When you think of the Yankees, what do you think of? Usually, the answer is hitting some bombs and racking up the score via the long ball. However, the 2014 Yankees are stealing more often and more efficiently. Don’t start calling the Yankees Moneyball, but this approach is certainly helping to drive up the box score.
If you have seen the movie Moneyball, you may remember Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) saying, “I pay you to get on first, not to get thrown out at second” when a player wishes to steal. Certainly, having 27 outs to score as many runs as possible is a great mentality to keep in perspective. It’s a defensive strategy on an offensive metric. What the movie did not mention, but is in the book, is that in the Moneyball mentality of baseball, if a player can steal at a rate that is successful more than 70% of the time, stealing actually makes sense. Whether it is a double, advancing to second on a wild pitch, or stealing second after getting on with a walk, a player reaching second base gives his team roughly a fifty percent chance of scoring that inning. Yes, even if there are already two outs and he is the only man on base. Of course it makes sense intrinsically that a guy on second gives the team a better chance of scoring than a guy on first. However, knowing it makes the chance of scoring into a coin flip makes stealing look a lot more attractive.
The Yankees have two main base stealers this season, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury. They each have the potential to steal over fifty bases. In fact, Ellsbury has done it three times, including 70 in 2009 and over 50 just last season. Gardner reached 47 and 49 stolen bases in 2010 and 2011. The ability is more than there, and Gardner is on pace to reach roughly 40 this season. He has yet to be caught stealing in 2014.
Getting back to stolen base efficiency, no one cares if you steal 50 bases and are also caught 40 times. To steal fifty bases, you cannot be caught more than 21 times to keep that more than 70% success rate. Well good news Yankees’ fans, on the season the Yankees have 20 stolen bases on 23 attempts – good for an 87% stolen base rate. The Yankees are fifth in the league in stolen bases, and have the best success rate of the five teams in the division. Billy Beane must be shaking in Oakland because New York can run! Ellsbury and Gardner have 14 of those 20 stolen bases, and are a combined 14 for 16 (87.5%) on the year.
A big change this year is Gardner’s spot in the lineup. Historically he has batted 9th or 1st, not giving him a ton of room to steal because of the big bats hitting after him. Not being in the middle or the bottom half of the lineup, Gardner can feel free to run as he pleases.
Fans love the long ball and always will. However, with two of the best base stealers in the game, the Yankees are changing their approach at the plate and on the base paths. Look for the Yankees’ RBI chances to increase a ton this season, even when they aren’t hitting home runs.