Deane: Adjusted stolen bases: A better measure of pilfering proficiency

From SABR member Bill Deane at WordPress on May 28, 2019:

Few would dispute that Rickey Henderson was the greatest base-stealer of all time. But which was his best season? Was it 1982, when he set the modern record with 130 steals? Or 1985, when he had his best success percentage (.889)? Actually, it was neither. Henderson’s 1983 season, despite having fewer steals (108) than in 1982, and a lower success ratio (.850) than in ’85, was his best, according to a stat I call “adjusted stolen bases.”

For a long time, baseball fans were programmed to believe that the best indicator of a thief’s proficiency was his number of stolen bases (SB). Until the 1980s, statistics on “caught stealing” (CS) were ignored by most sources and publications, which is something like listing a pitcher’s wins but not his losses. Now that CS data is available, we know more than we used to, but we’re still not sure how to interpret it all.

Rotisserie statisticians offer something called “net steals,” which is simply SB minus CS. While this is a better measure than plain old stolen bases, it implicitly – and mistakenly – assumes that the negative value of a CS is the same as the positive value of a theft. But a steal gains an offensive club just one base, while an unsuccessful attempt costs the team both a baserunner and an out.

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Originally published: June 6, 2019. Last Updated: June 6, 2019.