this year, that may not be true in his case.

    Also, as another thought which falls into McLaren-land of pressuring the D. Would the catcher’s throws degenerate due to added pressure in those situations. I remember as a kid when Rickey was on base and everyone KNEW he was going to steal there was a pressure on the catcher knowing he would have to be perfect in his catch-transfer-throw and that the 2nd base/SS would have to be perfect in his catch-block-tag in order to get the out. Does or does Ichiro not put pressure like that onto the defense?

  73. Oolon on February 27th, 2008 4:51 pm

    Dave wrote: If the order of his stolen bases was different, your perception of him would change, even though the value of those steals would be exactly the same. That’s a problem you need to rectify if you’re going to take an objective look at this issue.

    Your point is well taken.

    What I was trying to say is that Ichiro doesn’t take chances stealing a base during critical situations in the game – regardless of when they happen. You pointed out that “the average LI for Ichiro’s successful steals were 1.02”. I did the numbers for Carl Crawford (50 steals and 83% success rate last year) and his LI for successful steals came out to 1.40. Considerable higher than Ichiro’s 1.02.

    It’s also interesting that Ichiro’s highest LI for a stolen base was 2.08 (stealing third base in the third inning with 1 out). Carl Crawford had 8 stolen bases with LIs greater than 2.08. His highest was 4.82 (stealing second in the bottom of the ninth when trailing by 1 run). 6 of his 8 2.08+ LIs were in the 7th through 9th innings (when the LI can grow to monstrous levels).

    Don’t get me wrong – I think Ichiro is a great player and I don’t think he’s a stat hog that’s padding his stolen base totals with easy steals. But I do think that he is very conservative in critical situations (high LI situations) which often come late in the game.

  74. DMZ on February 27th, 2008 5:01 pm

    I often find myself irritated by friends who claim Ichiro is a good stolen base threat. He isn’t. He is a successful base-stealer, sure, based on his rate of success.

    In raw steals, he’s in the top ten total stolen base leaders even last year, which was off for him, and he’s run with good success his whole career.

    What more do you want that would make him “a good stolen base threat”?

  75. Ralph_Malph on February 27th, 2008 5:04 pm

    In order to compare apples to apples you’d have to figure out how many times Ichiro was on base in high leverage situations. These are very small sample sizes.

  76. whiskeychainsaw on February 27th, 2008 5:06 pm

    [ha ha ha ha no]

  77. gwangung on February 27th, 2008 5:29 pm

    It’s not unreasonable at this stage of the game for his manager to want to make him better at what may already be a strength of his.

    Umm…small sample size….

    Comparing percentages for one season is a sure ticket for misunderstanding…

  78. lailaihei on February 27th, 2008 5:46 pm

    Except that studies have shown that stolen base attempts, successful or not, have a negative effect on the hitter. The reasoning sounds good, but it doesn’t actually work that way.

    Stolen base attempts do because it forces the hitter to take. But Ichiro being a base-stealing threat in a close-and-late situation is more likely to negatively affect the pitcher.

  79. gwangung on February 27th, 2008 5:50 pm

    Stolen base attempts do because it forces the hitter to take. But Ichiro being a base-stealing threat in a close-and-late situation is more likely to negatively affect the pitcher.

    You can demonstrate this, of course….

  80. lailaihei on February 27th, 2008 5:53 pm

    You can demonstrate this, of course….

    It seems to me like there was something in The Book about this, but it’s not with me at the moment. Obviously a pitcher pitching-out when Ichiro doesn’t run is advantageous, but I believe there’s something more to this, too.
    Maybe not, but even if it’s just that, it would be hard to deny that it’s good for the Ms when Ichiro’s on in close and late.

  81. DaveValleDrinkNight on February 27th, 2008 6:06 pm

    I started to get worried as soon as I heard that McClaren quote. Ichiro should try to steal as much as possible! Right, because we don’t have anybody else in our line-up who can effectivly put a bat on the ball in the hit and run. It almost seemed like a McClaren was begging for a Bat. Maybe I’m over analysing here but comments like that don’t show a whole lot of confidence in youe other hitters.

  82. CecilFielderRules on February 27th, 2008 6:50 pm

    It’s worth noting that while Ichiro’s LI on steals last year was 1.02, below are the LI for his steals since 2002 (the available data in FanGraphs).

    2007 – 1.02
    2006 – 1.29
    2005 – 1.21
    2004 – 1.33
    2003 – 1.15
    2002 – 1.75(!)

    6-year average – 1.29

    2007 Average Stolen Base LI of the Top 10 Stolen Base Leaders – 1.28 (High of 1.67 by Brian Roberts, Low of 0.95 by Chone Figgins)

    So, you could look at last year’s number and say “but other top base stealers had a higher LI!”. Or you could look for a bigger sample, and say the previous year it was 1.29, his long-run average is 1.29, and realize that there’s volatility in year-to-year stolen base average LI numbers for a single player. An LI of 1.29 would put him right there with the average stolen base LI of the top 10 base stealers. Not even factoring in his high success rate, Ichiro is – as much as other top base stealers – stealing bases “when they count”.

    An interesting note on that huge 1.75 average LI in 2002 : that number is increased notably by 4 extremely valuable steals that were part of double-steals. Those four double-steals were 1.57, 1.86, 4.27, and 4.44. I’m assuming that double-steals are usually called for by the manager. In 2007, Ichiro had no steals that were part of double-steals.

  83. joser on February 27th, 2008 7:10 pm

    Considering the high rate of blow out games last year it may well be that there were simply fewer high-leverage situations for Ichiro to attempt a steal.

  84. Mat on February 27th, 2008 7:14 pm

    2007 Average Stolen Base LI of the Top 10 Stolen Base Leaders – 1.28 (High of 1.67 by Brian Roberts, Low of 0.95 by Chone Figgins)

    Brian Roberts also led MLB last year in Dan Fox’s Equivalent Stolen Base Runs (BP subscription-required article here.) Ichiro had 2.52 EqSBR (missing the top 10 by about 0.5 runs), but overall was the 10th most valuable baserunner in baseball last year (as judged by Fox, of course.)

    It would be extremely interesting (and useful to teams, I would imagine) to have a database of delivery times for pitchers (for each of their pitches), a database of pop times for catchers to second and third base, and a database of the times it takes a runner to get to the next base during a steal. Using the probability distribution of those times it should be possible to come up with a pretty good idea of what the probability of a successful steal is.

  85. Mat on February 27th, 2008 7:24 pm

    Are pitchers/catchers better trained in a formal way to pick off runners these days, even from their early days in the minors? I honestly don’t know.

    I wasn’t around back in those days, but everything I’ve heard seems to suggest that pitchers, by and large, didn’t have a slide step until Henderson, Coleman, et al. forced them to adapt or constantly give up the extra base. (A quick google search turned this up in support of a late-80s development of the slide step.) I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if modern catchers are a little better at throwing out runners than catchers 20-25 years ago were, too.

  86. DMZ on February 27th, 2008 7:24 pm

    Teams have that data, btw.

  87. DaveValleDrinkNight on February 27th, 2008 7:43 pm

    Now this is really splitting hairs. Situationally, is there a stat kept to pinpoint where you should steal. Boring as they are to watch, if a pitcher has to throw to first five or six times in the 5th or 6th inning with an already high pitch count that should be the time to at least threaten the steal right? It would also depend on the pitchers tendencies, pick off move, etc. I don’t think there’s an actual stat for this but it seems logical. Actually, I’ll bet one of you guys does have a stat for this. Any thoughts?

  88. msb on February 27th, 2008 8:57 pm

    hmm. “batting battles”? “purpoise”?

    can someone send Jim Street a hint about using spellcheck?

  89. Mat on February 27th, 2008 11:20 pm

    Teams have that data, btw.

    I guess I should have suspected that. With that kind of info in hand, it seems like there’s no excuse for not knowing what kind of gamble you’re taking when you tell a player to steal.

  90. joser on February 27th, 2008 11:37 pm

    Having the data and making intelligent use of it (or even paying attention to it) are two different things (and here I’m referring to people in the dugout, not the guy on the base).

  91. tangotiger on February 28th, 2008 4:27 am

    While I am pleased at the use of LI, it is actually not the most appropriate thing to use. For those who don’t know, the LI can be found here:
    http://www.insidethebook.com/li.shtml

    If you go to the bottom of the 9th, tie game, man on 1b and 3b, 2 outs, you will see that the LI is very high. However, it would be foolish for the runner on 1B to steal, because his run means nothing at all.

    What you really care about is the breakeven point, and for that you need win probability charts, like this one which gives you the chance of winning in our case here at .686
    with a .16 win drop on a cs
    and no change in increase on a sb (difference negligible due to sample size).

    A SB will add nothing to the chance of winning, while a CS will decrease it drastically (sends it to extra innings), making the breakeven point pretty much 100%. No one should try to steal in that case.

    I go through all this in The Book, for those interested.

    So, don’t look toward LI, but changes in win probability due to sb and cs, and calculate breakeven points from that.

  92. fitz1425 on February 28th, 2008 7:48 am

    I’m not saying that I like everything Mclaren and the Mariners say or do, but WOW…

    I think Ichiro cold steal more bases. And of course, he is not going to be stupid about it either (stealing just to steal). There is no way that anyone can say that on attempts 50-60 the success rate would drop 3.5%, and then again for 60-70 etc.

    If you believe Ichiro would get thrown out 70 times to steal 80 bases, you are nuts. What Ichiro said is called “hyperbole”. He said it to make a point.

    In the 9th inning, down by a run, with Ichiro on 1st, I want to see him run. Especially if there is one out. I know everyone else would expect him to run then, too, so there is that risk, but what are your other options? You can bunt, but now you have 2 outs. You can hope that two of our sub-.300 batters can produce the likely two hits needed before two outs are created. Or you can take the 80% chance that Ichiro will be able to steal second. Now you have two outs to produce one hit.

    In those situations, Mclaren should be deciding whether Ichiro steals or not. It’s his job to make those decisions, not Ichiro’s.

    The numbers you have pulled out of your 4th point of contact are ridiculous and were done for the sole purpose of trying to make Mclaren sound stupid(er?) You were really grasping at straws with this one. How about supporting someone other than Ichiro at some point?

    I don’t agree with most of what the Mariners have done this offseason (why sign a WFB clone?), but I am choosing to look at the glass as halp full. It’s more fun to be optomistic that pessimistic.

  93. gwangung on February 28th, 2008 7:55 am

    I’m not saying that I like everything Mclaren and the Mariners say or do, but WOW…

    I think you missed the entire point of the article.

  94. scraps on February 28th, 2008 7:55 am

    Or you can take the 80% chance that Ichiro will be able to steal second.

    Except it’s not even close to an 80% chance.

    1: Ichiro steals successfully 80% of the time when he thinks he has a good chance. That is a fraction of the number of the times he has the opportunity. If it’s a catcher with a good pickoff move or a catcher with a good arm, of course his chance is less than 80%.

    2: As you say (while minimizing it), everyone knows he wants to steal in that situation. It reduces his chance further.

  95. galaxieboi on February 28th, 2008 8:11 am

    What you really care about is the breakeven point, and for that you need win probability charts, like this one which gives you the chance of winning in our case here at .686

    Ah ha. After monkeying with the ‘win expectancy’ charts this is what I was really after last night. I just couldn’t remember what it was called. Thanks a ton, Tom.

    This is a fantastic discussion. I’m still amazed, when you break it all down how little value there is in most stolen bases. This is a good a reason as any to simply let Ichiro pick and choose his own battles out there.

  96. tangotiger on February 28th, 2008 8:21 am

    Bottom of the 9th inning, down by 1 run, runner on 1B, 0 outs:
    1674 times this has happened since 1978, and home team won .320

    Put the runner on 2B, and it’s .409.

    Make him out, and it’s .103.

    Those are empirical (actual) data, though obviously not all from the same games.

    That’s a gain of +.089 wins compared to a loss of -.217 wins. That sets the breakeven point at 71%.

    Using my Markov tables in The Book (p. 41), those numbers are: .353, .462, .124. That gives us a gain of +.109 wins compared to a loss of -.229 wins, for a breakeven of 68%.

    Of course, if you have a good hitter, the breakeven point changes. But, yeah, you’d like him to run if he thinks he can make it at least 70-75% of the time. But, only he knows if that’s realistic.

  97. zvazda on February 28th, 2008 8:25 am

    I’m sorry – I know this isn’t on topic for this topic, but [deleted, off-topic]

  98. tangotiger on February 28th, 2008 8:57 am

    As for DMZ’s main point, I agree. If Ichiro were to only steal once a year, his success rate would be close to 100%. Say 0.95. If you asked him to steal twice, he’d be .95 on the first attempt, and .945 on the second. On the third attempt, he’ll be .940. If you keep going like this, on the 50th easiest attempt in which to steal, he’ll be at .705.

    The average of these 50 attempts will be .8275.

    So, on the 51st attempt, he might be at .700. And on and on. At that point, it becomes a break-even play. If he thinks, based on the game situation, the batter, the pitcher, the catcher, the turf, that he’ll be as well off running as not, he might as well not run.

    Now, clearly the model is not necessarily a drop of .005 like I’m showing. At the same time, his 50th easiest stolen base attempt *must* be less than the overall average of all 50, since there’s a bunch of steal attempts in there that are at the 90% level and higher, in terms of what he expects his success rate to be.

    Ichiro, Raines, Beltran. These are smart and fast baserunners. I’d let them decide how often they should steal.

  99. adroit on February 28th, 2008 8:58 am

    I think the flaw with DMZ’s argument here is the assumption that Ichiro is running on every opportunity he sees has a high probability of success. Isn’t it feasible that Ichiro does not run on all “80% opportunities,” and instead only runs on those that he thinks warrant the risk involved in advancing the base? In other words, if Ichiro values the 20% possibility of an out as being more worth it in some game situations than others, he may be passing on opportunities that would yield him the same success rate.

    It doesn’t necessarily justify the attempt, because his judgment in valuing those situations differently may also be spot on, but it would mean that the theory put forth in this post that each additional attempt reduces his chance of success would not be true.

  100. DMZ on February 28th, 2008 9:01 am

    No, it is not feasible.

    Also, the assumption you’re arguing against is not my point at all.

  101. Rain Delay on February 28th, 2008 9:28 am

    97 – Yes as far as I know. As long as one of the teams is broadcasting the game (obviously).

  102. kmsandrbs on February 28th, 2008 9:48 am

    To add (a little late) to this entire discussion … isn’t it also likley that, when left to his own devices, Ichiro is better (perhaps much better) than 80%?

    The reason I would suspect this … I have to assume that at least some of the time, Ichiro is given the sign to steal (either a straight stel or a hit and run). I also assume that Ichiro does do (even if he thinks it a poor decision) what he is instructed to.

    Based on what McLaren sais, and my limited knowledge of baseball, I would assume that, with a runner with Ichiro’s talent, it is rare that a straight steal is called for, so I would have to guess that most of the time these steal attempts are actually part of a hit-and-run.

    I don’t have any statistical analysis to back this up (so, it could be total hogwash), and I know that announcers are not always … umm … aware of the truth of certain situations, but it appears to me that failed (meaning, when the batter swings and misses) hit and runs much more often produce a caught stealing than a successful steal. On the flip side, successful hit and runs never produce a stolen base (or a caught stealing).

    With only 8 CS last year, even if only two or three are a result of a failed hit and run, unless MANY of his successful attempts are either the rsult of a called steal or a successful steal on a failed hit and run, Ichiro’s SB% would go up even higher.

  103. tangotiger on February 28th, 2008 10:01 am

    I hope it is understood, and if it’s not, I’ll say it: the break-even point changes based on the game conditions, such that the break-even point could be anywhere between 50% and 90%, though most of them are between 60% and 75%.

    It’s certainly possible that in a game situation that Ichiro thinks he’s only got a 70% chance of success, but the breakeven is 60%, will present a better opportunity than a game situation where he thinks he has a 75% chanceof success, but the break-even point is 74%.

    In any case, the basic win gain per SB is .02 wins and the basic loss per CS is -.04 wins. An 80/20 SB/CS would give you +0.8 wins, and 40/10 would give you +0.4 wins.

    It’s not clear that Ichiro would be able to do an 80/20 set, but the gain here is +0.4 wins than what he otherwise does. On top of which his baserunning can make up for some of that as well.

    When it comes to this kind of gain, that requires alot of gut feelings by the runner, the *only* thing you should be telling Ichiro is the breakeven point each time he gets to 1B (1B coach to Ichiro: “71% right now… it’s 3-0, 84%… 0-2, 62%”).

    You let Ichiro figure out if he can beat that level.

  104. adroit on February 28th, 2008 3:02 pm

    No, it is not feasible.

    Then I must not be understanding– are you contending that there is no opportunity where Ichrio believes with a greater than 80% chance he could steal that he does not take the opportunity to? What about with a 15-0 lead in the 9th?

    Also, the assumption you’re arguing against is not my point at all.

    I know, and I agree with the point you’re trying to make. I’m arguing that this part of your post:

    If he picked the next best ten times to run, and they were 70% chances

    …implies that he has no additional 80% chances from which to choose as one of the next best ten. I think that might not be right, which in turn means the way you illustrate the point may be flawed.

    If the M’s wanted him to get his 80 steals by any means necessary, then he could run in that 15-0 situation. At some point Ichiro is making a decision about whether he should or shouldn’t run, and chance of success is only one factor in that equation. If he’s persuaded to change the other inputs to that decision, he could increase his total without impacting his success rate.

    I digress. It’s a good post and I’m probably just nit-picking this minor point to death for no reason.

  105. Steve H on March 1st, 2008 9:07 am

    One thing has surprisingly been left unmentioned: stealing more tires out the player. Younger players than Ichiro suffer from this (ask Mets fans about Jose Reyes last September). Smart players such as Ichiro know this and conserve their strength.

    BTW, what Harold Reynolds et al. fail to mention is that while the running game can put pressure on the defense, you don’t actually have to run for that pressure to be there, and after a successful steal the pressure is sometimes actually removed (runners on first and third, the pitcher holds the runner at first, throws over, perhaps even lets his pitch selection be affected; runners at second and third, a lot of that goes away).

  106. juustabitoutside on December 24th, 2008 3:52 pm

    This is a fantastic discussion. I’m still amazed, when you break it all down how little value there is in most stolen bases. This is a good a reason as any to simply let Ichiro pick and choose his own battles out there.

    Ichiro thinks in a unique fashion. Check his thinking here. [fixed it for you]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.