Holding the Runner

Last week, I took a look at minor league catchers to try to determine who did the best job of controlling the basepaths. I noted in that article that it didn’t control for all the variables involved: notably, I didn’t take into account the skill of each pitching staff. Just like catchers, pitchers have control over the running game, and some of them are much better than others.

With that in mind, let’s turn to the guys on the hill. When evaluating prospects, a hurler’s skill at holding runners on base is, admittedly, a low priority. It’s the sort of thing that seems like it could be taught, and even if it couldn’t, a great pitcher can afford to give up a few extra bases because he doesn’t pitch very well out of the stretch.

However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the topic entirely. Not only does evaluating pitcher skills allow us to more accurately analyze catcher skills, but it gives us some insight into what pitching prospects bring to the table.

If you read last Friday’s article, you may recall that I used three main statistics to gauge how well catchers managed the running game. I’ll use those again for pitchers, so let’s quickly review:

Stolen base percentage (SB%): This is the familiar statistic used for baserunners, as well, calculated as stolen bases divided by attempts.

Attempts per inning (ATT/I): This attempts to measure whether baserunners think they have a chance, on the assumption that a catcher with a good (and well-respected) arm won’t be challenged. The same can be said of pitchers who have deceptive pickoff moves or have a quick move to the plate.

Stolen bases per inning (SB/I): This combines the previous two stats into a single number: how many stolen bases does the pitcher (or catcher) allow per inning?

For the purposes of this article, I’m looking only at those pitchers who tossed at least 80 innings last year. In addition, I didn’t combine stats from multiple levels, so only single-team lines are included. That excludes a fair number of pitchers, including several notable prospects, but it leaves the vast majority to be measured.

Using these numbers for pitchers

Because catchers have such an impact on the running game, the statistics I’ve mentioned need to be adjusted for pitchers. A pitcher is much more likely to have more success preventing steals with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate than he will throwing to J.R. House. That, however, doesn’t tell us anything about the pitcher’s skill.

With that in mind, I looked at every minor league pitcher and determined the aggregate skill level of their catchers. To take a hypothetical example: let’s say Yovani Gallardo pitches 150 innings next year: 75 to Mike Rivera and 75 to J.D. Closser. If Rivera throws out 40% of baserunners and Closser throws out 30%, Gallardo would be expected to see 35% of baserunners caught on his watch. If, say, 42% of attempted steals were stopped with Gallardo on the hill, we could say that he is above average. For good measure, I repeated the process for the other two stats, attempts per inning and stolen bases per inning.

There’s one more variable to take into account. Lefthanders have a distinct advantage over righthanders, since they face first base. Accordingly, it’s not really a fair fight. I hesitate to adjust the numbers to make them equivalent, because I’d much rather see the actual performance of each pitcher. With that in mind, I’ve kept them separate, and will present them as such in this article.

As with catchers, there’s more than one way to measure a pitcher’s control of the running game, which is why I’ve used multiple statistics for this project. The most obvious approach is the one in the example above: compare each pitcher’s stolen base percentage to the “expected” stolen base percentage determined by his catchers. Here are the best righthanded pitchers, as determined by this difference:

First   Last    Lev     Aff     SB      CS      SB%     C-SB%   Sbdiff
Blake   Eager   A+      Nym     1       5       0.17    0.64    0.47
Joel    Santo   A       Sdp     2       9       0.18    0.62    0.44
Henry   Bonilla AAA     Min     1       3       0.25    0.67    0.42
Sun-Woo Kim     AAA     Col     2       6       0.25    0.67    0.42
Jason   Jones   A+      Nyy     2       5       0.29    0.70    0.41
Robert  MosebachA       Laa     2       9       0.18    0.59    0.40
Miguel  Pinango AA      Nym     2       6       0.25    0.65    0.40
Andrew  SonnanstAA      Tam     3       8       0.27    0.67    0.40
Jarrett Santos  A+      Flo     1       2       0.33    0.72    0.38
Spike   LundbergAA      Lad     5       13      0.28    0.65    0.37

And the best lefthanders:

First   Last       Lev     Aff     SB      CS      SB%     C-SB%   Sbdiff
Daniel  Haigwood   AA      Phi     0       2       0.00    0.63    0.63
Carlos  Perez      A+      Chc     3       16      0.16    0.67    0.51
Jesus   Reina      A+      Sfg     1       6       0.14    0.63    0.49
Ryan    Feierabend AA      Sea     2       12      0.14    0.63    0.48
Chuck   Lofgren    A+      Cle     3       15      0.17    0.64    0.47
Randy   Leek       AAA     St.     2       7       0.22    0.66    0.44
Chris   Michalak   AAA     Cin     2       9       0.18    0.60    0.42
Willie  Collazo    AA      Nym     3       9       0.25    0.65    0.40
Mannyl  Olivera    AA      Flo     2       7       0.22    0.61    0.39
David   Welch      A       Mil     2       5       0.29    0.66    0.38

Making runners stay put

It’s all well and good to have a low stolen base percentage. In the long run, however, it’s more impressive if most baserunners don’t see the point in trying at all. To measure this, we can compare actual attempts to the number of attempts that would be expected given the aggregate skill of the pitcher’s backstops. To avoid letting innings pitched determine the outcome, we can divide the result by innings.

For example, if Nick Adenhart pitches 100 innings and allows 15 stolen base attempts, while the skill level of his catchers would suggest that he “should” have allowed only 12, Adenhart’s difference would be -3. Divided by innings, his result would be -0.03. For this measure, here are the best righthanders:

First   Last    Lev     Aff     ATT/I   C-ATT/I Att/IP Diff
Jarrett Santos  A+      Flo     0.04    0.15    0.12
ChristopMason   A+      Tam     0.05    0.15    0.09
Justin  Hedrick A+      Sfg     0.05    0.14    0.09
Chris   Begg    AA      Sfg     0.03    0.12    0.09
Brad    Ziegler AA      Oak     0.02    0.11    0.09
HumbertoCardenasA+      Col     0.07    0.16    0.09
Joshua  Geer    A+      Sdp     0.07    0.15    0.09
Beau    Kemp    AAA     Min     0.03    0.12    0.09
Yoann   TorrealbA+      Pit     0.07    0.15    0.08
Kevin   Slowey  A+      Min     0.05    0.13    0.08

And the best lefthanders:

First   Last      Lev     Aff     ATT/I   C-ATT/I Att/IP Diff
Daniel  Haigwood  AA      Phi     0.02    0.13    0.10
Abe     Alvarez   AAA     Bos     0.04    0.13    0.08
John    Gragg III A+      Kan     0.06    0.14    0.08
David   Welch     A       Mil     0.08    0.16    0.08
Bobby   LivingstonAAA     Sea     0.04    0.11    0.07
Shane   Youman    AA      Pit     0.05    0.12    0.07
Jason   MackintoshAA      Sea     0.05    0.12    0.07
Shawn   NottinghamA+      Sea     0.08    0.14    0.07
Kurt    Isenberg  AA      Tor     0.06    0.12    0.06
Eric    DuBose    AA      Bal     0.07    0.13    0.06

Putting it all together

As promised, there’s a way to aggregate these two stats. The ultimate goal with regard to baserunners is to keep them in one place. If the opportunity arises, it’s great to gun them down, but it’s best if they don’t even think about trying. Using the same methodology described for attempts per inning, here are the best righties as measured by stolen bases per inning:

First      Last      Lev     Aff     SB/I    C-SB/I  SB/IP diff
Jarrett    Santos    A+      Flo     0.01    0.11    0.10
Jason      Jones     A+      Nyy     0.02    0.11    0.08
Joshua     Geer      A+      Sdp     0.02    0.10    0.08
Blake      Eager     A+      Nym     0.01    0.09    0.08
Humberto   Cardenas  A+      Col     0.03    0.11    0.08
ChristopherMason     A+      Tam     0.02    0.10    0.08
Jared      Lansford  A       Oak     0.02    0.09    0.07
Henry      Bonilla   AAA     Min     0.01    0.08    0.07
Joel       Santo     A       Sdp     0.02    0.09    0.07
Chad       Reineke   A+      Hou     0.02    0.09    0.07

And the top lefties:

First   Last       Lev     Aff     SB/I    C-SB/I  SB/IP diff
David   Welch      A       Mil     0.02    0.11    0.08
Daniel  Haigwood   AA      Phi     0.00    0.08    0.08
Carlos  Perez      A+      Chc     0.03    0.10    0.08
Jesus   Reina      A+      Sfg     0.01    0.09    0.07
Chuck   Lofgren    A+      Cle     0.02    0.09    0.07
Abe     Alvarez    AAA     Bos     0.02    0.08    0.06
Justin  Sturge     A+      Bos     0.06    0.12    0.06
Randy   Leek       AAA     St.     0.02    0.08    0.06
Ryan    Feierabend AA      Sea     0.01    0.07    0.06
JonathanBarratt    A+      Tam     0.04    0.10    0.06
Tommy   Hottovy    A+      Bos     0.07    0.12    0.06

What about pickoff moves?

An important part of a pitcher’s arsenal is his array of pickoff throws. They certainly play a large part in keeping runners in one place. I suspect that most of the effect of a good pickoff move shows up in the stats above: if runners don’t know when you’re going to throw, they won’t stray very far from their base, and they won’t get a good enough jump to try anything.

However, pickoffs are just as valuable as caught stealings, and there are doubtless some pitchers who are more adept than others. A season’s worth of minor league data is of questionable value in determining who those are. But just for kicks, let’s take a look at which pitchers recorded the most successful pickoffs on a per-inning basis. First, righthanders:

First   Last    Lev     Aff     PO      PO/I
Dustin  Moseley AAA     Laa     16      0.11
Daniel  Core    A+      Tor     8       0.10
Zachary Ward    A       Cin     9       0.10
Alan    Johnson A       Col     12      0.09
Ross    OhlendorAA      Ari     15      0.08
FranciscRodrigueA+      Laa     10      0.08
Richard Brooks  A       Chw     8       0.08
Brett   Wayne   A+      Tam     6       0.07
KristianBell    A       Tor     7       0.07
Justin  Lehr    AAA     Mil     8       0.07
Bobby   Keppel  AAA     Kan     7       0.07

And lefties:

First   Last      Lev     Aff     PO      PO/I
Jino    GonzalezIIA+      Tam     9       0.10
Travis  Blackley  AA      Sea     15      0.10
Chi-HungCheng     A       Tor     9       0.08
Ryan    FeierabendAA      Sea     10      0.06
Sean    Thompson  AA      Sdp     10      0.06
Donald  Veal      A+      Chc     5       0.06
Gregory Smith     A+      Ari     5       0.06
FranklinMorales   A+      Col     9       0.06
Chris   Michalak  AAA     Cin     7       0.05
Justin  Hampson   AAA     Col     6       0.05

Top prospects

There’s no particular rhyme or reason to this list. I just included those pitchers who are highly touted or interesting to me. For each of those pitchers, I’ve given their results for each of the statistics discussed above. Remember that this study is limited in that I didn’t combine results from different levels, and there’s an 80 IP minimum. That means that very few relivers are included, and numbers for many of the very best prospects, including Philip Hughes, Homer Bailey, and Matt Garza, aren’t available.

First     Last       Lev     Aff  Thr PO/I    SB%diff AttDiff SB/I Diff
Abe       Alvarez    AAA     Bos  L   0.00    0.25    0.08    0.06
Jose      Arredondo  A+      Laa  R   0.07    -0.01   0.01    0.01
Scott     Baker      AAA     Min  R   0.00    -0.08   0.03    0.01
Philip    Barzilla   AAA     Hou  L   0.01    -0.16   0.01    -0.01
Colter    Bean       AAA     Nyy  R   0.01    -0.05   -0.12   -0.10
Boof      Bonser     AAA     Min  R   0.00    -0.15   -0.01   -0.02
Adam      Bostick    AA      Flo  L   0.03    -0.08   -0.03   -0.03
Eude      Brito      AAA     Phi  L   0.00    0.03    0.00    0.00
Lance     Broadway   AA      Chw  R   0.01    0.13    0.02    0.02
Clay      Buchholz   A       Bos  R   0.03    -0.08   -0.05   -0.05
Carlos    Carrasco   A       Phi  R   0.01    0.14    0.07    0.06
Tyler     Clippard   AA      Nyy  R   0.04    0.01    0.00    0.00
Wade      Davis      A       Tam  R   0.06    0.01    -0.05   -0.03
Thomas    Diamond    AA      Tex  R   0.02    -0.04   -0.08   -0.06
Tim       Dillard    AA      Mil  R   0.00    0.10    0.02    0.02
Scott     Elbert     A+      Lad  L   0.00    0.09    -0.12   -0.05
Brandon   Erbe       A       Bal  R   0.00    -0.17   -0.16   -0.17
Dana      Eveland    AAA     Mil  L   0.00    0.01    0.03    0.02
Sean      Gallagher  AA      Chc  R   0.03    0.36    0.00    0.04
Gio       Gonzalez   AA      Phi  L   0.03    -0.01   0.02    0.01
Tom       Gorzelanny AAA     Pit  L   0.01    0.10    0.01    0.02
Zack      Greinke    AA      Kan  R   0.00    0.06    0.05    0.03
Jeremy    Guthrie    AAA     Cle  R   0.02    -0.02   -0.01   -0.01
Daniel    Haigwood   AA      Phi  L   0.00    0.63    0.10    0.08
Devern    Hansack    AA      Bos  R   0.03    -0.01   -0.05   -0.03
Rich      Hill       AAA     Chc  L   0.01    -0.11   0.03    0.01
Michael   Hinckley   A+      Was  L   0.01    0.01    -0.01   -0.01
Tommy     Hottovy    A+      Bos  L   0.02    0.18    0.05    0.06
Eric      Hurley     A+      Tex  R   0.00    0.04    -0.07   -0.04
William   Inman      A       Mil  R   0.02    0.17    0.07    0.06
Zach      Jackson    AAA     Mil  L   0.01    0.27    0.02    0.04
Jared     Lansford   A       Oak  R   0.03    0.36    0.07    0.07
Ray       Liotta     AA      Chw  L   0.02    0.00    0.01    0.01
Radhames  Liz        A+      Bal  R   0.02    0.19    -0.03   0.02
Chuck     Lofgren    A+      Cle  L   0.02    0.47    0.02    0.07
Tyler     Lumsden    AA      Chw  L   0.01    0.30    0.03    0.04
Evan      MacLane    AAA     Nym  L   0.01    0.19    -0.01   0.02
Scott     Mathieson  AA      Phi  R   0.01    0.17    -0.04   0.00
Dustin    McGowan    AAA     Tor  R   0.00    0.18    -0.01   0.02
Garrett   Mock       AA      Ari  R   0.05    -0.25   -0.01   -0.04
Jonathon  Niese      A       Nym  L   0.02    0.07    -0.03   -0.01
Dustin    Nippert    AAA     Ari  R   0.02    -0.05   0.01    0.00
Micah     Owings     AAA     Ari  R   0.03    0.27    0.05    0.05
Hayden    Penn       AAA     Bal  R   0.01    -0.18   0.00    -0.02
Carlos    Perez      A+      Chc  L   0.05    0.51    -0.02   0.08
Glen      Perkins    AA      Min  L   0.01    -0.05   -0.06   -0.04
Yusmeiro  Petit      AAA     Flo  R   0.01    0.15    0.02    0.03
Renyel    Pinto      AAA     Flo  L   0.00    -0.10   0.04    0.02
Tim       Redding    AAA     Chw  R   0.03    -0.11   0.02    0.00
Anthony   Reyes      AAA     St.  R   0.01    -0.03   0.00    0.00
Jae Kuk   Ryu        AAA     Chc  R   0.01    0.12    0.02    0.02
Anibal    Sanchez    AA      Flo  R   0.06    -0.28   -0.04   -0.07
Dennis    Sarfate    AAA     Mil  R   0.03    -0.24   0.01    -0.02
Joe       Saunders   AAA     Laa  L   0.00    0.13    0.02    0.03
Kevin     Slowey     A+      Min  R   0.02    0.33    0.08    0.06
Alexander Smit       A       Min  L   0.03    0.03    -0.01   0.00
Jeremy    Sowers     AAA     Cle  L   0.02    0.05    -0.07   -0.04
Anthony   Swarzak    A+      Min  R   0.01    0.16    0.03    0.03
Jordan    Tata       AAA     Det  R   0.03    0.05    0.03    0.02
Donald    Veal       A+      Chc  L   0.06    0.19    0.03    0.04
Edinson   Volquez    AAA     Tex  R   0.02    -0.05   -0.09   -0.07
Matt      Wright     AA      Atl  R   0.03    0.08    -0.01   0.00
Charlie   Zink       AAA     Bos  R   0.02    0.26    -0.04   0.02
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