I was just looking at MLB leaders in Win Shares according to The Hardball Times in response to the news that Eric Byrnes of the Diamondbacks had signed a 3-year / $30 million deal to stay in Arizona. You see, in what is shaping up to be the greatest season of his career, Byrnes is currently leading the NL in that category. But my attention was more or less occupied at that moment upon realizing that the MLB leader in Win Sharers so far was Ichiro. I wouldn’t say that I was surprised so much as curious and consequently looked at his base statistics closely for the first time in a while. Then, I was surprised.

We all think of Ichiro as a great contact hitter with good speed, and with good reason. But if my knowledge of him as a player is the norm among the general populace, then we are seriously shortchanging his amazing abilities as a base stealer. The fact that he has stolen 76 bases since the start of the 2006 season is not revelatory. But he has done so AT A 95% SUCCESS RATE. 76 swipes in 80 attempts. Think about it.

To put this into perspective, I looked at every player who had at least stolen one base since the start of the 2006 season (468 players qualified) and calculated their respective overall Run Values – which is a numerical figure as attributed to each general event in a baseball game (such as homerun, walk, stolen base, strike out, etc) as outlined in “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball” by baseball statisticians Tom M. Tango, Mitchel G. Lichtman, and Andrew E. Dolphin. The three stat-heads basically calculated how many runs can be expected in that inning based on each of these “events”. They concluded that each Stolen Base was worth .175 runs while every time a base runner is caught stealing is worth -.467, which I think makes sense (although I may not have explained this whole thing very well).  Let’s look at Jose Reyes, who had led the MLB in stolen bases over this time.

Reyes stole 118 bases since 2006 but was caught 32 times. If you plug it into the Run Expectancy formula here’s what you get:

Reyes’ Stolen Base Run Expectancy: (118 x .175) + (32 x -.467) = 5.706

The calculation concludes that by having Reyes run as often and efficiently as he has, we can expect that he had created roughly 5.7 more runs since 2006 than if he had simply stayed put each time he got on base. Now admittedly, I’m kind of bastardizing what Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin created because I didn’t take into account things such as how many outs there were at the time of each attempt or even which base he stole, but the general idea can be reached. Now let’s look at Ichiro using the same formula:

Ichiro’s Stolen Base Run Expectancy: (76 x.175) + (4 x -.467) = 11.432

That’s a huge difference. In fact, according to this method of measurement, Ichiro is by far and away the best base stealer in baseball. Here’s the top ten.

Name SB CS SB Runs Exp. CS Runs Exp. SB RE – CS RE
Ichiro Suzuki 76 4 13.3 -1.868 11.43
Carl Crawford 94 17 16.45 -7.939 8.511
Brian Roberts 68 13 11.9 -6.071 5.829
Jimmy Rollins 57 9 9.975 -4.203 5.772
Jose Reyes 118 32 20.65 -14.94 5.706
Corey Patterson 75 16 13.13 -7.472 5.653
Eric Byrnes 54 9 9.45 -4.203 5.247
David Wright 45 7 7.875 -3.269 4.606
Kenny Lofton 53 10 9.275 -4.67 4.605

As you can see, Reyes was able to create an additional 20.65 runs from his successful stolen base attempts, but the amount of times he failed in doing so cost the Mets 14.9  runs as well, leaving him with the aforementioned 5.706. Carl Crawford and Dave Roberts also come away looking very good according to this calculation, with a pretty big gap between their numbers and fourth place Brian Roberts.

But the undisputed king here is Ichiro. He may not have stolen as many bases as Reyes and Crawford, but his ability to pick his spots has actually created more runs. So although we think of him as a great contact hitter first and foremost, maybe we need to better appreciate him as the best base stealer playing today.

Oh, and in case you were interested in which “prolific” base stealers do more harm than good in even trying, here’s a list of players with negative Run Expectancies based on their Stolen Base statistics (minimum of 20 SBs). I hope they’re ashamed of themselves.

Name SB CS SB Runs Exp. CS Runs Exp. SB RE – CS RE
B.J. Upton 24 9 4.2 -4.203 -0.003
Mike Cameron 37 14 6.475 -6.538 -0.063
Joey Gathright 27 12 4.725 -5.604 -0.879
Gary Matthews Jr. 22 11 3.85 -5.137 -1.287
Corey Hart 23 12 4.025 -5.604 -1.579
Torii Hunter 23 12 4.025 -5.604 -1.579
Randy Winn 20 11 3.5 -5.137 -1.637
Carlos Guillen 30 15 5.25 -7.005 -1.755
Adam Kennedy 21 12 3.675 -5.604 -1.929
Scott Podsednik 47 22 8.225 -10.274 -2.049
Willie Harris 22 13 3.85 -6.071 -2.221
Alfredo Amezega 32 18 5.6 -8.406 -2.806

If you’re still reading this, you’re a bigger geek than I am. Congratulations.

One Response to “Ichiro Suzuki: Much More Than a Great Hitter”

  1. hey, nice bit about the terrific ichiro. but one player of this generation is a more effective base stealer – Carlos Beltran.

    over their respective careers (by your formula) beltrans RE is 27.4 (247 SB 34 CS) to suzuki’s 20.1 (272 SB 61 CS)

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