[Ed. note - I've revised the post to re-order all of the charts, ranked by the column that is the "pertinent information". I'm not sure why I didn't do that in the first place, but it was late when I originally posted, so forgive me. Hopefully this makes the information even clearer. Thanks for reading.]
Welcome to part three of three in our look at the Cardinals’ efforts in the Tony LaRussa era to defend against the stolen base. We’ve already taken a cursory look at the Cards defense against the running game and the efforts made by Cardinal catchers toward the same goal.
Today we’ll try to analyze the pitchers, and success they have had trying to keep would-be base stealers pinned to their current location.
Playing for the STL, Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1996 to 2008, (requiring SB>=0, CS>=0, PickOffs>=0, and At least 200 Innings Pitched), sorted by smallest SBperc:
This chart pretty much tells us everything we need to know about what pitchers are doing to stop the run game. Admittedly, I’m going to largely ignore pickoffs, because the numbers are so miniscule in comparison that it is very difficult to analyze their impact on an opponent’s stolen base attempts. I say this because even in years of lowest attempts, the Cardinals have had wildly varying degrees of success with pickoffs – and not surprisingly, these numbers have gone up and down comparatively with the number of innings thrown by left-handed pitchers (something the Cardinals have been lacking in the innings department in recent years).
The next chart will begin to paint the picture, using the numbers above.
In my research for this project, I ran across an old post by Jeff Sackmann at The Hardball Times that inspired me to go deeper than just the basic numbers, deeper than just accepting that Yadier Molina has a good arm, and caught stealing numbers are the end-game of whether or not a team is stopping the run.
Jeff introduced some numbers that I will make use of in my analysis. From his post:
Stolen base percentage (SB%): This is the familiar statistic used for baserunners, as well, calculated as stolen bases divided by attempts.
Attempts per inning (ATT/I): This attempts to measure whether baserunners think they have a chance, on the assumption that a catcher with a good (and well-respected) arm won’t be challenged. The same can be said of pitchers who have deceptive pickoff moves or have a quick move to the plate.
Stolen bases per inning (SB/I): This combines the previous two stats into a single number: how many stolen bases does the pitcher (or catcher) allow per inning?
Thirty-two pitchers qualified for the criteria I laid out above. Using the stolen base percentage allowed for all Cardinal teams (which is the same as SB% for catchers), I compared the pitchers’ percentages versus the total. See below:
I ranked the qualifying pitchers by their respective stolen base percentage allowed, compared to the total, and the difference is indicative of the influence the pitcher has on preventing steal attempts. Higher, positive numbers are better, so Chris Carpenter ranks the best (not surprising, given he is my muse for this endeavor) and Jason Isringhausen ranks the worst. Not terribly surprising, given that he may have lots of catcher indifference stolen bases racked up against him.
I should note that there is imperfection in this comparison. By using the average total stolen base percentage for all Cardinal teams across 1996-2008, there are disconnects with, say, guys like Carpenter who have only been with the team since 2004. Since I have a definite amount of time in which to research and write this piece, I chose to accept this as an inherent flaw in my presentation, although I maintain that the premise and results are solid. Carp might look a little more human were he only compared against the catchers he has thrown to, where a Matt Morris or Andy Benes or Todd Stottlemyre might look better in comparison.
Since we established last time that a big part of stopping an opponent’s success running is just stopping them from trying, it’s worth comparing attempts per inning. We have below a chart indicating average attempts versus the team’s catchers per inning, compared to the attempts per inning of the pitchers that qualified for our study. Unfortunately, this is where using the average for all Cardinal teams from 1996-2008 may skew the results further to one end or the other, based upon general trends in baseball, and trends versus Cardinal catchers through the years. That said, the numbers still hold true because there is one constant through the entire list. Those who look excellent might lose some luster, those who look horrible would carry more weight – but they’re all on a level comparison.
This may well be the most important stat we’ll look at in this project. The less a runner takes off for the next base, the more success a team is bound to have preventing their success, right?
Only nine of thirty-two Cardinal pitchers on our qualified list rank worse that the catcher average for stolen base attempts against per inning. Some were particularly bad comparatively, especially Darren Oliver. One wouldn’t expect such poor numbers at keeping a runner parked on a base from a left-handed pitcher, especially one who posted eight pickoffs in a little better than 250 innings for the team. So pitchers are doing a great job of holding runners at their respective base, and the catchers are doing a great job as well – the National League average ATT/IP for the same time period is 0.088 and the Major League average is 0.089.
Let’s get down to bare bones. So we’ve looked at percentages, we’ve looked at how many times runners are actually taking off – but how many times, on a per inning average basis, are they successful? And what is the pitcher’s influence on that?
Again, only nine of thirty-two rank worse than their projected numbers based on the catchers. Once again Carpenter rules the roost – and what to make of Jason Simontacchi’s numbers? He ranks well in all of these categories. Did Simo have a sweet pickoff move or what (the numbers would argue against it)?
How do these numbers compare league-wide? Well, it’s no contest really. The National League average SB/IP rate was 0.070 and the Major League rate was 0.069. The Cardinal catcher rate for the same time period is embarrassingly lower than both, and only five Cards hurlers are worse than those averages – one is Isringhausen (reliever, probably lots of free passes on the basepaths), and the others all pitched in the pre-Matheny/Molina years. Telling, indeed.
This study has taught me a lot about just how dedicated the Cardinals appear to be to stopping other teams from taking extra bases, and thus, extra scoring opportunities against them. It is refreshing to see such a dedication to a team concept, or fundamental aspect of the game that most managers or players wouldn’t commit to. Given the Cardinals’ success during the LaRussa years, I’d say this is one of many things that Tony is doing right.
Now that I’ve gotten into this stuff, keep an eye out – I’m liable to throw some more of these numbers around at various points in time…