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Pirates De-Risk Stolen Bases As Season Progresses

Marte and the Pirates get risk-averse to the stolen base as the months pass Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Marte and the Pirates get risk-averse to the stolen base as the months pass
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

As I type this article on my back deck, I’m looking out over my backyard. The grass in my yard is slowly browning out. It’s wilting under the heat of the dog days of summer. I’m cutting it less and less.

That analogy got me thinking about an empirical observation I’ve had about the Pirates recently. It seemed to me as if the Pirates steal fewer bases as spring turns into the heat of summer. So to research the idea, I went through the team monthly splits since the 2011 season when Clint Hurdle took over as manager.

Season Month Stolen Bases Attempts Success %
2011 April 18 26 69.2
May 19 28 67.9
June 21 31 67.7
July 20 29 69
August 14 23 60.9
September 16 23 69.6
2012 April 13 23 56.5
May 12 18 66.7
June 22 33 66.7
July 4 15 26.7
August 6 13 46.2
September 13 23 56.5
2013 April 15 20 75
May 22 29 75.9
June 16 25 64
July 22 28 78.6
August 11 20 55
September 8 14 57.1
2014 April 14 17 82.4
May 15 24 62.5
June 26 34 76.5
July 21 28 75
August 16 27 59.3
September 12 21 57.1
2015 April 13 17 76.5
May 24 32 75
June 20 28 71.4
July 12 19 63.2

A few takeaways from this chart:

  1. Perhaps the Pirates should have held off from trying to steal bases in July and August of 2012. Or all of 2012, actually.
  2. In no season under Hurdle have the Pirates had a “successful” August or September, with the standard success line for a stolen base being around 72%.
  3. The Pirates do indeed tail off on their attempts as the season moves along, usually peaking in June or July, then trying fewer attempts.

For me, this isn’t happenstance, but rather a trendline. It appears as if Clint Hurdle and the coaching staff lose their nerve as the season progresses. As more and more importance is gained in the games, the Pirates seem to be de-risking their portfolio. Perhaps the players’ legs get heavier, too. Maybe that’s what Dan Fox and the baseball analytics department are trying to rectify by encouraging more days off for players throughout the season to keep them fresh.

Noted speedster Andrew McCutchen is stealing far fewer bases already this year, probably as a by-product of his knee injury. Josh Harrison is on the DL for month of August, presumably. But Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte know how to swipe a base and do it quite well. But as the games draw closer to the finish line, will the Pirates continue the trend of not risking an out for an extra 90 feet?

About Kevin Creagh (169 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

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