Stolen bases at what cost?

Terms such as “Small Ball” or “Ozzie Ball” have been thrown around on the South Side since Ozzie was hired in 2004. A style of baseball centered around the running game. Sure the blazing speed is fun to watch, the battle between the “burner” on base and the pitcher is exciting, but at what cost?

As we know, the point of baseball is scoring runs. Each team, while on offense, looks to advance runners in any way possible. Therefore at first glance stolen bases would be a valuable part of a team’s game. Stolen bases are best evaluated as a risk vs. reward. Is the risk of getting caught worth the reward of advancing one base?

A good way to evaluate this risk/ reward is a Run Expectancy Chart (RE).


For instance, with a runner on 1st with one out your RE would be 0.533 runs, if that runner on first attempts a stolen base and is unsuccessful, you have not only added an out but lost that base runner resulting in a RE of 0.106 runs, a change of -0.427. Conversely, in the same situation but the runner successfully steals the bag you now have gone from a 0.533 RE to .688, a 0.155 increase. On average a stolen base will increase your RE .25 whereas a caught stealing will decrease your RE .5.

In order for the reward to outweigh the risk a team or player would need two successful attempts for every one unsuccessful attempt, a 2:1 Ratio. Unless a team can break the 67% threshold, the stolen bases become counterproductive.

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