The art of stealing a base

Last season Nyjer Morgan and Chone Figgins tied for the league lead in caught stealing. Both players put up identical stolen base stats, each going 42-for-59 on the season. While Figgins has cleaned up his act on the base paths, Morgan has not.

Figgins’ improvement in stolen bases has been staggering. According to Baseball Prospectus, Figgins had an EqSBR of -3.35 last season. EqSBR is a measure of ”theoretical runs contributed by a baserunner or baserunners above what would be expected given the number and quality of their baserunning opportunities” so in a nutshell, Figgins was doing more bad than good when he ran. In fact, out of the 846 players Prospectus had listed for the stat last year, Figgins was ranked 841. This season? Figgins leads all of major league baseball in EqSBR at 2.97 and he is 23-for-27 in stolen base attempts.

So how is Figgins cutting down on the caught stealing numbers?

It appears he’s just trying harder. There isn’t much difference in when Figgins is stealing or who he is stealing against (righty/lefty), just how he is doing in certain situations, most notably when in the inning:

Chone Figgins, Success Rate by Outs

Figgins was 23-for-38 with less than two outs last year. This year, he’s 17-for-20. He has only been caught three times combined the past two seasons with two outs. For a player who has only been “out-caught” by Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo in the 2000s, this change is a pretty notable turn of events.

Nyjer Morgan, on the other hand, continues to struggle on the base paths against both left and right-handed pitchers. Morgan has already been caught 12 times. Statistically, there really isn’t much of a difference in his stolen base attempts. Morgan isn’t running significantly more or less against left-handed pitchers, or on certain pitch counts, or on certain outs. He’s just doing more of the same and according to his -2.99 EqSBR this season (662 out of 663), he’s probably costing the Nationals runs.

A few other stolen base trends through June…
-- Rajai Davis has 26 stolen bases so far this season. On six of those steals, the catcher has committed a throwing error. Last season, Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases and on those 70 successes, there were seven throwing errors committed.

-- Carl Crawford isn’t a fan of running against left-handers. Only 11.4 percent of his attempts this season are against southpaws, which is right on par with his 11.8 percentage from 2009. What’s interesting though is that Crawford currently hasn’t attempted a steal against a lefty in 23 straight attempts (19-for-23, 82.6 percent), with the last one coming on May 16th (a success against Cliff Lee). This matches Crawford’s streak of 23 straight against lefties in 2009 (23-for-23 over that stretch).