Uncommon Thievery: Play the Matchups

Updated: April 26, 2007, 10:31 AM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com
Next time you're out at the ballpark, take a look at the scouts who sit behind home plate. Amidst the sea of Juggs and Ray guns you will notice a little black stopwatch hanging out of each pocket. It's funny; you'll never see a scout leave home without his trusty radar gun or stopwatch. That's because out of the "five tools" there are only two (arm strength and speed) that can be properly calculated. Of course, for the purposes of this column, we are far more concerned with that little stopwatch than the more prevalent radar gun.

The stopwatch is one of the most underrated tools in the game of baseball. Think about it. If the first-base coach can accurately clock the amount of time it takes the opposing battery to get the ball to second base, he can get a realistic feel for who can and who can't steal against each pitcher and catcher. Pitchers who pay close attention to the baserunners can deliver the ball to the plate between 1.1 and 1.5 seconds. Top-notch defensive catchers will get the ball down to second in a little less than 2.0 seconds. Add those times together and the best batteries can get the ball to second base between 3.0 and 3.3 seconds. You won't see many stolen bases against batteries like that. Think Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina, or Justin Verlander and Ivan Rodriguez. Opposing runners didn't dare tempt fate against those duos last season, going a combined 4-for-12 in attempted thefts. That's a brutal 33 percent success rate, a risk not worth taking.

Fortunately for us, there aren't too many batteries around that can stifle the running game like Verlander and Pudge. Take Chris Young and Mike Piazza for example. The duo allowed a ridiculous 42 thefts in 45 attempts in 2006, a 91 percent success rate. Freddy Garcia and A.J. Pierzynski were even worse, giving up 40 swipes at a 95 percent success rate in 2006. Despite what you might think, most coaches are not stupid. They know how long it takes Garcia and Pierzynski to get the ball to second base, and they know how long it takes their runners to go from first to second on a stolen base attempt. If the opposing battery's times are greater than the runner's times, there is a prime opportunity to nab a base. It's simple, really, and if the players and coaches know who they can and can't run on, don't you think we should know too?

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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