Friday, September 26, 2008

Basestealing in the '08 AL Playoffs

Something to pay attention to during the '08 SoxRayTwinAngSoxtober is baserunning/basestealing. In a playoff atmosphere managers/fans/media are much more focused on the play-by-play of a game than they may be in the regular season. Furthermore, all of these teams have some decent basestealers.

(Steals, Steal %)
Red Sox: Ellsbury (49, 82%), Coco (20, 83%), Pedroia (20, 95%)
D-Rays: Upton (44, 73%), Crawford (25, 78%), Bartlett (20, 77%)
Angels: Figgins (32, 71%), Hunter (19, 79%)
Twins: Gomez (32, 74%), Span (17, 71%)
Ozzie Sox: O. Cabrera (19, 76%)

Now, let's look at the team's respective catchers to see if we have any wizards or goats amongst us.

(PB, CS/SBOpp, CSteal %)
Red Sox: TekMoney (4, 16/70, 23%)
D-Rays: Navarro (6, 28/73, 38%)
Angels: Napoli (7, 11/63, 18%) [500+ fewer innings than the rest, mostly due to injury]
Twins: Mauer (4, 28/77, 36%)
Ozzie Sox: Pierzynski (5, 21/112, 19%)

I'm going to spare Kevin "Nation Wishes I Was Shoppach/Bard/Mirabelli/Mxlpxl" Cash and his Sisyphian grappling with Wakefield's knuckler to the side for this post. The league average CS% for this season is around 27%.

So, assuming that the playoff matchups are going to be Red Sox-Angels and Rays-CentralDiv winner, is there anything to keep in mind watching these games? While Napoli didn't get to log a full season, he's going to be facing one of the best baserunning teams in the league, and he seems to be one of the weaker catchers in our sample when it comes to throwing out base-thiefs. A.J. Jerkwad for the ChiSox is going to face a similar problem if his team holds the division and faces the fleet Devil Rays. The league clearly knows that both catchers struggle with the long-throw, because both are run-against a lot more than their brethren (Napoli would have 111 attempts if he had Pierzynski's innings). So I would anticipate one of the narratives during the ALDS (if the faster team ends up winning) being related to some sort of barrage of base-running. Varitek is a fairly pedestrian base-thrower, but the Angels aren't nearly as crazy on the base-paths as they used to be.

Conversely, Mauer and Navarro are above-average at throwing out would-be stealers (as comparison, keep in mind that I-Rod's basethrowing is not overrated, his career percentage is almost 47%!). That said, neither the Twins or the White Sox are as aggressive on the basepaths as one might have guessed, so Navarro may not have too many opportunities to flash his arm. However, one interesting ALDS matchup would be the Rays vs. Mauer, and if the Twins end up winning a close game (or losing one, for that matter), it might very well rest on a flick of their prized possession's wrist.

In terms of passed balls, they're fairly infrequent, but if any occur during a playoff game it will be greatly magnified. Napoli appears in the greatest danger of falling victim (he would have almost twice as many passed balls as his peers if he faced a similar inning-load), and of course the estimable Mr. Cash will have a similar quandary thanks to his batterymate.

Last, are there any juicy "speed vs. vigilance" storylines to wax poetic about? If Mauer faces the Red Sox or Rays, or if Navarro faces Boston in the ALCS, we could see some very close calls ripe for Sportscenter showings and instant replay debates.

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