Base stealing was introduced in the early 1860s by Ned Cuthbert, who is credited with being the first player to steal a base in the major leagues. He did so for the Philadelphia Keystones in either 1863 or 1865, though the term "stolen base" was not coined until 1870. Through the years, use of the stolen base has fluctuated, with teams averaging between two and three stolen bases per game between 1900 and 1920, and averaging less than 1.5 since 1990. Babe Ruth's success hitting home runs, and the continued rise of the homer, has been credited with the decline in stolen base attempts in baseball. But it certainly remains a crucial aspect of the game today.
Each major league organization, of course, employs differing strategies when it comes to base stealing. And it doesn't necessarily translate from the minor leagues to the big league club, either. The Houston Astros currently lead baseball with 39 attempts in 2016, while the Baltimore Orioles are last with only eight. However, the Orioles' minor league affiliates combined are 18th in stolen base attempts despite their major league club's league-low attempt count.
San Francisco Giants' minor leaguers have struggled mightily on the base paths in the current year, being thrown out 43.3 percent of the time — the highest average among all teams and their respective affiliates. Organizations are averaging 31.79 percent, and only one team (Pittsburgh) is within four percent of the Giants' mark.
Through the first 30 games of the minor league season, the average is just over 10 percent higher than any other year dating back to 2004 for Giants' affiliates (see graph below). You have to go back to 1989 for the most recent percentage over 37.
In 1989, for perspective, San Francisco's Triple-A affiliate were the Phoenix Firebirds, and their Double-A affiliate were the Shreveport Captains. Matt Williams hit 26 home runs for the Firebirds that year, while the late Rod Beck, as a starter, went 18-5 between the San Jose Giants and Shreveport Captains.
The Texas Rangers lead all of the minors with 81 failed attempts, but are seventh in successful attempts with 139, which makes their caught-stealing average 6.5 percent lower than San Francisco's minor leaguers. More tries should of course translate to more times caught. But at 150 total attempts, the Giants' rank 11th fewest, yet sit at 65 failed attempts, which is fourth most. They're tied for the third fewest amount of stolen bases at 85, pacing them for 134 fewer stolen bases than 2015.
For the Giants, do the stats transfer into the major leagues? As of May 10, San Francisco is ranked 22nd in the league with a 36.66 caught-stealing percentage, and finished 2015 in the 12 spot at a 27.91 mark.
Last year's organizational leader in stolen bases, San Jose Giants outfielder Johneshwy Fargas, is a microcosm of the epidemic. He stole 59 bases in 2015 with the Augusta GreenJackets, and was thrown out 19 times — a 24.36 percent caught-stealing mark. With San Jose this year, Fargas has been caught two more times than he's successfully swiped a bag, and is on pace to steal roughly 40 fewer bases than a year ago.
Darren Ford's success is down, too, as he's been nailed four out of nine times in 2016 after a 32.65 caught-stealing mark in 2015. He was second in the organization last year with 33 stolen bases.
As the saying goes, the box score doesn't tell the whole story. The numbers across the board are not able to factor in key variables, which makes it even harder to decipher whether one should be concerned with the trend. Failed attempts can be attributed to bad jumps, botched hit-and-runs, lingering injuries, and above-average opponent catcher skills, among others.
It's likely that the current trend is a fluke, as Giants' minor leaguers have averaged 29.84 percent since 2004, which is almost two percent better than the current minor league average and almost four percent better than the current major league average.
We'll check back in on this throughout the year. Until then, keep running. Especially you, Johneshwy.
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