Not having cable TV, my good friend TaeNae was keeping me updated on the Mariners game last night from his nose-bleed seat at Safeco field. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, the Ms had runners on first and second with two outs and Russell Branyan at the plate. Branyan’s slugging percentage for his career is a modest 0.491, and a whopping 0.539 over the last two seasons, making him pretty much the Mariner’s best chance of scoring some runs in that situation. Anticlimactically, Ichiro got caught stealing third to end the inning.
While Ichiro is an excellent base-stealer, attempting to steal third with two outs is the generally the worst idea possible, except maybe pinch-hitting Ronnie Cedeno for Branyan. With two outs, third is not that much better than second, and the risk of getting caught heavily outweighs the added value of the extra base. But then again it’s Ichiro, a career 84%-stealer of third. If the guy on first, Jose Lopez, simultaneously went for second, then the two would have to successfully double-steal at an 80% rate to make it worth the risk with a average hitter at the dish. Branyan is an above-average slugger, meaning that extra bases don’t mean as much for him because he’s more likely to get an extra-base hit that could have scored the two on base anyway. I don’t know if Wakamatsu called it, or if Ichiro just went, but either way stealing in that situation did nothing to raise the chances of scoring runs.
Stealing is an overused, overvalued, over-applauded strategy that tends to kill teams who employ it incorrectly, teams like the Seattle Mariners.