March 13, 2008
Profesor Reyes: Un Hombre Muy Rapido

Jose Reyes stole his first base of the spring the other day in an exhibition against the Orioles, and that got me thinking. Speed is a tremendously important part of Jose’s game, and watching Reyes on the base paths is one of the great pleasures of the sport. Even my wife, who does not care over-much for baseball, laughs any time Jose hits a triple, because “no human should run that fast,” and I will admit that I enjoyed watching Jose make Armando Benitez crap the bed as much as the next man.

But while Reyes’s speed is a great asset, last year it may also have been his Achilles heel. Most people think that all that running wore Reyes down by September. Jose’s terrible final month certainly contributed to the Mets’ historic collapse, but let’s not go over that again.

The reason I bring it up at all is because I was curious if there was any pattern to his stolen base attempts, or his success rate, or something that would indicate whether or not he was tired, or if his slump in September was just bad timing in the ordinary ups-and-downs of the season. If we could figure out some pattern that led to Jose’s crappy September, hopefully we could avoid it in 2008.

Here’s a graph of Jose’s monthly stolen base attempts out of his total times on base, including when he reached on an error, but not the times that he was intentionally walked or hit home runs. I didn’t check, but I assume that nobody intentionally walked Jose when second base was open, because that’s a terrible idea. Anyway, Jose had a great April, successfully reaching base 54 times (including three times on errors) and attempting 20 steals while he was there – at an 85% success rate, too.

Incidentally, this also doesn’t include any times Jose reached on a fielder’s choice, because I couldn’t easily find that info and, um . . . life is short. I think this is close enough that you get my point.

Not counting crappy September, Jose got on base roughly 46 times a month, give or take, and tried to steal about a third of the time, with one notable exception: August. What I’m driving at might be clearer if we look at it like this:

In August Jose really upped the pace on his stolen base attempts. Out of the 45 times Jose was on base in August, he attempted 26 steals, or 58% of the time. That’s a lot. August was Jose’s biggest month for steals, both in terms of total attempts and the percentage of times he was on base that he attempted to steal. It was also his best month for total stolen bases (23) and success rate (88.5%).

Of course, he paid the price for all that August running in September, when his batting average (.205), on-base percentage (.279), slugging percentage (.333), stolen base attempts (just 9), and success rate (55.6%) all fell in the toilet. Is this just a coincidence? It could be. But if I’m the Mets, I would make sure Jose doesn’t run that wild in 2008.

So what was Jose doing running that much, anyway? Well, take a look at this here:

Those are Jose’s monthly stolen base totals. By the end of July, Jose had swiped 50 bags and was tantalizingly close to the all-time Mets stolen base record, held by a player whose name I will not mention because I hate him. I don’t know if Jose just decided that he was going to own that record come hell or high water, or if he was encouraged by Willie and the coaches, or the front office, or what. But I think he threw caution to the wind to make damn sure he did.

The irony is that at the end of July, Jose was on pace to steal roughly 77 bags anyway. The dotted portion of the line above is what Jose was projected to do if he’d maintained his pace through July to the end of the season. Jose ended up stealing 78 bases; if he’d just maintained his regular pace, he might have stolen that many anyway, but possibly without the horrible September swoon.

Stolen bases aren’t generally popular with the sabermetric crowd; but if he’s successful at a high rate I don’t see anything wrong with letting Reyes run. I hope Reyes steals 80 bases in 2008. Just, you know, spread it around a little, OK? No need to jam a third of your steals into a sixth of the season.

Special thanks to Baseball Reference, as always.

16 Responses to “Profesor Reyes: Un Hombre Muy Rapido”

  1. Comment posted by Eli on March 13, 2008 at 2:33 am (#627603)

    Interesting and enjoyable article. Clearly something caused him to have such a lousy September. But I have a very hard time believing that his increased running in August had anything to do with it. The guy was a healthy 24 year old. He attempted 26 steals. Just to be conservative, lets say that for every official attempt, he actually attempted 3 times - i.e. about 50 more times, he tried to steal but the ball was hit by the batter - either fair or foul. That’s roughly two and a half 90 foot sprints per day in August for base stealing activities. That’s about the distance a soccer player sprints in a SINGLE practice. And that is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of times he sprints to first base after hitting the ball (well, except for those one or two times Willie got angry at him for not hustling). I don’t discount that players, including Reyes, might be exhausted once September rolls around. But I think what makes them tired is flying around in different time zones, and standing in the sun for 75 minutes per game. And there could be mental fatigue. A couple of short windsprints per day for a good athlete, should not only not tire him in the long run, but make him in BETTER shape. Bottom, line, though I have heard numerous times that frequent base stealing takes its toll on the freshness of a baseball player, I think it is an untrue myth. So, I say RUN REYES, RUN!!!!

  2. Comment posted by john on March 13, 2008 at 8:35 am (#627610)

    I could be wrong but didnt Reyes number of stolen base attempts shoot up once Ricky became a coach?

    I think that was a big reason he decided to run more.

    Its a big part of his game……..running…….but he needs to be careful not to wear himself out doing so.

  3. Comment posted by Eli on March 13, 2008 at 9:33 am (#627641)

    but he needs to be careful not to wear himself out doing so.

    Again sorry to disagree, but I really can’t see how several tens of 90 foot windsprints per month should wear a young athlete out. They should be doing windsprints on their own to keep in shape.

  4. Comment posted by pauliec84 on March 13, 2008 at 9:35 am (#627645)

    This is all great but with a whopping sample size of 1 it is difficult to draw any conclusions of substance. I realize that none of us have the time to perform such a study, but what would is the trend if we incorporate all the seasons of all the great base stealers of the past?

    Logically, with how conditioned athletes are today, I find it hard to believe that running a few extra 30 yard sprints here and there is really going to wear on someone THAT much.

    I think looking this far into it with just 1 sample size is a pandering to the anecdotalists of the world.

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  6. Comment posted by Jessica on March 13, 2008 at 9:37 am (#627647)

    I think that it wasn’t the stolen bases alone that wore Reyes out. It was the combination of the stolen bases and playing shortstop every day. No middle infielder this side of Maury Wills ran as much as Jose does, and almost every elite base-stealer played the outfield.

  7. Comment posted by realist718 on March 13, 2008 at 9:49 am (#627650)

    yes, but do modern-day athletes throw themselves to the ground head-first through dirt, and crash into another player after every one of those “windsprints” they do in practice?

  8. Comment posted by Danny on March 13, 2008 at 9:53 am (#627657)

    If only stealing bases were just a windsprint, and if only that was the only thing that Reyes was doing that was exerting himself. However, Reyes is diving back into first base 6 or 7 times a game on pickoff attempts (and I might be underselling this one). He’s diving into second base on steals and steal attempts. He’s playing the second-most demanding defensive position on the diamond. And he’s doing it EVERY day for 6 months. No rest for the weary.

    Reyes would be better served to pick his spots a little more judiciously, or get rested more. I want him in the lineup nearly every day.

  9. Comment posted by john on March 13, 2008 at 10:04 am (#627675)

    Given the fact that the mlb breakeven point for SB’s is what around 75%……and reyes is where……80%? His stolen bases definitely add to the mets total offensive production……but at what cost?

    Its like danny said, its not just running……its the driving back, its also playing 160-162 games a season. I dont care if your young, your still going to get tired over the course of a season.

  10. Comment posted by argonbunnies on March 13, 2008 at 12:59 pm (#627855)

    Reyes is diving back into first base 6 or 7 times a game on pickoff attempts

    Here’s the thing:
    Reyes will be doing this whether he attempts to steal or not! I mean, the dive into second base as he steals it is just one eighth of the total diving — he might as well steal!

    …unless anyone wants to argue that Reyes should sometimes take short leads and let pitchers ignore him so he can rest.

    Anyone? No? Didn’t think so.

    Personally, I think the idea that an extra 18 steal attempts over the course of 162 games makes any difference in a player’s ultimate fatigue is ludicrous. Jeff’s point about going absolutely steal-crazy during a certain period is the best logic I’ve heard in that direction. I’ll give a tentative thumbs up to “spread it around a little more, okay?”

  11. Comment posted by Eli on March 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm (#627871)

    Agreed with Argonbunnies; the multiple dives back to first may be somewhat draining, but to a large extent, Reyes will be diving back whether or not he attempts to steal. I think resting him now and then makes more sense, but I am not even sure how much that affects him. A baseball game isn’t a football or basketball game. And he might be hyperactive jumping up and down in the dugout negating the rest!

  12. Comment posted by argonbunnies on March 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm (#627875)

    Although I want Jose to top 80 steals, I also want him to get more off days. It’s for mental reasons. He just looked out of it last year. An occasional break in the constant concentration demanded of a shortstop might allow him to recharge a bit.

  13. Comment posted by Danny on March 13, 2008 at 1:27 pm (#627878)

    The focus on diving back to first and how he has to do that whether he steals or not is missing the whole point. It has nothing to do with a decision on how often Reyes should run, it just has to do with the punishment he puts his body through while diving back.

    You’re also missing out on Jessica’s fantastic point that most base stealers play outfield and outfield is oceans easier on the body than shortstop.

    This whole notion that Reyes is young so he should be able to take all this punishment sounds great. But listen to people who actually had to do it. Jimmy Rollins has always said that he can’t believe what Reyes does because of the punishment he has to put his body through to do it. He probably knows better than we do. Football and basketball players get days off all the time to rest their bodies. Reyes does not. He beats himself up every night, wakes up the next day and then does it again. We can’t possibly know how physically (and mentally) tolling that is.

    My argument is that Reyes either needs to be rested more or he needs to be more judicious about his steal attempts. If being judicious means more evenly spreading out his steal attempts, then maybe that is the answer. But I think we can all agree that Reyes was pretty worn down physically by the end of last season. He puts himself through a lot of punishment.

  14. Comment posted by john on March 13, 2008 at 1:58 pm (#627924)

    Jeff’s point about going absolutely steal-crazy during a certain period is the best logic I’ve heard in that direction

    I disagree. If he goes “steal crazy” he will get caught more often and thus make it counterproductive. 1 caught stealing is as bad as the benefit is of stealing 2 times (actually 1 caught stealing is worse then the benefit of 2 stolen)…….when reyes was stealing a bunch of bases, he was getting caught more often…..check the CS% when he was attempting all those stolen bases.

  15. Comment posted by paumanok on March 13, 2008 at 3:56 pm (#628074)

    I like the article. I think Reyes turning it up a notch during the long, lazy days of August really tired him out. I also think his body did not readjust the way it has in the past. Let’s face it, Reyes is a pony. He’s energetic and part of what makes him so exciting to watch is that he goes all out. But I think last year his body just did not bounce back like in past years. The older I get (and I’m not much older than Reyes), the more I have to stretch before and after playing sports, and the longer it takes my body to recover from slight injuries. When I was a kid, and even an older teen, I never worried much about conditioning. And that’s just me. Reyes, a world-class athelete, has probably never experienced his body not doing what he tells it. I think last September was a very humbling experience for him and I expect him to react accordingly. Even if he doesn’t steal less or take more days off, I think there’s a self-awareness there that wasn’t last year, and that by itself (if the graph is right) may at the end of the season translate to better numbers all-around including stolen bases.

  16. Comment posted by Meyatch on March 13, 2008 at 5:35 pm (#628231)

    Fascinating stuff, Jeff. Kudos. Sure it’s a small sample size, but I disagree with the claim that it’s the equivalent of doing wind sprints. Just the mental game of stealing is exhausting. Combine that with playing far too many games, having to prepare for every pitch while at SS, and prepare for every pitch while batting, and José es cansado. (My Spanish sucks, so this may not be right.)

    I also think that b/c of the Mets’ overall struggles - other batters, starters and bullpen - Jose’s September looks a lot worse. Compare Wright’s April and Jose’s September. No one talks about David’s horrible start b/c by September he was the only one hitting (I guess Moises too). Back in April, when he was slumping the team was fine. Besides - it also fits into the storyline that as Jose goes, so do the Mets. I don’t think that’s totally fair.

    Now, grant you, David had the better overall season (His august numbers are inhuman.) But Jose’s numbers are pretty similar to his numbers for the two previous full seasons. Granted, you want him to grow, but he’s still 24.

    Total 160 160 765 681 119 191 36 12 12 57 77 13 78 1 5 1 10 6 78 21 .280 .354 .421 .775 .302 105 100 Total
    April/Mar. 24 24 120 104 26 37 9 5 2 18 16 3 11 0 0 0 3 0 17 3 .356 .442 .596 1.038 .385 182 166 April/Mar.
    Sept./Oct. 27 27 131 117 18 24 7 1 2 8 11 0 15 1 2 0 1 1 5 4 .205 .279 .333 .612 .220 58 58 Sept./Oct.

    Total 160 159 711 604 113 196 42 1 30 107 94 6 115 6 0 7 4 14 34 5 .325 .416 .546 .963 .356 153 100 Total
    April/Mar. 24 24 108 90 14 22 4 1 0 6 16 0 23 2 0 0 2 2 3 0 .244 .370 .311 .681 .328 90 46 April/Mar.
    Sept./Oct. 27 27 125 108 21 38 9 0 6 20 14 0 10 2 0 1 0 5 4 1 .352 .432 .602 1.034 .344 164 114 Sept./Oct.

  17. Comment posted by Ellis Dee on March 13, 2008 at 11:28 pm (#628289)

    If Jose runs earlier in the count he will avoid some extra dives back into 1st.

    If he got a day off starting in May and then one in each month there-after through Sept. it would keep him fresh and he would still play 157 games.