The Pirates gave up five stolen bases tonight to the Chicago Cubs in five attempts. Most of the attempts went uncontested, with the Pirates showing little regard for the runners on base. That shouldn’t be surprising, since they have taken this approach for the last few years at the MLB level, and have used this approach for longer in the minors. The focus in most situations is on the batter at the plate and executing the pitches, rather than the guy on the bases.
I say most situations because the Pirates do have certain times where they show concern for base runners. This was shown tonight with a comparison between the tenth inning and the 12th inning.
In the tenth inning, Tony Watson had two outs and a runner at first base. Kris Bryant took off for second, and was half way down the line by the time the ball left Watson’s hand. There was no throw to second, although any throw would have been pointless, as Watson was very slow to the plate and gave no chance for an out.
Then, in the 12th inning, Vance Worley had a runner on first base with no outs. Before throwing a pitch, he made two pickoff attempts. His first pitch was a pitch out. His next pitch was quick to the plate, but the ball was bunted foul. He threw a wild pitch with his next offering, which put the runner on second anyway. But the difference was clear. With two outs and a runner on first, there was no concern with the runner. With no outs and a runner on first, there was clear concern with the runner.
This has been clear in the results this season, as shown in the chart below.
With no outs, the Pirates have a good caught stealing rate. That drops with one out, and sinks down to horrible levels with two outs. Digging a little deeper into the numbers, they’ve got a 14% caught stealing rate in 50 attempts with a runner on first base, two outs, and second base open. That includes a zero percent success rate with runners on first and third and two outs.
The success rate also changes depending on the situation with one out. They have a 27.5% caught stealing rate with a runner on first and one out. But in any situation where a runner is in scoring position with one out, they are 1-for-17. By comparison, they’re 3-for-6 with no outs and a runner in scoring position.
Then there are other trends. When there are two strikes, they have a 14.3% caught stealing rate. They do better in high leverage situations (33%), but struggle in low and medium leverage situations (18%).
The overall trend here is that the Pirates seem to do better in situations where they only need to focus on the batter, and they seem to do worse in situations where it would really hurt for a runner to advance. And that lines up with what you see on the field, where their pitchers are slow to the plate with two outs, but actively try to hold the runners on first with no outs.
As long as they’re successful getting the batters out, then this approach makes total sense. Watson was able to get Starlin Castro to fly out to center field following his stolen base allowed. And none of the other stolen bases tonight led to runs, as the one runner who scored would have scored anyway after back-to-back hits. The Pirates have also given up the third fewest runs in baseball, so if this approach was leading to extra runs, then it’s really difficult to see in the overall results.
It can be frustrating to watch the stolen bases pile up, as that’s something which stands out. But when you start focusing on when those stolen bases are happening, why they’re happening, and whether they lead to runs, it makes the entire approach much more clear.
**A.J. Burnett Provides Bright Spot in Pirates’ Disappointing 3-2 Loss to Cubs. Pete Ellis with the live report from PNC Park, pointing out that Burnett looks like a solid playoff starter, but that the Pirates still need to get past Arrieta in order to give him a shot in the post-season.
**Prospect Watch: Indianapolis Loses Again, Errors Play Big Part. Tyler Glasnow takes the mound tomorrow to try and prevent the Indians from being eliminated.
**Pirates Notebook: Clint Hurdle Defends Last Night’s Lineup. Comments from Hurdle on the lineups in Wednesday’s double-header.
**Chad Kuhl is the Pirates Prospects 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. This was a difficult decision, with a lot of strong pitching performances this year.
**Josh Bell is the Pirates Prospects 2015 Minor League Player of the Year. This one was easier, as Bell finished strong with Indianapolis, showing off some power after adjustments to his leg kick.