Grand Theft Home Plate: Stealing Home In 2012

Apr 14, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie (13) is caught stealing at home plate during the second inning as Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) applies the tag at the Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Who doesn't love watching a steal of home? It's one of those things that makes the legend of Jackie Robinson that much more exciting (as if he needed it), and something that helped Bryce Harper's hype machine kick things up another gear. It's one of the most exciting plays in baseball, plus it happens rarely enough to be a real treat when we seen one during a game. But what do we know about attempted steals of home this season?

As a piece of context, I was researching another article on baserunning statistics (one that should hopefully see publication in a few weeks), when I came across a particular article on stolen bases that had the unintended effect of seeing me off on a tangent. In my next Grand Theft Home Plate article, I'll provide a link to that article, plus some thoughts on stealing home that aren't covered in this article.

At any rate, I realized that I honestly knew very little about stealing home. I'd seen copious highlights of players doing it (yes, Bryce Harper this season, and Everth Cabrera as well), but I don't watch every single baseball game. What I decided to do was learn about every attempted steal of home for this season, and then use that data and those impressions to broaden my knowledge of the play, or at least how things have happened this year.

So the first thing I'd like to do is share some information with you (yes, you), that I was able to find out about attempted steals of home in 2012. Some of this information may be relevant to your enjoyment of baseball. Some of it may not be. And perhaps, in a second part to this article to be published in the near future, we can start talking about how the steal of home could or should be used differently in the future -- and I'll link you out to the article that started my renewed interest in theft of home.

The Raw Data

Ok, so believe it or not, finding out how many attempted steals of home had taken place so far in 2012 was a tougher task than I'd imagined. Here's what how my research methodology wound up taking shape:

  • Step One: Look up everyone who's stolen a base this year on Baseball-Reference. Check to see if they'd either stolen home, or been caught stealing home. Make notes in a spreadsheet about the situation, the game, etc.
  • Step Two: Look up everyone who's been caught stealing this year, without ever successfully stealing a base, on Baseball-Reference. Check to see if they'd been caught stealing home. More notes, more spreadsheet. (In case you were wondering, there were four players who'd done this.)
  • Step Three: Use MLB.tv to watch each play and determine what the rest of the context was for the play. Was it an attempted straight steal of home, a botched squeeze, a double steal, or something else? Did anything else super weird come of the play. Then I made more notes.

And that's how we get here, to the raw data. Here's the bullet points from my inquiry:

In 2012, 36 players have been charged (according to B-R's stats) with attempting a steal of home plate. Nine of those players have been successful. That's exactly a 25% success rate.

Ok, that makes some sense. You wouldn't expect stealing home to be a proposition with a high likelihood of success, right? But after looking into the context, something's off. The baseline number of 36 seems a little high. That's because...

Of the 36 players charged with attempting a steal of home, 18 (exactly 50%) were the result of a botched squeeze bunt attempt. These players weren't (necessarily) intentionally trying to steal home plate.

I was a little surprised by this data point. Most of the time, what happened here is that the manager called for a squeeze bunt, and the batter either missed the sign, or was unable to put the bat on the ball, leaving the runner at third held out to dry. These are technically considered caught stealing, but are hardly the runners' faults.

The Houston Astros should not let Justin Maxwell attempt a squeeze bunt ever again. EVER. He has been responsible for two missed squeezes (one by missing a squeeze sign, one by missing the pitch on a bunt) already this season.

Seriously. Just don't let him try that any more.

One of those 18 players was successful in stealing home, despite the botched squeeze.

On July 3, Luis Cruz of the Blue Jays stole home during a botched squeeze attempt, due to the fact that the pitch was out of the strike zone, but ricocheted off the catcher's glove and bounced away. Please don't ask me why this is marked as a stolen base in the record rather than a wild pitch or passed ball. I simply don't know the rules well enough, but it seems, well, wrong.

Of the 18 remaining attempted steals of home, 14 were due to "double steals."Six of these attempts were successful, which makes it a 43% success rate.

That's not too bad, right? For the record, the players who have been credited with a steal of home on a double steal are: Dustin Ackley, Brett Lawrie, Gregor Blanco, Jose Altuve, Desmond Jennings and Jose Reyes. Pretty fast and/or young players, for what it's worth.

Of the remaining four "attempted steals of home", one was just Martin Maldonado getting picked off third base.

He just got caught napping. This also qualifies as a CS for home plate, even though Maldonado was just daydreaming or something. For shame.

There have been three "straight" attempted steals of home plate so far this season. Two have been successful, one has not. The straight steal of home has a 66% success rate so far for 2012.

Now this, I did not expect. Two of these attempted steals of home (the successful ones) have had huge amounts of replay this year in highlight reels. And we'll talk about them in a bit more depth in a second. But there was also a third, earlier in the year, that did not go quite so well. Let's actually just recap all three, in chronological order. [Edited: now with links to video in the date!]

April 14, 2012 - Brett Lawrie

Lawrie made a valiant attempt to steal home early in the game during this Jays-Orioles tilt in mid-April. There were multiple kind-of-weird things about this decision to steal home. There were two outs (not weird), but the bases were loaded (weird) and Jose Bautista was the batter (definitely weird). Even though Bautista was having a slow start to the season, he's still Jose Bautista. Let the guy hit, right? The game was only in the top of the second inning, and the Jays were sporting a one-run lead. Then again, Lawrie broke for home when Bautista had two strikes on him, perhaps the thinking was that Bautista would get a fresh slate to open the next inning if Lawrie failed? Anyhow, Lawrie did his best, but was tagged out by Matt Wieters at home to end the inning.

As an aside, Brett Lawrie is credited with three attempted steals of home already in 2012, which gives him the undisputed lead. On April 22, Lawrie stole home on a textbook double steal, and on June 6, he got hung out to dry when Colby Rasmus broke far too early on a double steal and he got nailed at home trying to salvage the play.

May 6, 2012 - Bryce Harper

You've probably seen this one. First inning, facing the Phillies, Harper stood on third with two outs and another runner on first. When pitcher Cole Hamels began his pickoff throw to first, Harper broke for home and made it just in time to beat the throw from first. It may not be the "race the pitch" platonic ideal of stealing home, but it played off a lapse in concentration on the defending team, and certainly counts.

July 14, 2012 - Everth Cabrera

This is some wild stuff right here. Again, it's likely you've seen this play on highlight reels (or lowlight reels) given the strangeness of the play. Basically, the Padres are down by a run with two outs in the ninth inning. Cabrera stands at third, Will Venable is at second. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen turns away from the hitter, facing center field, and Cabrera breaks for home at a dead run. With his jump, Cabrera probably has his steal, but the catcher applies a solid tag and the home plate ump calls Cabrera out at home, ending the game.

Except, of course, the catcher never had the ball. Jansen had thrown it to the backstop.

The ump immediately reverses his decision, and in the ensuing chaos, Venable comes around from second to score as well. The Padres take a 7-6 lead and eventually win the game. Since Cabrera would probably have been safe at home (I guess?) had Jansen made a good throw, he's credited with a steal of home, instead of scoring on an error.

So there you have it! That's how people have tried (and failed) to steal home in 2012 so far. Most people credited as trying to steal home weren't really trying to steal home, and those that were have been fairly successful. Pretty interesting, no? Does this open up any more questions to you, such as whether or not teams should attempt the double steal more often? Should teams attempt the straight steal of home more often, if two out of three have worked this season? Why aren't players like Mike Trout and Dee Gordon attempting steals of home? Can you train players to watch for the cues that make for successful steals of home?

That's a lot of questions. Maybe in the next article, we can talk about possible ways to find some answers.

Thanks to James Gentile for providing the links to each of the plays at MLB.com!

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