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The stolen bases of Robinson Cano

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If you don't want to read about every stolen base attempt by Robinson Cano in 2014 then this article might not be for you...

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, Robinson Cano SMASHED his previous career high in stolen bases (by 25%!!!), swiping 10 bases. Double digits! His 13 attempted stolen bases were also a career high. Never a "speed guy", Cano had only successfully stolen more than five bases in a season twice in his career. And then, at age 31, in the first year of a 10-year, $240 million deal, he set a new career high. This seems... kinda weird. I'm all about Cano dispelling the misconception that he doesn't "hustle" and that he's as gritless as a newborn unicorn, but, as fans, should we readily embrace a version of Cano that runs almost twice as often than he's averaged in his career? Or should we be terrified that a man whom the Mariners owe more than $200 million is going to hurt himself in an attempt to swipe second base?(People get hurt trying to steal bases! Just ask Corey Hart or Jose Reyes or Brian Roberts...)

Last season, I felt legitimate anxiety every time I saw Cano break for second from first base. Maybe that wasn't particularly reasonable, but I'm a crazy sports fan so whatever. In any case, in an attempt to suppress this feeling of dread, I thought it might be useful to look back at Cano's stolen bases from last season to see how/when he decided to try and steal a base. I've spent the past ~90 minutes battling with mlb.tv to watch all 13 of these stolen base attempts... although it's come a long way since it's inception, mlb.tv is still a frustratingly choppy/buggy program sometimes. Here we go!

Stolen base attempt #1
  • Date: April 20th @ Miami Marlins
  • Situation: Bottom 6th, 0-2 count, 2 outs, A. Caminero pitching to C. Hart, M's up 2-1
  • Result: Cano caught stealing second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.88, -0.024, -0.21

Although Cano got a decent jump, Caminero threw a 91 mph fastball, up and off of the plate, which was easy for the catcher to handle. Mathis made a very good throw down to second to beat Cano by three or four feet.

Stolen base attempt #2
  • Date: April 26th vs. Texas Rangers
  • Situation: Bottom 5th, 0-0 count, 1 out, C. Lewis pitching to C. Hart, M's tied 3-3
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 1.60, 0.028, 0.16

Here, Lewis threw a 90 mph fastball right down the center of the plate. Corey Hart swung through the pitch, but appeared to obscure the catcher's view of the ball in doing so. As a result, Chirinos dropped the ball and there was no throw down to second. Safe!

Stolen base attempt #3
  • Date: April 29th @ New York Yankees
  • Situation: Top 7th, 0-1 count, 0 outs, D. Betances pitching to C. Hart, M's up 4-2
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.86, 0.019, 0.24

Before this stolen base attempt, Betances actually threw over to first to keep Cano close. Nonetheless, Robbie got a good jump and just beat a solid throw by McCann in a close play at second. Later in the inning, Cano's base stealin' bore fruit as he came around to score on a single by Ackley.

Stolen base attempt #4
  • Date: May 20th @ Texas Rangers
  • Situation: Top 1st, 1-1 count, 2 outs, C. Lewis pitching to J. Smoak, M's tied 0-0
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.79, 0.01, 0.09

The pitch from Lewis was a ball down in the dirt. It squirted away from the catcher and Cano slid safely into second without a throw.

Stolen base attempt #5
  • Date: May 26th vs. Los Angeles Angels
  • Situation: Top 2nd, 1-0 count, 2 outs, T. Skaggs pitching to J. Smoak, M's up 5-0
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.14, 0.002, 0.09

This was a pretty good pitch to run on; it was off-speed and down out of the zone. Add in the fact that the throw to second was very high and Cano ended up stealing the bag easily.

Stolen base attempt #6
  • Date: June 2nd @ New York Yankees
  • Situation: Top 3rd, 0-0 count, 1 out, D. Phelps pitching to J. Smoak, M's up 1-0
  • Result: Cano caught stealing second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 1.13, -0.037, -0.38

Here, Cano went on first movement and ended up being picked off. Sad. Also, because this game was in New York, thousands of Yankees fans serenaded Cano with a cascade of jeers in a successful attempt to appear excessively petty (as Yankees fans are often wont to do, especially when it comes to the Seattle Mariner version of Robinson Cano).

Stolen base attempt #7
  • Date: June 8th @ Tampa Bay Rays
  • Situation: Top 8th, 2-2 count, 2 outs, J. Peralta pitching to M. Zunino, M's tied 0-0
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 1.74, 0.028, 0.09

Cano got a good jump and managed to just slide under an on-target throw from Molina.

Stolen base attempt #8
  • Date: July 5th @ Chicago White Sox
  • Situation: Top 10th, 1-0 count, 1 out, J. Geurra pitching to D. Ackley, M's tied 2-2
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 5.19, 0.033, 0.22

This was Cano's "biggest" stolen base of the season (in terms of WPA). He successfully scooted over to second base without drawing a throw (Jones was on third, so the White Sox were likely reluctant to risk a poor throw to second). The chances of scoring with men at second and third (and one out) is about 69%, compared to 65% when men are at first and third. Unfortunately, despite getting ahead in the count 2-0, Ackely struck out and the M's failed to score in the inning. Boo.

Stolen base attempt #9
  • Date: July 6th @ Chicago White Sox
  • Situation: Top 6th, 3-2 count, 1 out, H. Noesi pitching to K. Seager, M's down 0-1
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 1.33, 0.015, 0.09

Stolen bases in consecutive days! Cano is such a speedster. This might've been a hit and run; Seager struck out swinging on breaking ball just out of the zone. Cano didn't get the best jump, but the catcher double-clutched before the throw, delivering the ball to the second baseman on a bounce. A good throw would've easily gotten Cano. (Also, it's so gross that Noesi struck out Seager. Blech.)

Stolen base attempt #10
  • Date: July 31st @ Cleveland Indians
  • Situation: Top 5th, 2-2 count, 0 outs, N. Hagadone pitching to K. Morales, M's tied 4-4
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 1.60, 0.025, 0.16

Here, an on-target throw probably would've nabbed Cano by quite a bit. The pitch was a fastball that was easy for the catcher to handle, but he airmailed the throw; the second baseman had to dive to his left to prevent the ball from sailing into right-center field. (This play corresponds to the one shown in the main image up above.)

Stolen base attempt #11
  • Date: August 8th vs. Chicago White Sox
  • Situation: Bottom 7th, 0-1 count, 1 out, R. Belisario pitching to K. Seager, M's up 4-0
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.18, 0.004, 0.16

Belisario was keeping an eye on Cano, throwing over earlier in the at bat. But it didn't matter! A poor throw from the catcher pulled the second baseman off the bag, allowing Cano to slide in safely for the steal.

Stolen base attempt #12
  • Date: August 19th vs. Philadelphia Phillies
  • Situation: Top 8th, 0-2 count, 0 outs, A. Burnett pitching to K. Seager M's up 3-0
  • Result: Cano steals second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.33, 0.007, 0.24

A good jump paired with a poor throw enabled Cano to safely advance to second. Also, for just the second time all season, after stealing a base and moving into scoring position Cano was able to come around and score; Zunino knocked him in later in the inning with an RBI single.

Stolen base attempt #13
  • Date: September 12th vs. Oakland Athletics
  • Situation: Bottom 6th, 0-1 count, 0 outs, E. O'Flaherty pitching to K. Morales, M's up 3-2
  • Result: Cano caught stealing second base
  • Leverage index, WPA, RE24: 0.95, -0.03, -0.34

Cano didn't get a very good jump on this pitch. Norris bounced his throw to second, but it was on target and beat Cano by less than a foot, thereby bringing Cano's 2014 base-stealing exploits to an inauspicious end.

- - -

In 2014, Cano successfully converted 10 of his 13 stolen base attempts, good for a success rate of 79% (the league average was a bit below 73%). These 10 steals ranked 49th highest among the 146 qualified batters in 2014, just one stolen base less than Yasiel Puig and Dexter Fowler and more than either Gerardo Parra or Justin Upton. Coming in to last season, I would not have picked Cano to rank in the 67th percentile in stolen bases. Maybe he felt obligated to do what he could to try and jump-start a not-so-potent offense, maybe Lloyd likes to call for steals more often than Girardi, or maybe he simply had more opportunities to run this year with the Mariners (caused by the fact that there were fewer men on base in front of him compared to when he was with the Yankees).

It should be pointed out that these 10 successes and three failures combined to yield an overall WPA of 0.08. Although this is a positive value, it's not particularly high and might not be worth the risk of injury to the Mariners $240 million man.

Cano's base-stealing success appears to rely heavily upon his ability to adeptly read pitchers; despite not being the most fleet of foot, he almost always gets a decent jump, proficiently breaking for second at the pitcher's first move. Getting picked off just once in 13 attempts also suggests that he doesn't get fooled by pick-off moves very often.

Finally, Cano always slid feet first. He also tended to look in at the catcher while running and covered his head/face during his slide to make sure he didn't take any errant throws off of his face (poor Guti). These facts suggest that Cano isn't necessarily trying to steal a base at all costs, but does what he can to protect himself.

After going through and looking at all of this, I guess I'm a bit more okay with Cano runnin' around on the base paths. He's not overzealous about it and it seems like he does what he can to make sure he doesn't get hurt. Still, I don't think I'd be terribly disappointed if he had a lot fewer stolen base attempts next year.

Go M's!