Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 5 Seasons To Forget, Baserunning Edition

Happy 2013 to all and welcome back to my off-season look at less-than-awesome years on the diamond. A personal caution that this Top 5 Seasons To Forget for stealing (and getting caught) took extra sifting compared to earlier stabs at hitting, pitching, and managing, as that august trio seems somehow more elemental to the game. Sure, footwork's a nice bonus skill for the multi-tool player, but occasional extra bases play subordinate to baseball's 21st-century focus on the Three True Outcomes.

Furthermore, bad running doesn't stand out on card backs like a 4-16 pitcher or .180 hitter. Someone who leads the league in caught stealing (CS) might also lead it in stolen bases (SB), given the quantity of attempts, and be hailed as the team's rally starter. That pushed my version of "forgettable season" into more esoteric terrain, where the most chiding that player might receive is his appearance in this post.

1. Jose Offerman (2000, 0 SB, 8 CS)

2002 Topps #624, Jose Offerman

See Jose. See Jose run. See Jose get caught running. See Jose try again. And again. And again. That 2000 season set the mark for most caught stealing without a success at 8. (To his credit, Jose swiped as many as 45 in other years.)

2. Luis Castillo, 2000 (22 CS, 17 RBI)

1996 Bowman #189, Luis Castillo

The same year Jose kept getting nabbed in the AL, Castillo led the NL in both stolen bases and caught stealing. As noted above, those stats can be a speedster's lot in life. However, Luis also notched the rarer feat of getting caught 5 more times than he knocked in runs.

That odd combo says a lot about Florida's ability to put guys on base in front of Luis, who hit .334 and set an OPS+ career high (111). Their 7-8-9 hitters must've been uncommonly awful at getting into scoring position (2000 team stats).

3. Vince Coleman ("for career achievements")

1986 Topps #201, Vince Coleman (Most SB by Rookie)

Vince's most regrettable moment will forever be tossing fireworks into a crowd of autograph seekers at Dodger Stadium, but his speed in St. Louis outpaced just about everything from 1985 to 1990. Coleman's career steals (752) are more than twice his career RBI (346). He stole more bases than runs scored 4 times, more bases than his OPS+ rating 3 times, and more bases than his stolen base percentage 3 times. I bestow one career No-Prize for those steals overshadowing, well, everything.

Still a dick move throwing the fireworks, Vince.

4. Matt Alexander (103 SB, 1 Run Created)

1978 Topps #102, Matt Alexander

Matt "Two First Names" Alexander holds the ignominious career accomplishment of stealing 103 career bases, but creating just a single run during his 9 MLB seasons. Bill James developed Runs Created to evaluate a player's combined batting and running contributions. Per Wikipedia:
"Runs created is believed to be an accurate measure of an individual's offensive contribution because when used on whole teams, the formula normally closely approximates how many runs the team actually scores."

How just 1 RC in 9 seasons? The fact that fellow Oakland alum Larry Lintz is "runner-up" with 128 steals and 31 Runs Created hints that their shared time as Athletics had something to do with it. Those mid-70s World Series championships featured not just the AL's new Designated Hitter (1973), but also experiments with sprinter Herb Washington and other situational speedsters like Lintz and Alexander.

Alexander's career stats border on the bizarre, with just 4 RBI in 374 games and an otherworldly 1.5:1 AB-to-Runs ratio. (Matt's batting nadir came in 1976 with a -80 OPS+, thanks to 1 hit in 30 at-bats, offsetting 20 steals as a pinch-runner.) Oakland's dedication to pinch-running might push Runs Created to the edge of utility for individuals, while remaining accurate for the team as a whole.

Don't cry for me, Herb Washington: Like Herb (Oakland, 1974), Matt Alexander's running skills earned him a World Series ring (Pittsburgh, 1979).

5. Most caught stealing in consecutive games (5 CS, 5 times)

1993 Topps #680, Craig Biggio

I admit we're pushing the bounds of #5-philia with this one: 5 players have been caught stealing 5 times in consecutive games. At least this list spans multiple eras and includes a future Hall-of-Famer in Biggio.

Eddie Mulligan is this group's odd duck, a poor hitter who filled a lineup spot for Chicago's post-Black Sox White Sox (1921-22). He lead the AL with 18 caught stealing in 1921, thanks in part to just three days in July (one of which had a doubleheader, so four games total). 7 hits in 18 at-bats looks good until you're thrown out 5 of those times on base and getting caught twice in a 1-0 loss must've stung.

Honorable Mention: Fred Merkle (New York Giants, 1908)

1909-11 T206, Fred Merkle

Merkle's boner remains one of the most notorious running blunders, due as much to Chicago's strategic use of the run-canceling force rule as to Merkle's "censurable stupidity" (to quote the New York Times). His out did mean the Giants had to replay (and lose) their 1908 pennant-winning game, but it's hard to contextualize that moment for the modern game. Tossing a live baseball to a fan, perhaps.

Any other stolen seasons or running gaffes you'd like to forget?


Brandon said...

Greg Gross was an on base machine as a rookie for the Astros in '74. But because he was batting leadiff they made him steal bases. Or at least try to steal bases. He was successful just 12 times in 32 attempts.

Mad Guru said...

Will Clark's 5 for 22 stealing in 1987 has always been my favorite. It took him seven more seasons to accrue his next 17 caught stealings.

Matthew Glidden said...

Ouch, both good ones. Some of those 1970s teams just ran and ran, whatever the outcome.

For more recent teams, unbalanced schedules might play into SB success, too, as division match-ups mean some lineups face good throwing catchers (e.g., Pudge Rodriguez) more often than others.

Jeff said...

How about the 78 Blue Jays? 28 SB, 52 CS.

Gary Woods was the only player on the entire roster over .500, he stole 1 base without getting caught.

Matthew Glidden said...

Good note on the '78 Jays. They turn out to be one of the all-time caught stealing teams.

Teams with most players CS greater than SB

Lots of 70s teams in those top-25...

Nick Vossbrink said...

No Robby Thompson's 4 caught stealings in a game?

Matthew Glidden said...

Sure, honorable mention for Robby's record 4 CS on June 27, 1986!

Thompson singled three times, reached first on a dropped third strike, and got caught trying to steal 2B by Bo Diaz all four times. Based on the other SB / CS / Pickoff notes from that game, SF was aggressive on the basepaths and Cincy wasn't far behind. Been awhile since I've seen that kind of scoresheet.