Vincent Van Go

One part of the game that has always fascinated me is how a player’s speed can affect his value.  If someone can routinely steal second after a single, isn’t that just as good as having a big bat who hits doubles more often?  One stat that I like to look at to isolate these types of players is to see which guys finish the season with more steals than RBI.  Of those with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, 3 guys accomplished this in 2009: Nyjer Morgan, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Michael Bourn.  Bourn had by far the largest discrepancy with 61 steals and just 35 RBI.  He and Ellsbury both accomplished the feat in 2008 as well, in addition to Chone Figgins, Ichiro Suzuki, and Willy Taveras.  

How common is such a season?  From 1920-2009, 99 different players had such seasons.  In the same time period, just 19 players had seasons where their stolen bases were more than DOUBLE their RBI.  By far, the king of this stat is Vince Coleman.  Remarkably, he was able to pull it off in each of his first five years in the big leagues.  Over that span from 1985-1989, he totaled 472 stolen bases and just 178 RBI, good for a 2.65:1 ratio.  His 1985 rookie season featured a career high and league leading 110 steals as he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, finished 11th in NL MVP voting, and led his St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series.  He would go on to lead the NL in steals every year after that until 1991 when he played in just 72 games (and still managed 37 steals).  He was even speedy enough to earn the supremely cool nickname “Vincent Van Go.”
Unfortunately, Coleman was unable to play in that 1985 World Series.  Before Game 4 of the NLCS that year, Coleman was on the field when the decision was made to roll out the tarp for a rain delay.  He didn’t realize that it was happening, and he was run over by the tarp roller and suffered a chipped bone in his knee, enough to end his season.  He did, however steal 6 bases as a member of the Cardinals in the 1987 World Series.
After he left the Cardinals for the Mets in 1991, he never was quite the same.  He was still a speedster but he never got as much playing time as he did with the Cardinals, mostly due to his notable lack of RBI and hitting skills in general.  As a career .264 hitter, there were usually better offensive options for left and center field, where he primarily played.  In 1993, he was even suspended by the Mets for tossing a lit firecracker into a crowd of fans in the Dodger Stadium parking lot who were awaiting his autograph.  Go figure.
After writing this post, I am vowing to not come back to this blog until my 10 page research paper is complete.  So don’t be shocked if there aren’t any new posts this week… or maybe next.  But I will be back as soon as this semester comes to a close- only a couple more weeks.
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One comment

  1. uuketch@gmail.com

    While I agree it is exciting to see a good base runner I am not sure that hitting a single and stealing second is as good as hitting a double. First of all, if there are men on base clearly a double is preferable. Second, there is the wear and tear of the physical steal. o the player. Also, I think it would be an interesting analysis to see what the relationship is between steals and run scored rather than RBI. The true value of the stolen base is to get a man in scoring position. How about comparing two guys with the same batting average – one who steals and one who doesn’t to see how often the stolen base leads to a scored run. Or analyzing how often a person scores after a steal of second – of third.

    Thanks for your posts.

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