The Worst Active Base-Stealer

Earlier today, when I was writing about Tim Raines, I noted that that whole post came out of me actually doing some research on David DeJesus. That wasn’t a lie, and I have two nuggets of proof:

  1. who would lie about that
  2. the rest of this post

In case you were worried, I didn’t let some Raines facts get in the way of me still writing about a free-agent veteran fourth outfielder. I know you don’t come to FanGraphs to read about David DeJesus, but, take a look at what you’re doing now! I promise there’s good reason, though. See, you might not have expected this, but according to the numbers, DeJesus is the worst active base-stealer in the game.

I don’t mean in an everything-else-being-equal sense. The actual worst base-stealers are those players who don’t even try to steal bases, because they know they’re too slow to make it in safe. There would be no point in writing about how, say, Kendrys Morales is a bad base-stealer. I’m more interested in the guys who’ve been relatively unsuccessful, but still persistent. This is where DeJesus comes in. I used the Baseball-Reference definition of active players, and then I searched through all the active players who’ve attempted to steal at least 100 bases. That seems to me like a decent minimum — you can fluke into a few attempts a season, but getting to 100 suggests intent. So, with those players in mind, here are the worst career rates of success:

Look at those numbers carefully. That’s not a difference of one percentage point between worst and second-worst. It’s a difference of eleven percentage points, with DeJesus showing 66 career successes, and 62 career failures. If you drop the minimum to 50, DeJesus manages to get eclipsed by an even worse Andre Ethier, but DeJesus has tried to steal more than twice as often. Ethier, to be sure, is bad. But he’s never tried to steal more than 10 times in a season. DeJesus tried to steal 15 times as recently as 2012. It didn’t go very well. It doesn’t go very well.

You might be familiar with wSB — our measure of stolen-base runs, above or below average. DeJesus’ single-season career-best wSB is 0.0. That came in 2003, when he was a rookie who batted 10 times, and who didn’t attempt a steal. In each of the following 12 seasons, DeJesus has been in the negative, if maybe just slightly so. To DeJesus’ credit, he’s maybe learned a little bit — in the first half of his career, he tried to steal in about 6% of opportunities, and in the second half, that’s dropped to roughly 4%. So, he’s not running as much. But in the career first half, he was 44-of-84. In the second half, he’s been 22-of-44. Fewer attempts, but not more success. Not even the element of surprise is working.

Last year, DeJesus did pull off three successful steals, against just two failures. That was a step up from the year before, when DeJesus went 0-for-3. Let’s take a look at those successes. Here’s one:

The ball bounced off the catcher’s glove and flew toward the backstop, and DeJesus initially tried to steal left field. Here’s another success:

The pitch was in the dirt, and no throw was attempted. Here’s the final success:

DeJesus led a double-steal, and the catcher picked the ball out of the dirt, double-pumped, and threw down to second. Now, in the interest of balance, we’ve got the two failures. Here’s one:

DeJesus was out despite a bad throw. The other:

This throw was right into DeJesus’ body, so that’s just good catcher and infielder execution, but this is still David DeJesus getting thrown out stealing on a Jered Weaver fastball.

The three successes were uncontested. Which isn’t to say DeJesus wouldn’t have been safe if his attempts were contested, but when there have been close plays, lately, he’s been out. He was out all three times in 2014. I didn’t take the time to go back and look at the 2013 successes, but it’s at least been some kind of while since DeJesus stole a base by beating a tag.

Here’s what’s extra weird: David DeJesus is not a slow player. I mean, you know that, just from the fact that he’s attempted well more than 100 career steals. Based on Fan Scouting Report results for speed, DeJesus ranks around the 60th percentile. He can move, and he’s played center field.

And it’s not even entirely about a failure of instincts, because if you can believe it, despite the bad stealing success, DeJesus shows up as a net positive baserunner. We have our detailed baserunning data going back to 2002. Since 2002, DeJesus has posted baseball’s worst stolen-base value, by a considerable gap. Yet he’s 14th-best in UBR, measuring other things like base advancements. The three names right behind him: Justin Upton, Adam Jones, and Carl Crawford. Somehow, David DeJesus has simultaneously been a good baserunner and a dreadful base-stealer. His legs work fine, and his reads are apparently pretty good, but he just has problems reading the man on the mound. Which hasn’t completely stopped him from trying, but since he hasn’t figured it out by now, I’m not sure he ever will. I’m not even sure how many more chances he’ll have. He’s 36, and he just had the worst year of his life.

All things considered, DeJesus has had a good career. He’s had a far better career than most. He’s right around 1,500 hits, and his next home run will be number 100. In 2013 he got to play in the playoffs, and he might still have some time left in him. It’s a career that’s had plenty of positives, including DeJesus’ ability to move around on hits and other balls in play. But, steals? DeJesus has been the worst at steals. The worst, when you factor in enough persistence. I don’t blame him for trying, because it doesn’t quite make sense. But, here we are, and the numbers aren’t telling an inaccurate story. Numbers tell accurate stories.

We hoped you liked reading The Worst Active Base-Stealer by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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I spent a good chunk of yesterday ruminating about Andres Blanco. Of course I’d be intrigued enough to read something you’ve written about David Dejesus.