Bearded and relatively powerful, Jayson Werth could steal a base during his time. That’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Werth, because he did not steal a base in 2015 and has not stolen double-digit bases since 2013, when he was 34. It was not Werth's wheels that won the game for the Nationals last night; no, it was his bat launching an opposite-field walkoff near-dinger that won the game. However, Werth has 124 career stolen bases to his name, and the guy's been caught only 19 times. That’s an 86.7 percent career success rate.
Looking on Baseball Reference’s leaderboard for career stolen base rate success, Werth is really high up there at third all time among players with at least 80 stolen base attempts, the default setting on the leaderboard.
Interestingly, the top five players are all currently active. Number one all time is Alexi Casilla, who has not played a major league game since 2014 but is still toiling away in AAA for the Blue Jays. Casilla is a middle infielder whose speed score on FanGraphs’ Fans Scouting Report is at 69 for his career.
Chase Utley is second in stolen base success; Utley is also a middle infielder, with a career speed score of 59. Then there’s Werth, but after Werth are two speedy outfielders — Carlos Beltran (in his younger years, of course) and noted burner Jarrod Dyson. Beltran’s career speed score is 47, but 2009 is the earliest year of the stat. Beltran was already 32 that year, while Casilla is 31 now. The same applies to Utley, whose speed scores have all come during his 30s. Dyson’s career speed score is 88.
The point is that Werth finds himself in a speedy group, at least speedy during their primes. Werth also turned 30 during 2009, and his career speed score is all of 59, the same as Utley's.
Maybe this is not a big surprise to those who have followed Werth throughout his career, but when I looked at the stolen base leaderboard I saw middle infielders and center fielders (during their primes) around Werth. My perception of Werth did not include positive thoughts about his speed. Werth logs most of his time in left field these days and hasn't played center field since 2012. He’s definitely not a speedster now.
That has not stopped him from being a good baserunner. Werth has not had a negative baserunning runs (from FanGraphs — a compare-to-zero-as-average stat) value since 2002, his first year in the bigs as a September callup. He had only 53 plate appearances that season. Werth had a baserunning runs as high as 6.1 as recently as 2014, when he was 35 years old.
This is definitely a skill. Looking at the baserunning runs leaderboard for currently active hitters, Werth's 40.7 runs above average is 14th (out of 249), right between Elvis Andrus and Melvin Upton, Jr. Werth does not really make mistakes, and he is pretty decent at taking the extra base. The league average has hovered around 39-40 percent for the past few years, and Werth's career rate is 43 percent. Just a little above average, but that’s another data point showing that Werth is a worthy baserunner even though he is out of his base-stealing prime.
Werth’s had some injuries sap some of his power over the past few years (he’s average only 111 games per season from 2012-2015), but hey — he can still run.