Friday, February 21, 2014

Red Sox 1-36: 31 is for…

31 times Duffy Lewis was caught stealing in 1914

Yikes. That’s a lot!

As of late, the stolen base has been marginalized thanks to newfangled statistics. The new movement really values outs. The thought being, it’s not worth the out just for the chance to move up one base. So, these days, having 31 caught stealing would be a bad sign. The usual guideline is that you need to be successful on about 75% of your attempts to make it a positive effect. So, with 31 times caught stealing, Duffy would need to have been successful around 87 times to make it worth his while.

So, how many times was Duffy Lewis successful when trying to steal in 1914?


Yup. 22. So, he was successful about 43% of the time. What on earth was he doing?

I have to believe that there was something weird going on here. Maybe statistics back then weren’t as good as they need to be in order to look at that number. After all, baseball-reference doesn’t list a caught stealing total for more than half of the seasons in his career. It’s possible that back then, they weren’t seen as all that important. So, they weren’t even recorded. Maybe he didn’t know how often he was being caught. Maybe he didn’t care?

After all, he was never a burner on the base paths. It’s not like he was ever Tris Speaker. I could understand if he was getting old and talking a while to remember that he can’t run as much as he used to. But, the 22 steals in 1914 were a career high.

Out of curiosity, I looked at Tris Speaker, and in 1914 he stole 42 bases, but was caught 29 times. Clearly being caught stealing wasn’t something that the Red Sox worried all that much about. Although, at least Tris was closer to a 60% success rate.

That leaves the question of what Lewis was thinking. Was it just the game back then? If you could get the extra base, you gave it a shot? Nobody really cared if you got thrown out. Was the extra base more important in the dead ball era? Maybe it was no use being on first base?

Even if that was the case, I’m not sure I see the point in doing something if it only worked 43% of the time. Even in 1914, they had to see that he wasn’t actually getting that extra base very often. They had to see that it wasn’t worth the effort.

It doesn’t take new math to figure that out.

Do you have an explanation?

31 is for the 31 times Duffy Lewis was caught stealing in 1914.

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