Doug Glanville on the death of the stolen base


Doug Glanville on the death of the stolen base

As the Cubs' 1991 first-round pick whose skill set revolved around the use of speed, I knew I needed to be a productive basestealer to reach my fullest potential. That was what you had do with speed: steal. This was not a time when the back up second baseman was hitting 25 home runs; it was an era when developing the skills and knowledge to turn the stolen base into an offensive weapon was important for anyone who had speed.

I was aggressive as a basestealer early on in the minor leagues. My first two coaches in A-ball let me run, knowing it was an important part of my development, so by the end of my first two seasons in the minor leagues I had stolen 49 bases in 61 attempts.

(Spoiler alert – In 2018, you should be asking “when and where did you get caught?”)

However, the higher I moved up in the Cubs minor league system, the more I got caught. Slow jumps, better catching, quicker pitchers, a Triple-A manager who despised the stolen base attempt. The scouting report also caught up to me, and I had to then catch up to it. How will I get to the big leagues as speed guy who gets caught as much as he makes it?

Today it is even more difficult to be a prolific base stealer.

My rookie season was in 1996. That season, the American League attempted to steal 2088 bases (successful 1454 times – 69.6 percent) The National League made 2494 attempts (made it 1785 times – 71.5%) The league leader in the AL was Kenny Lofton with 75. In the NL, it was Eric Young with 53 (the entire top 10 each had over 35 stolen bases.)

In 2017, last season, The NL and AL had less attempts than the NL had successful steals in 1996. (And keep in mind there was one less team in each league in 1996.) The NL attempted 1731 last year and the AL 1730. Neither cracked 1300 in successful stolen bases. But their rates were 72.5 percent for the NL and 73.5 percent for the AL (the league leader was Whit Merrifield with only 34).

In my conversation with Theo Epstein a few weeks ago, we kicked around the reason for this dramatic decline in stolen base attempts. As a player, I saw in real time over the late 90s and early 00s, the efforts to defend against the running game. The slide step or balk move was what pitchers whipped out to cut into your timing and ability to get a jump. The Mets used the first baseman to obstruct the vision or path of a speedy runner leading off first base to slow him down. But that was the typical cat and mouse game of baseball.

But two key changes in the game made the greatest impact in today’s running game as Epstein underscored.

He mentioned awareness of the “run environment.” When I was learning the art of stealing a base, one coach that stood out was Sandy Alomar Sr. He would beat it into our heads “know the situation, know the score, look at the scoreboard!” Over and over he emphasized that it was not just a speed thing where you go as much as you can, but you needed to know the circumstances of the game. Risk-reward was not the same in every situation.

Today this can be quantified. The main term you will hear around it is “run expectancy.” If you take the data of all situations in the history of baseball, you can figure out the expected chance a run will score in any circumstance. 1st and 3rd, one out? Runner on 2nd, no outs? Bases loaded, two outs? So every time a play happens, you can then re-measure the run expectancy and see how that play changed the circumstances of the game. The problem with the stolen base is that what you gain in run expectancy by being successful, is not as great as what you lose when you don’t make it. Unless, of course, you are successful A LOT. And certain bases (like stealing third with no outs) are really bad if you don’t make it.

Sandy Alomar Sr. told me about this knowledge in anecdotal ways when I was playing. He did not break out a chart and show me that it was bad to get caught stealing third with no outs, he knew from experience, and just the simple idea that cutting down a runner who is already in scoring position with no outs, is a bad result. You better make it.

But there is something about having the data in your face that makes anyone wiser, but also cautious. With this information, stealing can be simply reduced to success and failure through baseball’s incredibly powerful hindsight. You are now an oddsmaker which can make you forget that you may have found something that can change the future (and your odds) and crush the past, like if the pitcher goes home every time he looks down before coming set.

Then there is instant replay.

This was atop Theo’s list of game-changers in the stolen base world. I used to steal second and go in with a pop-up slide. This was a nice slide for being ready if the ball thrown from the catcher went over the fielder’s head, you can just keep going without breaking your stride. But it also can create the illusion that when you are popping up, you are doing it because your front foot is using the base to pop up on. When the umpire sees you popping up, he assumes you are on the base and calls you safe. So you can pop up just short of the base and get the call in your favor.

Today, a safe call because of a premature pop-up slide will lead to an out call after instant replay. Overturned! Trying to create illusions may fool the umpire on the field, but it does not fool the camera guy.

Keep in mind the replay would have been played using super, micro, mega, quicksand, sloth slo-mo technology (from 36 different angles), if your spike comes off the base one centimeter while the fielder is holding his glove on you for as long as is allowed, you are out.

So somehow, you have to run and hit nearly 20 miles per hour, and stick to the base like a mutant fly after an instant stop. Why bother trying to steal?

I will venture to say that this was not the entire intent of instant replay. We could have instant replay on every swing and miss to see if the baseball disturbed a few molecules of wood on the bat and overturn a swing and miss to a foul ball (if the catcher drops it or it goes in the dirt). Is that what we want? Probably not. But I digress.

The “run environment” has changed and will continue to change. (And Theo mentioned other factors like the wind blowing in or out, and the tendencies of the umpires as data worth considering.) The information at hand has become more detailed and therefore available to inform your decisions as to the best time to steal a base.

As we saw between the years 1996 (my rookie year) and 2017, a lot less stolen base attempts, but a better success rate. So players are picking their spots a little better, making sure. I just hope we don’t lose the craft all together because you then lose then-Red Sox player Dave Roberts’ stolen base against the Yankees who created a moment that ignored the past and changed the entire future of an organization. A risky individual play with a rewarding team outcome. We must remember to at least consider what actually happens after the play not just what history told us happened before.

In the meantime, I finished my MLB career with an 82.3 percent success rate, which is fairly high on the all-time list if you had more than 150 stolen bases. I guess I ultimately took what Sandy Alomar Sr. said to heart and picked my spots well. But I also wonder if I should have run more, if for nothing else, to excite and inspire (see Javier Baez).

Apparently I was living the old adage before the run expectancy fear factor really came into play.

Better safe...than sorry.

7 Cubs takeaways from the MLB Winter Meetings

7 Cubs takeaways from the MLB Winter Meetings

The Cubs didn't leave Las Vegas with a new superstar to add to their lineup or even a new arm for Joe Maddon's bullpen.

In fact, the Cubs are actually heading back to Chicago with one fewer person in the organization than they began the week, as bench coach Brandon Hyde is expected to be officially announced as the Baltimore Orioles' new manager soon. 

However, the Cubs front office insist they had a productive week even if they don't have any moves to point to.

Part of that production, apparently, is the organization's desire to improve communication with all their millennial players. So much so that Maddon is actually reading a book called "Managing Millennials for Dummies" and that's not a joke. 

But it's not just that. Theo Epstein's front office is trying to find ways to help all their young players develop and improve and digest the insane amount of information baseball teams have at their disposal nowadays. 

Here are 7 other takeaways from the 2018 Winter Meetings:

1. Yawwwnnnn

The 2018 Winter Meetings had the potential to be the most exciting December event yet with Bryce Harper — maybe the biggest free agent ever — possibly announcing what team he was going to spend the next decade of his life with while in his hometown of Las Vegas.

Instead, the Meetings wound up becoming the baseball version of the sloth from "Zootopia."

Case in point:

Take away waiver moves and that's only 6 free agent signings, 3 trades and the release of Troy Tulowitzki. Over what has historically been a week filled with a mind-bending flurry of deals.


Now, there were more moves on Thursday (including the Brewers' trade for a reliever) and there are still deals that have yet to be made official (including Hyde becoming the new Orioles manager), but this is as slow as it gets.

Even Cubs GM Jed Hoyer acknowledged the snail's pace of the market:

"The dialogue has been good for the whole industry, I just think it's been slow," Hoyer said Wednesday evening. "I think sometimes, it probably takes a couple deals to break the ice and it hasn't happened yet."

2. Maybe that means it's time for a change in how we approach MLB's offseason.

Baseball is the only major American sport with an offseason market that truly lasts months. In the NFL and NBA, most deals are done in the first day or two once free agency is open while MLB teams can be talking and negotiating from the first week of November all the way until early March (as we saw last spring). Even trades take a long time to come together. 

Former MLB GM Jim Bowden threw out an idea on Twitter at the end of the meetings and honestly, it's an interesting thought:

The other American professional sports leagues don't have trade deadlines in their respective offseasons, but they don't have the same issue of slow-moving markets, either.

Maybe MLB should take one or two weeks in early January as the official "offseason" where that's the only time moves can be made. That would allow teams plenty of time to prepare for their offseason, give everybody the holidays off in both November and December and then also still leave plenty of time for players to get acquainted with their new teams.

The free agenty market crept along at a record-breaking slow pace last winter and the 2018-19 offseason somehow seems to be surpassing that.

MLB has a problem with a lack of action during games with fewer balls being put in play than ever before and now the league has a problem with a lack of action during the offseason, too.

3. The relief market could eventually start moving quickly, which is good for the Cubs.

While the market has been slow to date, we may soon see a flood of moves in one particular area — bullpen additions.

In the wee hours on the morning of the final day of the Winter Meetings, a few relievers finally started to come off the market with Joe Kelly going to the Dodgers and Jeurys Familia headed back to the Mets.

That's good news for the Cubs, who are absolutely looking for another reliever or two this winter. But Theo Epstein and Hoyer will not be shopping at the top of the bullpen market (more on that later), so they had to see how things played out before truly jumping into the pool.

As more of the top relievers come off the board, expect the Cubs to make a move or two to add more arms to compete for high-leverage spots in Joe Maddon's bullpen.

We could even see a move before the week is over, but maybe that's just wishful thinking...

4. Maybe the trade market could be a better avenue for the Cubs this winter.

We've already talked a lot about the slow-moving market, but it's also understandable. In the history of the sport, we've never seen anything like two of the best players in the sport available on the open market at the same time in the midst of their prime (age 26). 

So until Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign, free agency is still going to be held hostage by those two guys given the amount of money they're about to command. 

That means we've actually seen quite a few trades this winter...thanks to Jerry Dipoto. The Mariners GM has been wheeling and dealing like a fantasy baseball owner this winter and even made a trade with the Indians and Rays Thursday from his hospital bed. (Which, ironically, was the first Winter Meetings move made from a hospital bed since Cubs GM Jim Hendry signed Ted Lilly in 2006.)

The Cubs haven't made any moves yet on either front, but with such an active trade market over the last few weeks, maybe that's the avenue Epstein and Co. utilize to add to the roster or free up some payroll. 

It certainly doesn't seem like the Cubs will be outbidding many teams on the free agent market...

5. Either the Cubs are serious about their budget constraints or they deserve Oscars.

The Epstein family already has an Academy Award (Theo's grandfather, Philip, wrote "Casablanca") and they should add another if the Cubs somehow shock the world and sign Harper this winter.

Over the last 6 weeks, Epstein and Hoyer have maintained a lack of payroll flexibility at every turn. If this is all a smokescreen or an act to throw competitors and agents off, then they seriously deserve an Oscar. 

Don't put all the blame on Jason Heyward and his $184 million contract for that, either. Sure, all the money he's owed over the next 5 years is a huge factor, but there are so many other reasons, too. 

Chief among them is the failures of last offseason, as Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow are combining to eat up a huge chunk of payroll while entering 2019 as major question marks and forcing Epstein's front office to pick up the $20 million option on Cole Hamels to boost the rotation.

The money issues continue to make it seem as if the Cubs will have a quiet offseason and will spend most of their time trying to improve from within.

6. The NL Central is going to be the best division in baseball in 2019.

The Reds were one of the most active teams in the rumor front this week, even if the only major move they pulled off was trading for pitcher Tanner Roark. 

Cincinnati has been competing for the worst record in the division the last few years, but they sure seem like they want to form a new narrative and are exhausting every avenue to try to improve a pitching staff that has ranked among the league's worst recently.

That means there are currently zero teams rebuilding or "retooling" or tanking in the NL Central which is the only division in baseball that can make that claim.

7. Chicago baseball could be very fun in 2019 and beyond.

People seem to forget the 2005 World Series championship a surprising amount, but make no mistake — the White Sox are not under the radar any longer.

The South Siders have been listed as the "frontrunner" for the services of Harper this winter and they were linked to just about every available player this week at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. 

The White Sox have money, young talent, one of the best farm systems in the game and clearly seem motivated to join the ranks of baseball's contenders sooner rather than later.

All told — this could shape up to be a fun next few years in Chicago baseball...especially if the Sox can somehow land Harper or Machado.

Cubs stat mailbag: The best pinch-hitting seasons in team history


Cubs stat mailbag: The best pinch-hitting seasons in team history

Welcome to the first installment of my Cubs stat mailbag. My mailbag will tackle stat, trivia and history-based questions. I figured I’d try something different. Who knows, maybe I’ll do one of these each month. Thanks to everyone who reached out to ask questions. Let’s get started.

@DrCubColclasure asks:

Which Cubs Pitcher of All-Time is the Oldest to Record a Strikeout in a Cubs Uniform?

Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. At age 48 years, 61 days on Sept. 25, 1970, Wilhelm struck out the Phillies’ Don Money to end the seventh inning. Wilhelm appeared in only three games for the Cubs and that was his only strikeout.

@PassonJim asks:

After Miñoso gets in the Hall of Fame, will Stan Hack be next on your list of players to support for Cooperstown? #AskKamka

No. Dick Allen is next, so let me address who the next former Cub could be. One could argue for Sammy Sosa, but I feel no matter how good a case I might present, it all hinges on a voter’s stance on the PED question, so I’ll pass. I think constructing a case for Rick Reuschel might be fun… but I think if I were to choose a former Cub to campaign for, it might be the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff. One of the National League’s finest first basemen for a long time.

@bleedcubbieblue asks:

Tommy La Stella set the #Cubs record for pinch hits in a season in 2018. He broke a record shared by Thad Bosley & Dave Clark. Who are the next 10 (or so) players on the #Cubs single season PH list? #AskKamka

I used the play index for recent seasons, and for the older seasons I relied on a great SABR article on pinch hitters. With everything I had to work with, here’s the list to the best of my ability.

Most Pinch Hits in a season, Cubs history

24 Tommy La Stella. 2018

20 Dave Clark, 1997

20 Thad Bosley, 1985

17 Jim Bolger, 1957

17 Merritt Ranew, 1963

17 Bob Will, 1962

16 Thad Bosley, 1986

16 Jesus Figueroa, 1980

16 Babe Twombly, 1921 (the SABR article says 15, but his gamelog says 16)

15 Champ Summers, 1975

15 Frank Baumholtz, 1955

14 Albert Almora Jr., 2017

14 Blake DeWitt, 2011

14 Dwight Smith, 1992

14 Chick Tolson, 1926

@Vndr3w_ asks:

Didn’t Derrek Lee set the record for most home runs with the fewest RBIs in a season? I swear i heard that somewhere.

No. Lee had 107 RBIs with 46 home runs in his fabulous 2005 season, which is 2.326 RBI for each home run (107 divided by 46). Only once has a Cub ever had at least 10 home runs in a season with fewer than twice as many RBI as home runs. That’s Kyle Schwarber with 30 HR, 59 RBI (1.967 RBI/HR) in 2017. And even that’s not a record. Here’s a chart with the fewest RBI per home run in a season, for minimum 10, 20 and 30 home runs:

Lowest season ratios of RBI to HR, MLB history

Players with at least 10 HR in a season: Wayne Gross (1985) 11 HR, 18 RBI, 1.636 RBI/HR ratio

Players with at least 20 HR in a season: Matt Olson (2017) 24 HR, 45 RBI, 1.875 RBI/HR ratio

Players with at least 30 HR in a season: Barry Bonds (2001) 73 HR, 137 RBI, 1.877 RBI/HR ratio

@PrazMaster asks:

At 2-0 all-time in the month of November, are the Cubs the only team in the 4 major sports leagues that is undefeated in a singular month over the course of an entire franchise history? #AskKamka

They are not. In baseball alone, the Cubs (2-0) are joined by the Astros (1-0), Royals (1-0) and Giants (1-0) in the “undefeated in November” club. The Cubs are the only one in this group with multiple wins though.

@maddon4prez asks:

Late last year, the #Cubs had 4 LHP in their starting rotation (Lester, Q, Monty & Hamels). I don’t recall that ever happening before on the north side. Was it the first time? #AskKamka

There had been a few times throughout history where the Cubs had four consecutive starts by lefties, but there were always spot starters mixed in. Once Cole Hamels joined the mix in August, it was the first time the Cubs ever had four lefties in a regular rotation.

@mikewiz1 asks:

#askkamka What was the Cubs record (and runs per game) last year with pitcher batting 8th vs 9th?

The 2018 Cubs had 153 games in which the starting pitcher batted. While they had a better record when the pitcher hit eighth, they scored over a run more per game when the pitcher hit ninth. In my opinion, I think it’s a coincidence; I don’t think the spot in the batting order could possibly account for anywhere near a run scored per game. Either way, here are the numbers:

Pitcher batting 8th: 32-22 (.593), 3.96 runs/game

Pitcher batting 9th: 57-42 (.576), 5.06 runs/game


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