The Giants sure have gotten thrown out a lot trying to steal. They’ve been caught stealing 25 times which is the ninth worst in the majors, and they’ve been successful only 43 times. No other team that has been thrown out as much as the Giants has as few steals. Their 37 percent caught stealing rate is fourth worst in the majors. Only the Marlins, Athletics, and Blue Jays have been worse.
Research by Tom Tango, Michael Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin in The Book suggests that a team needs to be successfully more than 70 percent of the time. The Giants are well below that threshold. The majority of teams are below that threshold.
An extra base isn’t really that valuable compared to an extra out. Scott Lindholm calculated that a successful steal of second directly translates into a run only 22.9 percent of the time.
How exactly has trying to steal affected the Giants? I looked at every stolen base attempt the Giants have made and I added the WPA (Win Probability Added) and RE24 (run expectancy over 24 out states). WPA shows how the attempt affected the Giants based on the situation, and RE24 shows how many runs the Giants should have scored in a vacuum.
Trying to steal has cost the Giants roughly three and a half runs over the course of the season. It’s not a huge difference. This isn’t the thing that’s keeping the Giants from a playoff spot, but it isn’t helping.
This isn’t to say stop stealing entirely. With a few changes in strategy, stealing might actually be a positive. There are plenty of opportunities where a steal is a smart move even with a slow baserunner: when a pitcher isn’t paying attention, when a pitcher has a high leg kick, when a catcher has a weak arm. Buster Posey, the slowest Giant not named Pablo Sandoval, is fairly good at identifying these situations. He has a career 71 percent success rate.
Steven Duggar and Austin Slater have both shown promise of being good basestealers. Gorkys Hernández has been okay and would probably be effective in more opportunities this season.
The Giants should still steal. They should just be smarter about who they send and when they send them. They should definitely cool it with sending the runner on a 3-2 count with less than two outs. That strategy has created more double plays than it has saved. Now, those aren’t straight steal attempts necessarily; the hope is the batter makes contact or walks. But the Giants are striking out more in 2018 than they have in recent years.
Many of Brandon Crawford’s failed attempts came in that situation. Crawford hasn’t been a good basestealer throughout his career getting thrown out 26 times and only being successful 27 times. I’m not sure if Crawford has the green light and is just overconfident in his skills or if Bruce Bochy just wants to get him back in the dugout as soon as possible so he can smell his cologne, but Crawford needs to stay put.
Andrew McCutchen has also been surprisingly bad despite being one of the fastest Giants. Over the last four years, he’s been thrown out 23 times in 60 attempts. Fast doesn’t necessarily mean effective.
The 2018 Giants aren’t good at stealing bases. The search for something they are good at continues.