John Dewan’s Stat of the Week™

Is it harder to steal on lefties?

June 27, 2008

If you ask my son Jason, it’s not just harder, it’s impossible.

I coached my son in little league throughout his grammar school years, eight years in all. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. Here’s my favorite story:

Jason was about 11 years old. He was never a power hitter, but he was always one of my best baserunners. He stole bases pretty much at will, but on this occasion, he was on first base with a left-handed pitcher looking right at him from the mound. This was the first lefty he ever faced; it had always been right-handed pitchers on the mound who had to turn their heads to see him on first base. The pitcher made a couple of tosses over to first, and Jason shortened his normal lead to about three and a half inches off the bag. Nevertheless, I gave Jason the steal sign from the coach’s box at third base. I also gave the take sign to the batter so that Jason could steal second. Jason never missed my signs before, but this time he didn’t steal. Prior to the next pitch, I gave the sign again and, because the first pitch was a ball, I gave the take again to the batter. Once again Jason didn’t go. I called time out and waived my first base coach to talk to Jason. In the meantime, I told the batter that since the count was 2-0, to go ahead and take the next pitch so Jason could steal second.

The pitcher was oblivious to what was happening, but he made another token throw over to first to hold Jason close to the bag. I looked over to Jason at first, and I swear, I could see fear in his eyes. But I gave him the steal sign again. The pitch came in; the batter took the pitch again, but this time for a strike. And Jason was standing at first base.

Now I was flabbergasted and I decided to make my sign real clear. At the top of my lungs, I yelled across the diamond, “Jason, steal second! Jason, steal second!”, and I gave the take sign again to the batter. The pitcher looked over at me with a very surprised look on his face. And he started throwing to first over and over again. And after each throw, I yelled, “Jason, steal second!”. After about five throws to first, the pitcher finally delivered to home. The batter took the pitch, and Jason was off to the races. He slid in to second, easily beating the throw.

And the coach on the other team yelled over to me, “Hey coach, I think we know your signs!”

So, is it harder to steal on lefties in the majors? Yes. Here’s the data for the last six and a half years:

2002-2008 Stolen Base Success Rate
Attempts Percentage
vs. Left-Handers 10,675 66%
vs. Right-Handers 25,720 72%

Here is the success rate for each year:

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
vs. Left-Handers 63% 66% 64% 65% 67% 69% 72%
vs. Right-Handers 70% 71% 72% 72% 73% 76% 74%

Source: Baseball Info Solutions (through games of Thursday, June 26, 2008)

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week™, www.statoftheweek.com.

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    June 27, 2008   Posted in: John Dewan

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