MLB Betting: Is Base Stealing a Required Skill for Team Success?

SBR Staff

Thursday, June 25, 2015 12:09 AM UTC

Thursday, Jun. 25, 2015 12:09 AM UTC

We determine if base stealing is a required skill for team success by comparing variables and reviewing stats so you can get a betting edge when you place your MLB picks.

On one of the wildest days of the last MLB offseason, the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers took part on a seven-player trade that ended up being one of the most impactful and unexpected ones of the Winter Meetings held over in San Diego.

The trade went as follows:



The most important player of the trade was/is undoubtedlysecond baseman Dee Gordon (moved from the Marlins to the Dodgers), one of the most exciting players of the game thanks to his speed and the amount of work he has put into his game during recent years, in order to become a star in the Majors.

It’s still way too early to declare a “winner” on this trade, but initially, the perception was that the Dodgers had sold high on a player who has really only had couple of great months in his young career, for much needed depth that strengthens their major and minor league rosters.

However, there’s a group of people, usually the more traditionally oriented fans and experts that consider that the Dodgers lost one of their great strengths from their 2014 postseason team, when they gave away a player that stole 64 bases, something that ended up making them a more static and less dynamic team.

This is actually something that has already shown its effects for those who place MLB picks during the current season. The Dodgers are in last place in the Majors in the stolen base category with only 14 (Dee alone has 24 so far), and some fans still insist on this being a tough blow for the team’s possibilities of ending their 27 year championship drought.

Because of this, I wanted to dig a little deeper and determine the impact that stolen bases have (if any), on the amount of runs scored and winning percentage of major League teams during the last 10 years.

Must Read: MLB Picks: World Series Futures Odds Update

How Did I Analyze This?
I took data from the past 10 years (2005-2014) and of the 30 MLB teams (so 300 teams in total).

I used the traditional stats Stolen Bases (SB) and Runs Scored (RS).

I also used the regular season Winning Percentage for the 300 teams that were part of the analysis.

Finally, I calculated the correlation between the 3 variables by using the Pearson Correlation formula,which pretty much indicates the strength and direction of a lineal relationship between two statistical variables. In other words, how related a variable (SB) is to others(Winning Percentage and Runs Scored in this exercise).


And Now To the Results…
Like I mentioned before, I did two separate calculations. First, I calculated the correlation between Stolen Bases and Winning Percentage, and then between Stolen Bases and Runs Scored, in order to see how intertwined these variables really are. The results are shown in the table below:



Being a team that steals a lot of bases, on its own, doesn’t make us score more runs or win more games, generally speaking. In other words, stealing bases is just a small part of a team's offense, and it needs to be complemented with other more important ones in order to have a real positive impact on a baseball team’s aspirations. What does this mean?

This to me is extremely interesting, because it allows me to discard the notion that stealing bases is an obligatory skill for a team that wants to be successful. Sometimes we forget that a team that steals a lot of bases, does it by attempting to do so a lot as well, which might imply that these teams also get caught stealing a significant amount of times, and we all know how harmful it is to give away outs to an opponent. Stolen bases can be very beneficial, but getting caught trying to steal is more damaging than what you gain when you’re successful stealing.

I mean, it’s great when one of our team’s players steals a base and puts himself in scoring position (think Dave Roberts and “The Steal”) without having to sacrifice to get him there, but the numbers show that the risk may not be worth it. Since we can’t always guarantee success on a Stolen Base attempt (even Dee Gordon only has a 73% rate this season), the smart thing is to only go for it when we have players that have a good to great chance of making it, easier said than done.

After consulting with experts from the site Dodgers Digest and Fangraphs, their answer was "It’s worth the try if you can get a success rate of over approximately 67%." Of the 300 teams that I analyzed, 247 of them had a SB% higher than the recommended rate, which shows that the answerthe experts gave mehad some foundation behind it.

I dug a little deeper and reviewed theStolen Base statistics of teams that ended up winning the World Series during this period. Of the 10 teams that were crowned as Champions, 4 had a SB % lower than the recommended 67% mark, and teams like the 2011 Cardinals (59.4% success rate), finished the season with only 57 stolen bases, another prove of it not being a necessary skill for a team to reach its goals.

During the current season,the teams that lead this category are the Cincinnati Reds (67 SB) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (61 SB), in fourth and third place in their divisions, respectively, not very good spots in the standings in spite of owning this strength. On the other hand, the Dodgers (14 SB), are dead last when it comes to stealing bases, but are on top of the National League West over the reigning San Francisco Giants.

I insist, I am not saying here that stealing bases is a bad thing or something that shouldn’t be tried, but it is an overvalued skill that really isn’t more than one of many offensive weapons that teams can use to be able to gain a competitive advantage against the MLB odds. It can be useful, but also harmful if it isn’t used properly, and is definitely not a requirement for success in the majors.

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