You’ll have to bear with me this week, while I fight through a bout of nostalgia.  As I think about topics for this edition of AA, I realize I really haven’t spent much time on speed at all this season.  When I think of speed, I think about my very first “Analytics Anonymous” article last year when I looked at SBO (stolen base opportunity).  Hence, the nostalgia.  Maybe it’s more that I’m connecting topics like the seven (or three, in my case) degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Regardless, now you know where I am this week and how I got here.

Pop Quiz.  We’re a little over a month into the season now.  Without looking at the numbers, and be honest, does it “FEEL” like stolen bases are up, down, or relatively similar as last year?  Go ahead and jot down your answer while I remember one of the greatest ever…

To me, it “FEELS” like they are down, especially amongst the leaders, but I haven’t chopped up the numbers yet to see for sure.  Guess what?  That’s what we’re going to do today.

Baseball is a constant game of adjustments.  As you all know, MLB is now in the second season of the rules that promote more running, including the larger bases and the limit on pick off attempts?  So, have the pitchers and catchers made the necessary adjustments to limit successful stolen bases (compared to last year)?  Or is it SBO that has changed?  None of the above?  Inquiring minds want to know…

Let’s start with a macro look at stolen bases over the same period in 2023 and 2024 (approximately 35 games played):

As these early numbers indicate, the number of players with > 7 SBs is essentially the same over the past two years.  However, we’re seeing the number of players at the high end (> 10 SBs) is almost 50% less this season.

Is that because of opportunity or are they getting caught more frequently?

Let’s check the caught stealing metrics:

  • 2023: 169 qualified players (> 95 ABs) caught stealing 129 times (rate of 0.76)
  • 2024: 170 qualified players (> 95 ABs) caught stealing 134 times (rate of 0.79)

We’ll call that a wash.

Let’s move on to SBO.  Before we get to the data though, here’s a quick refresher on SBO.  The SBO attempts to quantify the opportunity a player has to steal a base.  Since most SBs occur when a player steals second base, it is heavily dependent on how often the hitter reaches first base.  SBO is calculated as:

SBO = (SB + CS)/(1B+BB)

Note:  The calculation doesn’t distinguish between success (SB) and failure (CS) to steal the base, just the number of attempts.  Likewise, extra base hits are not factored into the equation, just singles (1B) and walks (BB).

What is a good SBO and how can we use it to our advantage?

An SBO of 20% (0.20) or more is a common threshold for identifying players to target.  Ultimately, we want players who not only have the OPPORTUNITY but also a high EFFICIENCY for achieving stolen bases.  So, instead of just looking at SB%, I typically target players who also meet my SBO threshold.

So, what do the SBO numbers tell us?

  • 2023: 169 qualified players (> 95 ABs), 30 players with an SBO >20 (17.8%)
  • 2024: 170 qualified players (> 95 ABs) 33 players with an SBO >20 (19.4%)

Again, we can basically call that a wash.

Therefore, if the OPPORTUNITY is relatively the same and the EFFICIENCY is relatively the same, why the discrepancy at the high end?

Here are the high-end SB leaders from this assessment.

You’ll note we have two repeat offenders (a pair of Juniors, ironically) only.  We can easily explain why the others in the 2024 list weren’t included in the 2023 list.  De La Cruz, Caballero, and Turang had yet to make an impact in the Show and you’ll recall Turner was dealing with a WBC hangover for much of the first half.

How about the others on the 2023 list?

  • Esteury Ruiz doesn’t have enough ABs yet to qualify for the 2024 list.  Extrapolating his current 44 ABs, he’d still be just a bit short of double digits.  We find his SBO is down a click (0.57 in 2023 and 0.47 in 2024).  More concerning than opportunity though is his caught stealing rate.  He was nabbed only 16% in 2023 but we find it at an astonishing 43% this season.  Yikes!
  • Jazz Chisholm Jr. can be explained simply by looking at his respective SBOs.  In 2023, it sat at 0.45 but currently, he’s at 0.24.  His BABIP is also down a tick this season as well (0.321 and 0.315 in 2023 and 2024, respectively).
  • Jorge Mateo doesn’t have enough ABs yet to qualify either.  If he had, he’d likely be on the 2024 list.  Despite a lower SBO, he’s running at essentially the same rate and hasn’t been caught yet.  If we see a bump in his opportunity, he may be a speed sleeper later in the season.
  • We find Nico Hoerner’s current SBO nearly half of his early 2023 value (0.16 vs. 0.30).  Also concerning is the drop in his SB success rate (86% in 2023 vs. 67% in 2024).  Despite hitting at the top of the Cubs lineup and above average BB rate lately, these signs indicate we may need to lower our SB expectations with him moving forward.  I invested in Hoerner a lot during draft season so I hope I’m wrong here.
  • Anthony Volpe is in that second group (> 7 SBs) of base stealers in the 2024 list.  He’d certainly be amongst the league leaders again if we see his current SBO (0.19) return to the 2023 value (0.31).  I don’t have much concern with him right now.
  • Cedric Mullins presents an odd case.  His SBO is up this year (.38 in 2024 vs .28 in 2023) but he’s just not running as much.  His 7.4% attempt rate is down from 8.5% last season.  Are we seeing the beginning of the end (speed wise) at age 29 or is this just an anomaly?  I guess we’ll find out soon.
  • What is there to say about Corbin Carroll that hasn’t been said yet?  He’s been in a miserable season-long slump and there’s legitimate concerns that he’s approaching shoulder surgery.  As far as base running goes, he does come in with eight SBs (in 10 attempts) so there’s that.  His SBO sits at a 0.26, which is not all that bad considering, but a far cry from the 0.40 he had at this time last year.  He’s still an automatic start in fantasy circles but I know all you owners out there are struggling to retain optimism here.
  • Thairo Estrada presents another odd case.  His SBO is virtually non-existent this year at 0.05 (down from 0.29 last season).  Reduce opportunity aside, you’d think a player with 20+ SBs each of the past two seasons would run when he can, right?  Well, not here.  Estrada has only one (that’s right one…uno…un…eins…) SB attempt so far.  That’s unacceptable.  Come on, man!

“Wrap it up man, I’ve got things to do.” 

Fair enough, I hear you back there.  I guess it’s a good time to close the book on another Analytics Anonymous session.  Thanks for humoring me as I took a stroll down memory lane and my inaugural AA efforts.  Today we reviewed some SB numbers and found a lot of the players we counted on last year for SBs aren’t getting the same opportunity this season.  We also noted how young guys are stepping up to fill the void.  That’s great news.  Maybe we’ll take a look at this later in the season to see if these trends hold.

Until then…keep grinding.  We’re approaching the time when people start to trail off.  Stay aggressive and always strive to make your team better.  No matter where you are in the standings, there’s plenty of time to catch up.

Also…don’t forget, when you come to the Razzball site, you can find me on both on the baseball and football sides.  Just look for “The Lineup Builder” and you’ve found me!  I’m doing QB rankings all offseason in addition to hosting these baseball sessions.  I just finished analyzing all the QBs taken during the NFL draft.  Don’t miss it!

Lastly, be sure to follow me on Twitter/X @Derek_Favret.  I’m now on BlueSky as well (@dfavret.bsky.social).

Until next time, my friends.