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Shutting down the running game ... but to what end?

Harry How

Ah, the running game. It just hasn't been the same since Rickey Henderson qualified for Social Security and finally decided he could afford to retire. Which I bring up because John Dewan's analyzed the ability of defenses to control the running game last season:

As a part of the Baseball Info Solutions defensive metrics, we estimate the number of runs that pitchers and catchers are able to save for their teams by controlling the running game. We divide up the credit for each stolen base and each caught stealing by looking at the pitcher/catcher battery and their track records for preventing stolen bases with and without each other. We also give out some credit to pitchers and catchers when runners are too intimidated to attempt to steal at all.

So that's the methodology, roughly speaking.

Now I'll throw a team out there, and you can guess how many runs they saved by controlling the running game.

Ready? Dodgers: How many runs did they save!


That doesn't seem like a lot. Eleven runs, everything else being equal, is one W.

Here's the punchline, though: The Dodgers were the best at controlling the running game. The Dodgers were the only team that saved more than seven runs that way. All that effort was rewarded with an extra victory ... but that's without accounting for all the slide-steps that might have made things easier for the hitters, or the fastballs thrown to make things easier for the catcher in obvious steal situations. Almost makes you wonder if teams just shouldn't worry much about the running game at all.

On the other side of the ledger, the Tigers lost 16 runs and the Athletics 12 ... and this is where I'm contractually obligated to mention that both of those teams won division titles. Which, again, makes you wonder ...

Anyway, this isn't the last word on the subject. We might reach different conclusions if the analysis was situation-based; for example, a foiled stolen base is more important in the ninth inning of a close game than in the third inning of a game that's not so close. But with teams stealing so rarely, there just isn't much a defense can do to help or hinder its cause over the course of a whole season. That's just science.