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Professional Thieves vs. The Constabulary

by Chuck Rosciam SABR, Baseball Research Journal

 

Who are the professional thieves (base stealers) and who are the top cops (catchers)? How do we differentiate professional from amateur? Do arrests by the constabulary (caught stealing by the catcher) measure greatness in a backstop or is it pure ineptness by the thief?

An analysis of Retrosheet data from 1963-2004 was performed to answer these and other questions. During the data period there were 174,570 stolen base attempts (SBA) involving 61,131 runner-catcher match-ups. The breakdown of these SBA’s is:

 

Table 1. Stolen Base Attempts By Base

 

 

SB

CS

SBA

SB%

2nd Base

107,998

39,736

147,734

.731

3rd Base

16,379

6,511

22,890

.716

Home

1,476

2,470

3,946

.374

Total

125,853

48,717

174,570

.721

 

To separate the professional thief from the amateur, all 3,223 runners’ efforts were categorized by their success or failure at each base. Because the success rate at stealing 3rd or home was lower than the theft rate of 2nd, the top 1% of the runners who attempted 3rd or home were selected out and designated as the professional thieves. As expected, the usual suspects (Henderson, Brock, Coleman, Carew, and Raines) made the list of 32. (See Table 8).

The success rate for all runners attempting to steal 3rd base was 71.6%. Of the 32 professional thieves, only four had a worse rate than the MLB average. These gone-to-the-well-too-often guys were Lou Brock, Brett Butler, Jose Cardenal, and Rod Carew. The player that had the best success-rate at stealing 3rd was Roberto Alomar with 89.0% (138 out of 155 attempts). The worst professional was Rod Carew with 59.3% (32 out of 54 tries). The most attempts were tried by Rickey Henderson (403) and the fewest attempts by a professional goes to Rod Carew (54).

How well did our professionals do compared to the 3,191 amateurs? Even though our professionals represented only 1% of all thieves, they accounted for 18.8% of all successful thefts of 3rd base. Their success rate was 13% better than the amateurs as the following table shows.

Table 2. Professionals vs. Amateurs in 3rd Base Thefts

 

 

SB3

CS3

SB3%

Professionals

3,077

650

.826

Amateurs

13,302

5,861

.694

Total

16,379

6,511

.716

 

The master thieves among the professionals were the ones that tried a theft of home. In the data sample there were 1,413 different thieves that attempted this feat. Only 794 were successful at least once or slightly more than half (56.2%). Among our 32 professionals, nearly a third (10) had an average worse than the whole sample (37.4%). The most attempts were tried by Rod Carew (30) and the fewest attempts by our professionals was 1 by Kirk Gibson.

The most successful thefts of home were 20 by Rod Carew. However, this is far short of the MLB record of 54 by Ty Cobb. In fact Carew’s total is only good for ninth on the all-time list.

Again, we can compare the professionals against the amateurs when it comes to racing home. The elite 1% captured 8.6% of all of the steals of home, which was only half as good as their 3rd base nabbing. The pros success rate was 15% better than the amateurs.

Table 3. Professionals vs. Amateurs in Stealing Home

 

 

SBH

CSH

SBH%

Professionals

127

118

.518

Amateurs

1,349

2,352

.364

Total

1,476

2,470

.374

 

Now let’s turn to the constabulary, the ones whose job it is to catch those pesty base stealers. In our data sample there were 630 different catchers. To determine who were the top cops a criteria of a minimum of 275 nabbed thieves was established. For this study caught stealing also included pickoffs of the runners when the catcher threw to the base. The criteria yielded 35 catchers or 5.5% of the total backstops, which are now labeled as top cops. (See Table 9).

The success rate of these top cops at catching thieves at all bases was 33.5% as compared to the beat cops rate of 26.1% or the total sample of 27.9%. Even though our top cops only represented 5.5% of the constabulary, they made 29.9% of the arrests.

Table 4. Top Cops vs. Beat Cops at Nabbing Thieves

 

 

CS

SBA

CS%

Top Cops

14,580

43,581

.335

Beat Cops

34,137

130,989

.261

Total

48,717

174,570

.279

 

Did the high success rate of stopping crime on the bases detour our thieves? No. The top cops were involved in 25% of all of the attempts at thievery. Who caught the most? That honor belongs to Gary Carter who nabbed 772 runners. Who among our top cops had the fewest? That was Rich Gedman with 276. The best percentage of catching base stealers is owned by Ivan Rodriguez (48.4%) and the worst record is held by Mike Piazza (20.8%).

 

How did our top cops fair at the various bases? The following table provides the answer. (Pickoffs shown but not included in the totals.)

 

Table 5. Top Cops Record at the Bases

 

 

CS

SBA

CS%

1st Base (PK)

424

-

 

2nd Base

12,354

38,156

.324

3rd Base

1,370

3,888

.352

Home

432

646

.669

Total

14,156

42,690

.332

 

The next logical step is a side-by-side comparison of the professional thieves’ success rate at the various bases as compared to the top cops. [It should be remembered that the thieves’ record is against all catchers and that the top cops’ record is against all thieves.] Table 6 entries for the catchers have been “flipped over” (SB rate versus CS rate) to provide a quick illustration without having to do the math.

 

Table 6. Professional Thieves vs. Top Cops

 

 

Thieves SB%

Cops SB%

Diff Cops:Thieves

2nd Base

.842

.676

+.166

3rd Base

.826

.648

+.178

Home

.518

.331

+.187

Total

.817

.668

+.149

 

On the average, the top cops are 14.9% better at catching all thieves than are the professional thieves at stealing against all cops. It appears that, generally, crime doesn’t pay.

The last, and obvious, question is how did the 32 professional thieves do against the 35 top cops in a head-to-head match? The answer will have to be given in another article. But, to round out this study I have selected just one match-up out of the thousands in the data. Taking the Number 1 Professional Thief (Roberto Alomar) against the Number 1 Top Cop (Ivan Rodriguez), the results of the match-up yield:

 

Table 7. Alomar vs. Rodriguez

 

 

SB

CS

SB%

2nd Base

8

4

.667

3rd Base

3

3

.500

Home

0

0

.000

Total

11

7

.611

Although the sample is very small, one can opine that the top cop (Rodriguez) got the better of the professional thief (Alomar) in their 18 confrontations. However, Alomar was successful 61.1% of the time compared to all other runners who only managed a theft 51.6% of the time against Rodriguez. But, the professional thief met his nemesis in Rodriguez because Alomar was used to stealing 80.9% of his attempts. His success rate dropped 20% which seems to say, once again, that crime doesn’t pay when a runner is up against the top cops.

 

Table 8. Professional Thieves

 

Runner

SBA3

SB3%

SBAH

SBH%

SBp

CSp

SBAp

SBp%

Roberto Alomar

155

0.890

3

0.333

139

19

158

0.880

Bert Campaneris

153

0.889

2

0.000

136

19

155

0.877

Eric Davis

111

0.883

2

0.000

98

15

113

0.867

Devon White

78

0.872

3

0.667

70

11

81

0.864

Vince Coleman

223

0.879

9

0.444

200

32

232

0.862

Marquis Grissom

109

0.862

4

0.750

97

16

113

0.858

Omar Vizquel

107

0.860

5

0.800

96

16

112

0.857

Barry Larkin

144

0.875

7

0.429

129

22

151

0.854

Davey Lopes

107

0.860

9

0.667

98

18

116

0.845

Paul Molitor

117

0.855

16

0.750

112

21

133

0.842

Tony Gwynn

101

0.861

6

0.500

90

17

107

0.841

Chuck Knoblauch

85

0.835

2

1.000

73

14

87

0.839

Rickey Henderson

403

0.836

12

0.667

345

70

415

0.831

Otis Nixon

145

0.848

7

0.429

126

26

152

0.829

Tim Raines

101

0.842

8

0.500

89

20

109

0.817

Craig Biggio

137

0.818

3

0.667

114

26

140

0.814

Barry Bonds

109

0.835

6

0.333

93

22

115

0.809

Willie Wilson

88

0.818

3

0.333

73

18

91

0.802

Jeff Bagwell

76

0.789

5

0.800

64

17

81

0.790

Delino DeShields

100

0.810

4

0.250

82

22

104

0.788

Larry Bowa

83

0.819

13

0.538

75

21

96

0.781

Kenny Lofton

141

0.794

5

0.400

114

32

146

0.781

Ozzie Smith

106

0.849

15

0.200

93

28

121

0.769

Eric Young

108

0.787

10

0.500

90

28

118

0.763

Kirk Gibson

79

0.759

1

0.000

60

20

80

0.750

Billy North

89

0.742

2

0.500

67

24

91

0.736

Larry Walker

81

0.778

12

0.250

66

27

93

0.710

Lou Brock

83

0.711

3

0.667

61

25

86

0.709

Brett Butler

87

0.713

8

0.625

67

28

95

0.705

Steve Sax

87

0.747

8

0.250

67

28

95

0.705

Jose Cardenal

80

0.700

22

0.545

68

34

102

0.667

Rod Carew

54

0.593

30

0.667

52

32

84

0.619

 

 

 

Table 9. Top Cops

 

Catcher

SB

CS

PK

CSPK

SBA

CS%

Ivan Rodriguez

534

424

76

500

1034

0.484

Thurman Munson

533

394

38

432

965

0.448

Johnny Bench

556

384

47

431

987

0.437

Bob Boone

1108

637

77

714

1822

0.392

Jim Sundberg

1012

578

63

641

1653

0.388

Steve Yeager

595

319

44

363

958

0.379

Charles Johnson

517

287

10

297

814

0.365

Rick Dempsey

770

415

25

440

1210

0.364

Manny Sanguillen

498

267

15

282

780

0.362

Lance Parrish

1043

557

29

586

1629

0.360

John Stearns

500

258

21

279

779

0.358

Butch Wynegar

708

370

13

383

1091

0.351

Darrell Porter

902

459

26

485

1387

0.350

Gary Carter

1498

716

56

772

2270

0.340

Bill Freehan

716

344

20

364

1080

0.337

Brad Ausmus

698

340

13

353

1051

0.336

Milt May

724

346

12

358

1082

0.331

Terry Steinbach

765

367

7

374

1139

0.328

Ted Simmons

1188

547

32

579

1767

0.328

Mike Heath

571

273

5

278

849

0.327

Benito Santiago

995

426

52

478

1473

0.325

Tony Pena

1224

545

39

584

1808

0.323

Rick Cerone

705

323

13

336

1041

0.323

Jody Davis

815

367

21

388

1203

0.323

Pat Borders

608

277

10

287

895

0.321

Carlton Fisk

1302

578

22

600

1902

0.315

Rich Gedman

633

262

14

276

909

0.304

Bruce Benedict

772

329

6

335

1107

0.303

Bo Diaz

686

281

16

297

983

0.302

Mike Scioscia

952

381

23

404

1356

0.298

Ernie Whitt

691

282

9

291

982

0.296

Joe Girardi

798

300

3

303

1101

0.275

Terry Kennedy

1051

362

15

377

1428

0.264

Alan Ashby

1112

379

13

392

1504

0.261

Mike Piazza

1221

315

6

321

1542

0.208

 

Data Source:

 

Retrosheet (A.L. Only) 1963, 1965-68; (A.L. & N.L.) 1969-2004

Special thanks to SABR Member, David Smith who has provided me millions of event records over the years and without whom this study could not have been accomplished.

 




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