How Much Do Stolen Bases Matter?
The New York Yankees are stealing a lot less bases in 2012 than they did in 2011. This year the Yankees are ranked 25th in MLB in stolen bases, while last season they were ranked 4th. A lot of this is due to the Yankees missing their two fastest players in Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez. Ichiro now leads the Yankees with 18 stolen bases, but prior to him joining the Yankees Alex Rodriguez led the club with 11. While it would be nice if the Yankees had more speed I don’t think it will make or break them in winning the World Series.
I am a believer in the Oakland A’s moneyball system. Critics will say that the A’s never won in the playoffs, which is true, but what they fail to point out is that other MLB teams took their formula. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox adopted the moneyball system just with bigger payrolls and have had success with it. The Yankees love players who hit for power and have a high on base percentage. They also do not like to bunt and give away outs on the bases. While many disagree with the moneyball system, I believe it is a good way to build a team and can be successful combined with good pitching.
The bigger issue with the Yankees lack of speed rather than stole bases is going from 1st to 3rd or from 2nd to home on hits. According to William Juliano of The Captain’s Blog, when the Yankees get a hit with a RISP they only score a run 79% of the time, which is 2nd worst in MLB. This is much more of an issue than how many bases the Yankees steal. The Yankees lead MLB in with a .797 team OPS, lead MLB in HR’s with 166, lead MLB with a .344 wOBA, and are 6th in MLB in walks. These are a lot more important than stolen bases. The Yankees are 4th in MLB in runs scored, which is obviously very good, but with the stats I just mentioned you would think they would be even higher. The reason they’re not higher is because they’re not hitting with RISP and not scoring enough when they do get hits with RISP, rather than not stealing enough bases.
Stealing a lot of bases has not necessarily translated into success as a team. This season out of the top 10 teams in stolen bases in MLB only the San Francisco Giants are leading their division. Out of the last 5 World Series champions only the 2008 Phillies were in to the top 10 in MLB in stolen bases by ranking 4th. The 2011 Cardinals were 29th, the 2010 Giants tied for 29th, the 2009 Yankees were 11th, and the 2007 Red Sox were tied for 15th. Even during their dynasty years from 1996-2000 the Yankees only finished in the top 10 in MLB stolen bases once in 1998, when they finished 4th. Their average finish in stolen bases during those years was 15th in MLB, so they were not a great stolen base team during their dynasty years either.
Stolen bases are a nice luxury to have, but are not essential in winning championships. If the Yankees do not win the World Series this year it will most likely be because they didn’t pitch well enough or because they did not get key hits when they needed them, not because they didn’t steal enough bases.