Looking At Stolen Base Handedness Splits

I really love looking at guys who steal a lot of bases, because I think what you look for in their matchups are vastly different than what you want you look for in other hitters matchups. For most hitters you want to look at how good the park is and how bad the opposing pitcher is. For high SB guys, you care about how often they will get on base and how bad the opposing pitcher and catcher are at holding base runners.

Most of the time, tall, right handed pitchers are going to be the most vulnerable to a stolen base. But I wondered a few days ago, do some hitters prefer one handedness type over the other? Maybe there are some guys who steal against lefties all the time, and maybe there are some guys who only steal against righties. Since I know how to code a little bit in R, I was able to pull some data and see if some hitters had preferences.

My guess going in was that the mean base stealer would heavily prefer right handed pitchers, and that good righty hitters would probably have a more even split. Part of stealing bases is getting on base, so players who hit one handedness type better than the other should have more base stealing opportunities against that type and therefore steal more bases.

I also wanted to note that I think this data is quite noisy and may not be worth considering at all. I don’t have a strong prior here. I only somewhat understand the mechanics of base stealing. I know you try to read the pitcher to see when he’s committed to his delivery to get a “jump.” I imagine the better you can read the pitcher, the more likely you are to steal a base off of him. I also imagine some hitters are better at reading righties than lefties or vice versa, so it would make sense that some hitters would prefer one handedness type over the other.

You can look at stolen base handedness splits here.

This table shows the differences in stolen bases per plate appearance of hitters since 2010. DIFF shows the difference between stolen bases per plate appearances against left handed pitchers compared to right handed. Strong positive DIFF values indicate a player who greatly prefers to steal bases against left handed pitchers, while strong negative values indicate a player who greatly prefers to steal bases against right handed pitchers.

There are some things worth noting in the data. First, the mean and median hitter in the data prefers stealing against right handed pitchers. But there are certainly a lot of heavy base stealers who don’t have a preference, or even prefer left handed pitchers.

Billy Burns, Delino Deshields, Gregory Polanco, and Anthony Gose are all regular daily fantasy considerations. Polanco and Gose are both lefties, and therefore aren’t much of a consideration against left handed pitchers anyways. However, Deshields is a righty and Burns is a switch hitter, so both tend to look good against left handed pitchers. But the SB data suggests they shouldn’t be a target, as both do not steal many bases in their career against lefties. Burns has stolen 16 bases in his career against righties and only 3 against lefties, while Deshields has an 11/2 split. The sample size is small though, so it may be unreliable.

It’s worth noting that there aren’t a lot of guys who prefer lefty pitchers by a wide margin. Danny Espinosa, David Wright, and Melvin Upton are all worth mentioning, as they prefer lefties in a large sample. It’s also worth noting some heavy base stealing righties who show slight preferences to lefties and therefore should not be avoided against left handed pitchers. Cameron Maybin, Paul Goldschmidt, Nori Aoki (Reverse splits lefty), Craig Gentry, Rajai Davis, and Jose Altuve all prefer lefty pitchers.

Jarrod Dyson is easily the weirdest person in this list. He gets on base significantly more against right handed pitchers, but still steals more from left handed pitchers. I digged deeper into this and found that Dyson steals third base an insane amount, 25 times in his career, Apparently, it’s easier to steal third base off of a left handed pitcher, so this makes a lot of sense.

Please leave a comment if you know something about the mechanics of base stealing and let me know if handedness preferences make sense.

View all posts by Daniel Steinberg
Daniel Steinberg

About the Author

Daniel Steinberg Daniel Steinberg is a former bond trader at a multi-billion dollar proprietary trading firm in Chicago. He uses his knowledge of statistics and his creativity from his career as a poker professional to create the most advanced Daily Fantasy statistical analysis that you will find anywhere. Follow him on twitter @DanielSingerS

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