Base Stealing in Baseball Question

Couldn’t a baseball team hire a world class sprinter to steal bases as a pinch- runner? The runner at first (or second) could use the base as a foot support and try to steal a base when the coach gives an audible signal like a certain number. Because he would be using the base as a foot support, he wouldn’t have to worry about being picked off. He would have to learn how to slide, but I don’t think it would be too difficult to learn to do. I really don’t think a catcher could throw out this kind of runner.

The only problem I see is that pinch runners aren’t used that much and because teams are limited to a certain number of players, maybe it wouldn’t be worth having a player who could just steal bases for you, but they sure would come in handy if a batter made it to first late in a close game.

It was tried once before in the 1970s by Oakland with Herb Washington. It didn’t go over well.

This is exactly why it isn’t done. The situation doesn’t come up often enough to make it worthwhile to keep such a one-dimensional player on the roster. There are usually several speedy players on the team that can be used as pinch runners anyway, but who can also field and/or hit.

He had a total of 31 stolen bases and 17 caught stealing. That means he was caught about 35% of the time. Good base stealers in the Major Leagues have a much better percentage than that.

As these figures suggest, base stealing isn’t just about speed. It’s about knowing which pitch to go on, how big a lead to take, how to make your jump at exactly the right moment, etc. Also, as Colibri says, it’s not worth it to have a guy on your roster who can’t hit, field, or pitch.

The A’s owner, Charlie Finley, brought in Herb Washington because he thought it would be a good idea for baseball to have a “designated runner” to go along with the designated hitter.

Finley could get away with trying it during the regular season because his teams were very good at that time.

One element of base-stealing is surprise. Even a runner as slow as Mariners DH Edgar Martinez would get a handful of stolen bases a year, precisely because nobody expected him to go.

A speedy baseball player might steal, depending on the count, the pitch, the score, and the pitcher; but even if he doesn’t attempt to steal he can still distract the pitcher and re-arrange the defense, pulling fielders out of position and causing the pitcher to lose the rhythm of his delivery to the plate.

When a manager throws a sprinter as a specialty base-stealing pinch-runner into the game he’s pretty much committing to a play in big, shiny neon letters that the opposing manager sees a mile away.

I’m pretty sure I saw a game once where Herb Washington failed to score from second on a two-out single because he didn’t have the baseball smarts to run at the crack of the bat with two out. Uh, IIRC. YMMV. Void where prohibited.

Using the base as a starting block doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the average lead from first base is about 10 feet- enough to take a step and dive into the bag if a pickoff comes. That world class sprinter probably isn’t going to cover 90’ using the base as a starting block as fast as a good baserunner is going to cover 80’ by getting a lead.

Herb Washington’s baseball career was pretty much over when he screwed uip and allowed Dodgers relief pitcher Mike Marshall to pick him off in the late innings of a tight game in the 1974 World Series.

Charlie Finley didn’t tolerate screwing up in the World Series, as Mike ANdrews could attest.

Washingon WAS fast- but as others have noted, there’s more to base stealing than pure speed. The successful stealers are fast AND smart enough to recognize the right times to run. Just as you can’t assume an Olympic sprinter would make a good wide receiver, you can’t assume he’d make a good baserunner.

One of the keys to this is that once a player is taken out of a game, he can’t go back in, which generally limits the usefulness of a pinch-runner to the late innings of close games – eg, painfully slow Jason Giambi was taken out for Mark Bellhorn as a pinch-runner in the 9th inning of last night’s Yankees-Angels game, as Bellhorn would have a chance of scoring from first on a single.

As an aside, is there any other notable sport that has this rule? I can’t think of one (besides softball, anyway). Imagine how different basketball would be.

I think the point of the baseball rule is that managers would play havoc with the batting order, and only about four people would ever bat. You could do that if you wanted, of course, but the point of the people who were helping invent the sport seemed to be that everyone should have to participate on the field and at the plate.

Even less so today than in the 1970’s! During the Herb Washington era, pitchers shouldered heavier workloads, and with only (typically) 9 pitchers on staff you could carry 7 guys on your bench. Today’s teams carry 12 pitchers leaving only 4 players on the bench, and with 4 bench players the idea of a full-time pinch-runner would be a complete non-starter.

Add to what’s been said above the fact that all the stat gurus say that the stolen base is vastly overrated as a ploy unless the percentage of successful steals is extremely high. But the disadvantages of a designated runner probably would negate even a 100% success rate over the course of a season.

Well, football (the one without pads, called soccer in some parts of the world) doesn’t allow a player to return after he has been substituted for. By the way, that’s a cool user name Iam Youare. :smiley:

I dunno, if you had a guy who was SO fast that he could steal 95-100% of the time, even if the other team knew it was coming, that’d be a heck of a weapon. Teams today tend to carry too many pitchers anyway.

Herb Washington was a mediocre basestealer even though he was amazingly fast for the same reason Bo Jackson was a mediocre hitter, even though he was amazingly strong; baseball’s a skill game. You can’t overpower it.

Well American Football was this way up until the 50s or so (in various fashions — the NCAA had various experiments with allowing substituted players to return; the NFL had unlimited solutions almost immediately). Association Football, Rugby Football, and probaby a few other Football codes still limit substitutions.

I still don’t see how this type of player could exist. The player would have to be enormously fast and gifted athletically. But not gifted enough to field or hit?

You would be looking for a fast Eddie Gaedel I guess.

I think what is being missed is the importance of speed to base stealing. In many ways speed is secondary to timing and instinct. A slower runner can steal the base by anticipating the pitch correctly and by reading the pitcher’s move so he doesn’t get picked off.

I would think that a great base runner (see Dave Roberts in last year’s ALCS) can overcome the speed edge that a sprinter would have.

You’re right, we all missed that point.

Well, except me:

And Fish:

Oh, and astorian:


The steal of a base is as much a matter of judgment as of speed. The potential base stealing runner must accurately judge the pitcher’s throwing speed, reaction time, and wariness about steals in order to successfully steal a base. (The skill of the man covering the base is also important.)

Typically a team will keep a player who can substitute at some position and has the speed and judgment to steal, and use him as a pinch runner when circumstances call for it (e.g., down by one run late in the game, the aging first baseman or DH got a single and is tiring). On occasion this is a young pitcher who cannot hit but has baserunning skills, and who is not likely to be needed for relief pitching in this game for one reason or another.