Balukjian: Breaking down the science of the stolen base

From SABR member Brad Balukjian at Smithsonian Magazine on October 2, 2014:

In the 2014 baseball playoffs, “Who’s on first?” may turn out to be an especially vital question. The games feature the two best and two worst teams in each league in stolen bases: the fleet-footed Royals and Dodgers, and the plodding Orioles and Giants. While stealing bags is clearly not a prerequisite for success, in the seat-gripping drama of the postseason, games (nay, entire series) can come down to a single theft.

Just ask Dave Roberts, who is celebrating the tenth anniversary of what is probably the most significant stolen base in the history of baseball—a steal in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series that put the Boston Red Sox on a path to their first World Series win since 1918. And just this week, the Royals defeated the Oakland A’s in the American League wild card game in part because of their prowess on the basepaths; they stole seven bases, albeit with one costly failed double steal early in the game. So what are the keys to a successful stolen base, and is it more art or science?

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Originally published: October 6, 2014. Last Updated: October 6, 2014.