MLB Betting: How Stolen Bases Coincide With Betting Success
by Trevor Whenham - 7/23/2010
Stolen bases aren’t nearly as significant and valued in baseball now as they were years ago. Back when I was a kid guys like Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman and Tim Raines were making headlines and piling up the stolen bases. They were superstars. Now small ball has been overrun by the power game, and stolen bases are mostly an afterthought. As we get further and further away from the glory days of thievery, I thought it would be interesting to look at how stolen base success for a team relates to betting success this year, and how that compares to what we saw a decade ago in 2000:
The Top Team - This year Tampa Bay is running circles around everyone else. The Rays have swiped 116 bases this year. No other team has stolen more than 87. Tampa Bay is aggressive on a whole different level. That aggressiveness has paid off to an extent for bettors - they are the 10th most profitable team in the league, and have made money for bettors who have backed them in every game. They have been particularly strong for bettors on the road. In 2000 it was the other team from the state of Florida that stole with a vengeance - the Marlins had 20 more steals than any other team. The Marlins were also the second most profitable team in the league that year despite finishing at just 79-82. It’s somewhat interesting to note here that Tampa Bay is on pace to steal about 200 bases while Florida led with just 168 in 2000, so the Rays are a bit of a throwback on the basepaths.
The Top Five - This year the top five running teams have been the White Sox, Mets, Rays, Mariners, and Padres. All of those teams but the Mariners are profitable on the season, and only half of all teams are profitable, so it definitely seems like aggressive baserunning leads to a higher likelihood of betting success. There’s an interesting oddity here, though - San Diego is the fifth best base stealing team and the most profitable ATS team in the league, while Seattle has stolen two more bases but is the least profitable team in the league. Obviously, then, stolen bases and betting success aren’t strongly related - or at least are not related above all else. In 200 the top five teams were the Marlins, Braves, Padres, Rockies, and Orioles. Three of those five teams were profitable over the whole season.
The Bottom Five - So, there is a reasonable but not overwhelming link between stealing success and profitability. So how about the opposite - teams that couldn’t steal a base if it was handed to them on a silver platter? The worst stealing team in the league in Tampa’s AL East rival from Boston, and they have stolen just over a quarter of the bases that Tampa has - 32 compared to 116. The Red Sox are joined in the bottom five by the Jays, Cubs, Giants, and Twins. Three of those five teams are profitable on the season. Like the successful stealing teams these results are all over the place, too - Toronto and San Francisco are both in the top seven for profitability, while the Cubs are the second worst in the league. Back in 2000 the bottom five were Oakland, Boston, Montreal (how strange is it to see that name?), the Mets, and Texas. In this case just two of those five teams were profitable. The kink, though, is that the worst stealing team - Oakland - was the fourth most profitable team in the league. Again it’s hard to find a reliable relationship between stealing bases and creating profit.
The Bottom Line - Sometimes when you explore a link between a type of statistic or style of play and the profitability of teams you’ll find an exciting and powerful link. This is not one of those times. We’ve seen that teams that steal bases well could have a higher than average likelihood of producing a profit, but we’ve also seen that stealing teams can be absolutely disastrous at the betting windows. Conversely, we’ve seen that being a bad stealing team doesn’t necessarily mean that a team can’t turn a profit. The connections between stealing and profit are interesting to look at, and could be a useful piece of a larger evaluation of bets, but by itself it’s not a useful tool.
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