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One last look at the Mariners stolen bases in 2014

Even with James Jones and Austin Jackson, the Mariners were below average at stealing bases last season.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third article I've written about the Mariners and stolen bases in the last ~two months. I don't know why this keeps happening to me. Hopefully y'all aren't totally sick of reading about this and can come across a nugget or two that you find interesting. In any case, this will likely be my last stolen base-related article (until new data from 2015 starts rollin' in!).

In my most recent post (about Cano setting a career-high in stolen bases last year), I wrote something about how, although Robbie had a better-than-average SB%, his 13 stolen base attempts yielded a WPA of only 0.08. But then I got to thinking about this, and, given how little the average stolen base improves a team's chances of winning combined with the fact that getting caught stealing usually carries a significantly stiffer penalty, maybe a WPA of 0.08 is actually pretty good? To figure this out, I grabbed all of the plays that involved stolen base attempts by men on the Mariners in 2014. The WPA for each player is tallied in the table below:

James Jones 27 1 28 96% 0.508 -0.058 0.450
Austin Jackson 11 2 13 85% 0.268 -0.068 0.200
Robinson Cano 10 3 13 77% 0.171 -0.091 0.080
Dustin Ackley 8 4 12 67% 0.153 -0.074 0.079
Kyle Seager 7 5 12 58% 0.165 -0.111 0.054
Chris Taylor 5 2 7 71% 0.079 -0.035 0.044
Endy Chavez 5 2 7 71% 0.061 -0.046 0.015
Logan Morrison 5 2 7 71% 0.026 -0.101 -0.075
Michael Saunders 4 5 9 44% 0.171 -0.159 0.012
Brad Miller 4 2 6 67% 0.080 -0.142 -0.062
Abraham Almonte 3 1 4 75% 0.053 -0.058 -0.005
Cole Gillespie 2 2 4 50% 0.013 -0.074 -0.061
Corey Hart 2 0 2 100% 0.045 0.000 0.045
Willie Bloomquist 1 1 2 50% 0.011 -0.041 -0.030
Chris Denorfia 1 2 3 33% 0.024 -0.145 -0.121
Nick Franklin 1 0 1 100% 0.006 0.000 0.006
Justin Smoak 0 1 1 0% 0.000 -0.042 -0.042
Mike Zunino 0 3 3 0% 0.000 -0.131 -0.131
Stefen Romero 0 4 4 0% 0.000 -0.062 -0.062
2014 Seattle Mariners 96 42 138 70% 1.834 -1.438 0.396

Cano's WPA in stolen base attempts ranked third on the team, which seems pretty good. But it's completely dwarfed by the numbers put up by Austin Jackson and James Jones. Especially James Jones! Dude struggled in a lot of ways in 2014, but he was so good at swiping that extra base. In fact, his stolen base success rate (96.4%) actually ranked number one among the 131 players who attempted more than eight stolen bases last season. If you take away Jones' stolen base contributions, the Mariners would've accumulated -0.054 WPA in 110 stolen base attempts. Not so good.

As a team, the Mariners stolen base success rate (69.6%) ranked 22nd in baseball (compared to an average of 72.8%). Although the M's did try and steal bases at a higher rate than average, they weren't particularly good at it. For a bit more perspective, below is a graph showing each team's stolen base and caught stealing numbers for 2014. The red line corresponds to the league-average; teams above this line did worse, while those below were more proficient at stealin' bases.

To finish up this somewhat disjointed post, below are the best stolen base and the worst caught stealing for the M's in 2014.

Best stolen base of the season:
  • Date: September 8th vs. Houston Astros
  • Situation: Bottom 8th, 0-0 count, 1 out, runners on first and second, M's tied 1-1
  • Result: James Jones steals third base
  • WPA: 0.094

This highlight isn't on and I can't figure out how to embed a YouTube video with a specific time stamp with the SBNation editor... skip ahead to 12:05 to see the play.

James Jones also stole second base earlier in the inning (good for 0.049 WPA) because that's just what he does. Miller would hit a triple three pitches later, scoring both Jones and Saunders, so it wasn't as if Jones necessarily needed to have been on third to score, but the Mariners chances of getting a run improved from 42.5% (runners on first and second, one out) to 65.3% (runners on first and third, one out). Jones' stolen bases in this contest were big for the Mariners; they were in the middle of a terrible offensive slump, scoring only 14 runs over a stretch of eight games between the 7th and 15th of September. When your offense is that impotent, the value of every extra base feels extra important.

Worst stolen base of the season:
  • Date: August 20th @ Philadelphia Phillies
  • Situation: Top 4th, 1-1 count, 0 outs, runners on second and third, M's up 2-1
  • Result: Chris Denorfia thrown out "stealing home"
  • WPA: -0.12

Again, skip ahead to 5:53 to see the play.

Although this wasn't a true stolen base attempt, it goes down in the books as one. What we have here appears to be a terribly broken squeeze play. Denorfia clearly breaks for home on the pitch, but Jesus Sucre does his best Eric Byrnes impersonation and doesn't offer at the ball. It's almost certainly Sucre who missed the sign because Denorfia would've gotten the call directly from the third base coach (unless Rich Donnelly messed up, which I suppose is possible). When asked about this sequence after the game, McClendon said: "Fact is, it didn’t go right. It makes no difference who screwed up or who did what. It was a screwed-up play." Kudos for refusing to throw your backup catcher under the bus, Lloyd.

This out hurt a lot. Especially when you consider the fact that Sucre singled on the very next pitch (which would've scored Denorfia) and that the Mariners ultimately ended up losing the game 4-3. (Sucre also allowed a run to score on a passed ball in this game. Not his finest performance.)

Finally, a few more Mariners-centric stolen base numbers:

  • When trying to steal second base, the Mariners were successful in 85 out of 123 attempts (69% success rate).
  • When trying to steal third base, the Mariners were successful in 11 out of 14 attempts (79% success rate). James Jones was 7 for 7 in stealing third.
  • The squeeze play with Denorfia and Sucre was the Mariners only "attempt" at stealing home.
  • The Mariners attempted just one double steal in 2014. Jackson and Ackely successfully stole third and second base, respectively, in the first inning of a game against A.J. Burnett and the Phillies.

It'll be interesting to see how the Mariners stolen base numbers change next year. A full season of Austin Jackson and a more experienced James Jones (assuming he makes the 25-man roster, which doesn't really seem as likely as it did at the beginning of the off-season) could go a long way to turning Seattle into a real base-stealing threat.

Go M's!