Saved for Saturday: Stolen Base Stumbles and Surges

In Tuesday's Brewer Advent Calendar, we took a look at the career stolen base percentage of Rickie Weeks, the highest in Brewer franchise history among basestealers with at least 92 attempts. But the question about how much those stolen bases helped the Brewers, or how much stolen bases help teams in general, is more complicated than you'd think.

The generally accepted rule of thumb is that a 66% success rate for basestealers is about the break-even point, and that's more or less correct, but it's possible to do better. Without going too far into the math, Tangotiger gives us a formula for breakeven percentage that makes it possible to use a team's runs scored to adjust the breakeven percentage from season to season and team by team. Using that formula, here are the five seasons in Brewer history where the Brewers scored the fewest runs per game, and the resulting breakeven percentage:

Season Runs Games BE%
1972 493 156 .582
1971 534 161 .593
1976 570 161 .608
1970 613 162 .624
1981 493 129 .626

And here are the five seasons with the highest breakeven percentage:

Season Runs Games BE %
1996 894 162 .704
1982 891 162 .703
1987 862 162 .697
1995 740 144 .690
1999 815 161 .687

As you can see, the two-thirds guidleline is usually pretty close, with the occasional exception. Thirty-five of the Brewers' forty seasons have fallen somewhere between .62 and .70. But, having the exact percentages for every season means we can effectively measure how many bases were gained (or lost) by the best (and worst) base stealers in Brewer history with a degree of certainty. A player has stolen ten bases in a season exactly 150 times in franchise history, but only 107 of them have actually finished above the breakeven point. Here are the top ten:

Player Season SB CS Breakeven Gain
Scott Podsednik 2004 70 13 .633 17.461
Tommy Harper 1969 73 18 .634 15.306
Tommy Harper 1971 25 3 .594 8.368
Scott Podsednik 2003 43 10 .658 8.126
Paul Molitor 1983 41 8 .672 8.072
Paul Molitor 1988 41 10 .648 7.952
Paul Molitor 1987 45 10 .697 6.665
Rickie Weeks 2007 25 2 .682 6.586
Paul Molitor 1992 31 6 .665 6.395
Pat Listach 1992 54 18 .665 6.12

It's worth noting that Molitor has the 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th best seasons in franchise history, and if the list went on he would also have the 11th and 12th.

And, for balance, here are the worst ten:

Player Season SB CS Breakeven Loss
Brady Clark 2005 10 13 .661 5.203
Greg Vaughn 1992 15 15 .665 4.950
Jim Wohlford 1977 17 16 .634 3.922
B.J. Surhoff 1987 11 10 .697 3.637
Jim Gantner 1980 11 10 .685 3.385
Don Mincher 1969 10 11 .634 3.314
Kevin Seitzer 1992 13 11 .665 2.960
Fernando Vina 1998 22 16 .656 2.928
Pedro Garcia 1973 11 10 .656 2.776
Dion James 1984 10 10 .636 2.720

Now, for the career numbers. These figures are a little sketchy, as I only calculated gain or loss for seasons where players had more than ten stolen bases, since 256 lines of Excel spreadsheet work seemed like enough for one day. With that said, here are the top and bottom five Brewer careers in terms of bases gained via stolen base:

Player SB CS % Gain
Paul Molitor 412 115 78.1 57.043
Tommy Harper 136 37 78.6 27.978
Scott Podsednik 113 23 83.1 25.587
Robin Yount 271 105 72.1 22.959
Rickie Weeks 78 14 84.8 16.405

Of the 64 Brewers who have stolen ten bases in at least one season, only seven successfully gained more than ten bases in their careers (Mike Felder and Pat Listach are the others). In fact, 17 of them didn't even break even. Here are the bottom five:

Player SB CS % Loss
Greg Vaughn 62 40 60.8 5.881
Jim Wohlford 26 20 56.5 3.922
Ben Oglivie 44 44 50.0 3.639
Don Mincher 10 11 47.6 3-314
Fernando Vina 57 35 62.0 3.120
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