Brett Gardner on Pace for a Historic Run
I'm going to start this piece by stating the following: Yes, I'm aware it's only May 12, and therefore, "on pace" articles are always rebutted with "It's only been ___ number of games!"
Regardless, part of the fun in sports in projecting things. So that's what I'm here to do.
Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees stole his 15th base in the first game of a double-header against the Detroit Tigers. Gardner's only been caught once, and his current projection is for 80 steals in 85 attempts.
The raw steal numbers are impressive enough. The last player to steal at least 80 in a season? Rickey Henderson in 1988. You may have heard of him.
Vince Coleman stole 80 that year as well. Stolen bases are just not as prevalent now compared to in Henderson's time, so stealing 80 bases is nothing to sneeze at.
But more impressive is the success rate. Gardner's 93.7% success rate is astounding. According to baseball-reference.com, the highest SB rate for players with at least 80 steals was Vince Coleman's 88.4% in 1986. (I'm assuming players like Ty Cobb were thrown out stealing in the 1910's and the data just wasn't kept/isn't available).
The fewest caught stealings by a player with 80 steals? Henderson, who stole 80 bases and was caught just 10 times in 1985.
In the year Henderson stole 130 bases, he was caught 42 times, for a success rate of 75.5%. Likewise, Lou Brock was only successful on 78.1% of his attempts when he stole 118 bases in 1974.
There's a metric devised that looks at the value of steals vs. caught stealings, so if you want to debate whether going 80-for-85 is more or less valuable than going 130-for-172, feel free.
As for Gardner, it's unlikely he'll keep his current pace up. He's not going to finish the season with a .416 on-base percentage, and it goes without saying that the fewer times he's on base, the fewer bases he'll steal.
But for now, Gardner's on a run unlike anything we've seen in recent years. Even current speedsters Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford don't keep that pace.
Reyes was successful on only 78% of his attempts in his best year, (78-for-99 in 2007), Crawford on 85.6% (58-for-67) and Ellsbury 85.3% (70-for-82)
But if Gardner can keep up this pace, he'll find himself in pretty elite company.
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