Dodgers are now stealing bases, but it hasn’t directly led to improved run output

Photo: Janine Roach

Stolen bases are almost a thing of lore. They were huge in baseball’s early days and seemed to reach its pinnacle in the 1980s and early ’90s with the likes of Vince Coleman, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton, Otis Nixon and Tim Raines. But gone are the days when 60 stolen bases would lead the league.

In the last 10 years, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s 70 stolen bases (2009) are the most in baseball. Dee Gordon‘s 64 steals in 2014 (with the Dodgers!) and Jonathan Villar‘s 62 in 2016 are the highest single-season marks in the five seasons. The MLB leader in stolen bases as of this writing is Trea Turner with 32.

Enter the Dodgers, a team without a true stolen base threat. In today’s baseball, that’s fine. And before the month of August, the Dodgers didn’t do a ton of running. As a team, they had 32 stolen bases — 4th-lowest mark in baseball. In August, the Dodgers have 25 — six ahead of the Rays for the most in baseball. Not only do they have 25, but they’ve only been caught twice. Efficient base-stealing is valuable. The 24 steals wouldn’t look nearly as good if they had been caught half the time.

Overall, the Dodgers are sitting in the middle of the pack (17th) when it comes to steals. I’m sure there’s some reason for the shift in philosophy, but don’t let it fool you: They still hit plenty of dingers.

That’ll play.

Here’s how it breaks down by player.

Player SB CS
Yasiel Puig 11 3
Cody Bellinger 10 0
Chris Taylor 9 6
Manny Machado 4 0
Brian Dozier 3 0
Max Muncy 3 0
Austin Barnes 3 2
Justin Turner 2 1
Yasmani Grandal 2 1
Chase Utley 2 1
Enrique Hernandez 2 0
Logan Forsythe 2 0
Joc Pederson 1 4
Tim Locastro 1 0
Ross Stripling 1 0
Alex Wood 1 0
Total 57 18

You shocked to see Puig atop the list? Me too. I’m a little more surprised that Bellinger has yet to be thrown out, which is pretty impressive and just further underscores his freakish athleticism. Taylor needs to get more efficient, while Pederson probably should stop trying to steal (just hit dongs!). Machado and Dozier being perfect since coming over from the American League doesn’t hurt, either.

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The offense always seems to be inconsistent. After scoring 21 against the Brewers, they mustered just 29 runs in the next 10 games. Now, they’re coming off a weekend in which they averaged 9 runs per game. Now, it’s difficult to posit that the stolen bases have directly led to runs. You can look at the raw data (which I have and will get to shortly), but you’d have to assume everything else that happens after the stolen base would have happened regardless.

Having said that, the Dodgers’ stolen base propensity hasn’t led to that many more runs being scored. Of the 24 bases they have swiped this month, only three of the runners scored because of it.

Aug. 9 (1): With one out in the second inning, Hernandez doubled. After Grandal walked, Hernandez stole second base and scored on Taylor’s sacrifice fly.

Sunday (2): Taylor, after grounding into a fielder’s choice (moving Bellinger from second to third base), scored on a single from Puig in the first inning. Puig would go onto steal two bases after that but didn’t score himself. Dozier scored on a single after stealing second base in the fifth inning. Turner followed with a single and Machado ended the inning with a fly ball after that.

There was one other occasion in which a player stole a base and came around to score. It was Aug. 2, but that was Machado coming home on a grand slam by Bellinger. It was the 21-5 game.

So, the Dodgers have been running more, but it hasn’t directly led to more runs being scored. It could be argued there has been an indirect impact. Pitchers and opposing teams now have to consider the Dodgers might use the stolen base to their advantage. Since pitching is already hard enough, so having to expend energy — physical or mental — on the runners could lead to pitchers making mistakes.

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You’re not going to hear me say stealing bases is a bad thing. As long as it’s being done efficiently, it’s a great thing. It hasn’t fully translated on the field to runs yet, but if they’re going to be successful 92 percent of the time taking a base, then I say keep doing it.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.