Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Henderson's 130 Stolen Bases In '82 Were Worthless

Well, not worthless, but nearly so.

Common sense would tell us Henderson created numerous runs by stealing so many bases during his record breaking season.  But a deeper look into the numbers reveals a different story:

Henderson stole 130 bases in 1982.  Those 130 stolen bases generated an extra 22.2 runs.  He was caught 42 times.  Those caught steals cost the A's 20.6 runs.

For all of Henderson's stolen base efforts that year, the net gain was just 1.6 runs.

Henderson's 76% success rate in '82 basically matched the break even point for that era.

To put this in perspective, the lumbering, meandering Pete Incaviglia stole three bases in his 1986 rookie season.  He was caught twice.  In doing so, his stolen base attempts cost his team about half a run over the course of the season.

The value of Henderson's 130 stolen bases in 1982 and Incaviglia's three stolen bases in 1986, amount to about a two run difference.

This does not mean for a second that Henderson was not an amazing player.  His ability to get on base was always his trump card.  It just points out the critical importance of stolen base percentages, and how history can often ignore what matters most: Did the record in question really help the team win?  If it didn't, is it still a valuable record?

This information comes from the book 'Baseball Between The Numbers'.  The book is written by the highly respected 'Baseball Prospectus' team of experts.

This type of stat, one that is an affront to our heroes, makes so many want to shoot Sabermetricians for redefining value.  But they speak truth, albeit a cold truth.


  1. Something I would consider though is something intangible. If Rickey is a threat to steal that many bases, consider this: How many runs were generated by the pitcher paying more attention to Rickey and grooving a pitch to the next hitter? What about errant pickoff throws that resulted in errors?

    The stat of x number of runs coming from the actual stolen bases, and caught stealing, to me, tells only half the story. Having that type of threat on the basepaths and the havoc it creates, well, the value in that is immesuarable.

    For example, I watched several games this year in which Brian Roberts, who is a threat to steal, was on 1st and the pitcher was more concerned with allowing a stolen base than the htter in the box. Therefore, the pitcher lost focus and allowed Adam Jones, or Melvin Mora to hit a double off the grooved pitch and the Os scored a run.

    What do you think?

  2. You are correct. Good point. Henderson’s speed is a separate issue from the value of the actual stolen bases in 1982, but with respect to Henderson’s overall worth, it is a dead on observation.

    In 2004, when the best base stealers were on base (top 20%), the batter that was at the plate saw his OPS rise 34 points over what was normally expected. When the slowest runners in baseball were on base, the batter had his expected OPS rise just 4 points. That is certainly due to the threat of the stolen base and as you noted, creating havoc.

    I don’t have access to the 1982 Oakland A’s OPS batter differentials when Henderson was on base as opposed to other players being on base, but there is no doubt the batter benefited from a much higher OPS than would normally be expected because of the situation Henderson created.

    In fact, the threat of a stolen base by Henderson in 1982 had more value to the team than the actual attempt of the stolen base. That is a mind boggling thought.

    Also, Henderson’s speed allowed him to take extra bases when hitters behind him would single or double etc. That too was more valuable to the team than his actual stolen bases.

    It is interesting to think of it this way: Henderson’s stolen base attempts in 1982 were the least valuable use of his speed.

  3. Here is the fallacy of the caught stealing stat. The 42 caught stealing did not cost Oakland 20.2 runs that year. Look that would mean the ratio to outs to runs would be 42/20.2 or 1/.480. That means that for every out he made cost the 1982 A's .48 runs. As Mike Gandy once said "THATS NOT TRUE". Basically for each game there are 27 outs. If each A's out was worth .48, they would have averaged more or less 13 runs a game (they did not - they averaged 691/162 = 4.26).

    The 82 A's made 4162 outs (AB-H) and had an run to out ratio of .166. It would be more realistic to say that Henderson 42 caught stealings cost the A's about 7 runs.

    I am not sure how the 22.2 runs were calculated from the steals but that appears reasonable as the 130 steals meant he put himself in scoring position for each of those steals. (i.e he made it to second, third or even scored).

  4. Hi Anon,

    The problem is your formula weighs all outs equally. However the value of outs with respect to the chances of scoring fluctuate massively depending on the situation.

    Using Henderson’s 20.6 runs cost figure and coming up with (.48 x27) is not an accurate use of the data.

    For example, if there are two outs and bases empty, the probability of the A’s scoring that inning is far less than if there are no outs with a runner on first base. Henderson being thrown out trying to steal second (or God forbid third) with no outs cost the A’s many more expected runs than a player grounding to third with two outs and nobody on base.

    So giving the outs equal weight without respect to the situation is not a valid formula to analyze what Henderson cost the A’s with his caught steals.

    To illustrate this moving scale here is the Expected Runs data from 2004 (it is all they provide). The numbers would be different in 1982, but the basic fundamentals/weights remains sound:

    ‘In 2004, teams with a runner on first and no one out averaged .9259 runs over the rest of the inning. A runner on second with no one out yielded 1.1596 runs, a gain of .2337.

    The gain decreases as outs increase – a successful steal of second with two outs nets only .0899 runs – and the cost of getting caught stealing can be extremely high, depending on the situation.

    For example, a runner caught attempting to steal second with two outs costs his team the .2460 runs they would have been expected to score in the rest of the inning. But a runner caught trying to steal third with no one out costs his team .8730 runs, more than three times as much.’ (Baseball Between The Numbers, pg 114-115)

    So you can see there is a monumental shift in the value of the outs. Henderson’s 42 caught stealing in 1982 did indeed cost the A’s 20.6 runs.

    Thanks for the comment. It's an interesting topic.