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Where have all the stolen bases gone?

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What did speed do?

Stealing bases is the most fun you can have in baseball without getting suspended for 5 games
Stealing bases is the most fun you can have in baseball without getting suspended for 5 games
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals stole 8 bases in May 2015. Last month was the first month where the Royals didn't steal at least 10 bases since April 2009.

The Royals also posted an on-base percentage of .297 in May 2015. The first time the team OBP dropped under .300 in a month since June 2009.

Some would connect A and B and call it a day, but seeing as columns should be longer than four sentences, perhaps it's time to dig deeper into the question of "Where have all the stolen bases gone?"

It would be really concise to just say that the team isn't stealing because they're not getting on base. Fortunately for the purposes of addressing this question, the Royals have had nine months of sub-.315 OBP baseball under Ned Yost. In those months, they posted stolen base totals of....

Split Year G OBP SB CS SB%
August 2010 28 .307 23 7 77%
May 2012 28 .313 15 7 68%
Sept/Oct 2012 32 .307 31 7 82%
May 2013 28 .304 20 5 80%
July 2013 25 .309 19 3 86%
Sept/Oct 2013 27 .313 31 8 79%
May 2014 29 .300 28 4 88%
July 2014 25 .305 25 3 89%
May 2015 26 .297 8 6 57%

In the first eight months of low OBP, the Royals posted at least 15 stolen bases every month. The players stole 20+ bases in six of the eight months.and topped an 80% success rate in five of eight months. But not only did May 2015 not feature stolen bases, it also featured a low rate of stolen base success.

Lorenzo Cain stole three on four attempts, Jarrod Dyson stole two of three attempts. Cleanup hitter Eric Hosmer and Leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar stole 1 on 2 attempts. Paulo Orlando stole a base on one attempt. Christian Colon and Mike Moustakas were caught stealing once in the month of May.

For the purposes of this question, Let's classify Cain, Dyson, and Escobar as the fast players on the team. Orlando should be on that list (he stole 34 bases in Omaha in 2014) but he only attempted three steals in Kansas City.

As for the rest, Hosmer is fast compared to his position (Since 2011, only Paul Goldschmidt has more stolen bases as a first baseman than Hosmer). Omar Infante only has one double-digit steal season since the end of Bush's first term in 2004 (Omar stole 17 in 2012 after stealing 17 bases from 2007 to 2011 combined). Mike Moustakas is kinda slow overall. Alex Gordon has stolen 10+ bases in four consecutive seasons (2011 to 2014) but hasn't pulled off a successful steal in 2015. Alex Rios stole 42 bases in 2013, but only played one game in May. Christian Colon stole 16 bases last year in the minor leagues. Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales aren't here to steal bases.

Three fast guys, two swift guys (Hosmer/Gordon), and three guys that might be fast or swift (Colon, Orlando, Rios).

How did the three fast players fare in May?

Name G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS sOPS+
Lorenzo Cain 23 96 90 19 24 3 1 1 3 1 5 20 .267 .302 .356 .658 85
Jarrod Dyson 14 41 37 3 7 1 2 0 2 1 1 7 .189 .231 .324 .555 55
Alcides Escobar 20 90 84 11 22 2 1 2 1 1 2 8 .262 .292 .381 .673 88

So these three players had OBPs of .302, .231, and .292. Cain reached first base at least 25 times (19 singles/5 walks/1 reached-on-error). Dyson reached first base seven times (four singles, two reached-on-errors, and a walk). Escobar reached first base 19 times (17 singles/2 walks).

Cain had second base open 20 times and attempted three steals of second (and one attempt on third). Dyson only reached 1st base with an open base ahead of him four times in May. (once while down 10-1) Escobar had second base open 18 times and attempted to steal second twice.

For the sake of comparison, these three back in April:

Name G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS sOPS+
Lorenzo Cain 21 94 82 16 27 6 0 2 6 1 7 17 .329 .404 .476 .880 150
Jarrod Dyson 11 29 27 6 7 0 0 0 3 0 1 5 .259 .286 .259 .545 57
Alcides Escobar 19 88 79 10 23 6 0 0 2 1 4 8 .291 .329 .367 .697 98

Cain had the same number of singles (19) to go along with seven walks and four HBP. Cain reached six more times and attempted four more steals. Dyson reached on seven singles and a walk, and attempted three steals. Escobar reached first 22 times (17 singles, 4 walks and a HBP) and attempted three steals.

Cain was on first base with second base open 17 times in April and attempted six steals of that base (and third base once). Dyson had second base open five times and attempted one steal of second base (he stole third base twice in April). Escobar had second base open 16 times and attempted three steals.

Factors to keep in mind:

  1. Cain has hit ahead of Hosmer and Escobar has hit ahead of Moustakas for almost all of 2015. Typically the point of view is that guys on first base don't run wild if hot hitters are batting. Sometimes that means possible outs are avoided. Sometimes Lorenzo Cain is on first base and Eric Hosmer grounds into a double play (or Alcides Escobar on first for a Moustakas GIDP).
  2. Cain spent 14 games at the #3 spot in the order in September (and another 15 in the playoffs). He stole six bases mostly hitting in front of Eric Hosmer for those games. Alcides Escobar spent 30 games total at leadoff at the end of 2014, stealing two bases hitting in front of Nori Aoki.
  3. One thing you might notice by checking out Alcides' stolen base numbers is that he sometimes gets really cautious about steals. Back in 2013, he went 22-for-22 in steals, despite a 63 game stretch where he stole two bases over 54 trips to first base (perhaps the .257 OBP over that period didn't help). After that drought, he stole 10 bases in 49 games (and posted a OBP of .244). So if you're really big into getting Alcides out of the leadoff spot, you could just say you want him to be in a spot to steal more bases. Never hurts to increase the appeal of your idea.
  4. Dyson has pretty much been confined to the role of a starter. He has pinch-ran twice this season, both times for Salvador Perez. Kendrys Morales is a ripe target for a pinch runner, but Kendrys has batted just six times in the eighth or later with his run as the tying/go-ahead run. He reached base twice, both times with two outs. So the pinch-running opportunities haven't been there for Dyson on a team that really only thinks of pinch running for a catcher or pinch running for a DH that could reach base in the ninth inning any day now.
  5. Slide-steps. Time to the plate. Apparently teams started doing this more often in May than April. In the Month of May, the Royals faced Detroit six times, stealing once off of Alex Avila in three attempts and getting caught by James McCann once. Followed by 2 steals off of Roberto Perez of Cleveland. Getting caught by Robinson Chirinos once. Stealing off of John Ryan Murphy and Brian McCann (1-for-2). Stealing off of Tucker Barnhart twice. Not stealing off of Yadier Molina because duh. And stealing once off of Miguel Montero. Both McCanns (no relation) and Yadier are at the top of the pack for throwing out runners. The only catcher KC faced more than once that isn't throwing out a lot of runners seems to be Miguel Montero. Looking at an April/May difference, the first series featured six steals in three games off of Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto. In the second Chicago/KC series, a relatively nondescript affair, KC got caught stealing once and picked off twice. Sabermagicians and scientists can dig into the matter of time to the plate and slide-steps.
Looking back to 2014, the Royals hitters with the most stolen base "opportunities" (on base, with a base open ahead of them) were Alex Gordon (257), Nori Aoki (232), Billy Butler (226), Alcides Escobar (223), Eric Hosmer (223), Omar Infante (208) and Lorenzo Cain (203). Jarrod Dyson had 116 opportunities.

Alcides had 1.38 opportunities per game, Cain had 1.53 opportunities per game. Dyson had 0.96 opportunities per game, despite 18 appearances as a pinch-runner helping to boost his  Stolen Base Opportunities per game (SBO/Gm) numbers slightly.

This year? most opportunities: Moustakas 111, Hosmer 101, Morales 81, Cain 71, Escobar 70. Escobar is averaging 1.75 opportunities per game, Cain is averaging 1.58 opportunities per game and Dyson has 0.84 opportunities per game (21 opportunities in 25 games).

If we overlook that the SBO stat should have a break down of opportunities to steal second or third (and they'll count it twice if you go first to second on a single or such), it seems as if the 'fast guys' have as many opportunities this year as last year to really do things.

You could argue that the 2015 Royals offense is very similar to last years' offense. If that's true, then actually moving some runners in the right spots is gonna be pretty important. Right spots meaning "let's not get too stupid, guys".

Could the Royals be more aggressive on the basepaths? Yes. Are the Royals going to run off 4 steals on Yan Gomes tonight? Probably not. Could they steal a bunch of bases off of Kurt Suzuki next week? Definitely. (shh... last year the Royals stole 18 bases off of the Minnesota Twins and were only caught two times on pickoffs. Back in April, KC stole six bases in six attempts off of Minnesota.. shhhhhh).

But all in all, if the fast players have the opportunity to do things on the basepaths to help the teams chances in a game, the Royals should unleash their speed.