Answering Gary Cohen’s query on Noah Syndergaard’s stolen bases

On Friday night, Noah Syndergaard allowed five stolen bases. At some point during the telecast, Gary Cohen wondered aloud how many of those runners came around to score. In Friday’s game, not one of the five did. But that doesn’t mean that it happened that way earlier. Cohen seemed to think that it was a big part of the runs allowed by Syndergaard this year. So, let’s look at all 25 steals that have happened with Syndergaard on the mound so far here in 2018.

Date Player Situation Result
4-Apr R. Hoskins 1 O, R 2 Does not score
4-Apr A. Altherr 2 O, R 1,3 Steals home, next batter grounds out to end inning
9-Apr S.Castro 1 O, R 1 Steals second, scores on double, next batter grounded out to third and guy who doubled went to third
15-Apr H. Perez 1 O, R 2 Does not score
20-Apr R. Flaherty 2 O, R 1 Does not score
20-Apr E. Inciarte 2 O, R 2 Does not score
6-May D. Dahl 0 O, R 1,3 Dahl steals second, next two batters walk. Inning ends with only one run scored – not guy who stole
6-May T. Wolters 2 O, R 1 Does not score
15-May C. Granderson 2 O, R 1 Granderson steals second, single, HBP, 2 RBI single
20-May C. Owings 1 O, R 1 Does not score
25-May L. Cain 1 O, R 1 Cain steals second, Yelich singles to score him
25-May C. Yelich 1 O, R 1 Yelich steals second, out, single scores him
13-Jul A. Eaton 0 O, R 1 Does not score
1-Aug T. Turner 1 O, R 1 Turner steals second, out, RBI single by Harper
1-Aug B. Harper 2 O, R 1 Does not score
1-Aug T. Turner 0 O, R 2 Turner steals third, scores on HR by Rendon
1-Aug W. Difo 0 O, R 1 Does not score
12-Aug R. Ortega 0 O, R 1 Ortega steals second, groundout, RBI single
12-Aug R. Ortega 1 O, R 1 Does not score
12-Aug M. Prado 2 O, R 1 Prado steals second, RBI single, error
17-Aug M. Franco 2 O, R 1 Does not score
17-Aug C. Hernandez 2 O, R 1 Does not score
17-Aug J. Alfaro 0 O, R1 Does not score
17-Aug C. Santana 2 O, R 1 Does not score
17-Aug J. Alfaro 1 O, R 1 Does not score

All told, 16 of the 25 runners who stole this year against Syndergaard did not score. In the chart above, there are 15 instances where no runs scored in the inning and one instance where there were runners on first and third, the guy on first stole second – likely without a throw – and the guy on third held, but later scored the only run of the inning.

Let’s take a look at the nine innings where a run scored when there was a stolen base. When determining earned runs, you reconstruct the inning without the error to see whether the runs should be counted as earned or unearned. In these nine innings, let’s reconstruct the inning without the stolen base to see what it would be like.

April 4 – Runner steals home, next batter grounds out. Run would not have scored without the stolen base
April 9 – Castro has good speed so he may have scored from first on the double. Even if he didn’t, he likely scores on the groundout, as the runner on second moved to third. Run likely would have scored without the steal
May 6 – After the steal one walk loaded the bases and the next walk drove in the guy who did not steal. Run would have scored without the steal.
May 15 – Guy singles after the steal and that guy comes around to score as well as the player who stole the base. Granderson – the player who stole the base – would have scored without the steal.
May 25 – Cain would have scored without the stolen base. Yelich does not score without stealing.
August 1 (1st inning) – Turner does not score without the steal.
August 1 (3rd inning) – Batter after steal hit a homer, so run would have scored without the steal.
August 12 (1st inning) – After batter steals second, there’s a groundout to pitcher where the runner held, an RBI single to LF, a groundout and a popup. Without the steal, would the runner have advanced to second base or would they have gotten the lead runner (or a DP) instead. Could go back and look but in the interest of expediency, will make the command decision that the runner would not have scored without the steal.
August 12 (6th inning) – After the steal, there’s an RBI single and the next batter reaches on a throwing error by the pitcher. Run likely would have scored without the stolen base.

By this earned run type of accounting, four runs scored that would not have scored without the stolen base. Syndergaard has allowed 41 runs this season.

Let’s do another chart. This time, let’s also look at things from the Run Expectancy (RE) matrix from FanGraphs. Here’s how they describe RE:

A run expectancy matrix presents the expected number of runs scored between a given point and the end of an inning based on the overall run environment, the number of outs, and the placement of the baserunners. For example, in the RE matrix below (run environment set at 4.15 runs per game), the expected number of runs given a runner on first and no outs is 0.831 runs.

The column labeled “Situation” tells you the number of outs and the position of runner(s) on base at the time of the steal. So, 1 O, R 2 means there was one out and a runner on second. The first RE column is for the situation before the steal, the second column is for the situation after the steal and the third column is the increase in RE with the steal. The final column is the actual total number of runs that scored in the inning after the steal.

Date Situation RE before RE after Difference Actual
4-Apr 1 O, R 2 0.644 0.865 0.221 0
4-Apr 2 O, R 1,3 0.471 1.214 0.743 1
9-Apr 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 1
15-Apr 1 O, R 2 0.644 0.865 0.221 0
20-Apr 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 0
20-Apr 2 O, R 2 0.305 0.413 0.108 0
6-May 0 O, R 1,3 1.798 1.92 0.122 1
6-May 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 0
15-May 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 2
20-May 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 0
25-May 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 1
25-May 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 1
13-Jul 0 O, R 1 0.831 1.068 0.237 0
1-Aug 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 1
1-Aug 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 0
1-Aug 0 O, R 2 1.068 1.426 0.358 2
1-Aug 0 O, R 1 0.831 1.068 0.237 0
12-Aug 0 O, R 1 0.831 1.068 0.237 1
12-Aug 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 0
12-Aug 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 1
17-Aug 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 0
17-Aug 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 0
17-Aug 0 O, R1 0.831 1.068 0.237 0
17-Aug 2 O, R 1 0.214 0.305 0.091 0
17-Aug 1 O, R 1 0.489 0.644 0.155 0
Totals   13.389 17.923 4.534 12

The row of the second stolen base needs a tiny bit of explanation. With two outs and runners on first and third, the expectancy was .0458 or less than half a run. The opponent stole home with the lead runner but the trail runner did not advance. So, the situation is now two outs and a runner on first, which has a 0.214 RE. I added the actual run scored to give it a 1.214 RE.

Before the steal attempts, the opposing team had a composite RE of 13.389 runs. After the stolen base, they had a RE of 17.923 runs. The steals made a RE difference of slightly over 4.5 – which coincides nicely with our earned run accounting of four runs earlier. And in the actual games, Syndergaard gave up 12 runs, which is not only lower than the RE after the steals, it’s lower than the RE before the steals.

There are a few other points to discuss. First, the RE chart utilized is for 4.15 runs per game. Through games of Friday, the National League had an average of 4.41 runs per game. Therefore, the REs used are probably a tiny bit lower than they should be for each state. Second, these are averages and the results certainly can be different if you have Trea Turner running or Jorge Alfaro. They can also be different if Bryce Harper is batting or Jett Bandy. All four of those guys played a factor, either batting or running, in the stolen bases and future results against Syndergaard. Some were better than average and some were worse. That’s pretty much the concept of averages. Finally, Syndergaard is not your average pitcher – he’s pretty good.

Without a doubt, the stolen bases are a problem. But the extent of the problem has been massively overrated. Much more troublesome has been the number of hits that Syndergaard has allowed this year. His H/9 has increased every year from 7.6 to 8.2 to 8.6 to 9.4 this season. For a comparison, Steven Matz has an 8.9 H/9, Corey Oswalt has an 8.3, Zack Wheeler has an 8.1 and Jacob deGrom has a 6.7 mark.

In his last full season in 2016, Syndergaard averaged 1.55 SB per game and this year the number sits at 1.47, even with allowing 12 steals in his last four outings. But while his SB per game have gone down, his runs per game have gone up, from 2.99 to 3.67 – pretty much the exact opposite of what you would expect if the steals were a big problem.

Again, the steals are a problem; let there be no doubt about that.

If I get into a fight with two guys and one of them breaks my arm in three places and the other one sticks a knife in my back – I have two problems. But the primary problem is the knife in my back and that’s the one that should be fixed first. My arm dangling from unnatural angles with bones sticking out may be the more visible item at first glance but it doesn’t make it the most serious threat. And it’s the same thing with the stolen bases.

How do you fix a guy with great stuff who’s giving up way more hits than he should? If you know that answer please get the info to the Mets’ brass ASAP. Meanwhile, someone can give the stolen base information in this article to Gary Cohen, since he asked for it.

13 comments for “Answering Gary Cohen’s query on Noah Syndergaard’s stolen bases

  1. b
    August 19, 2018 at 3:15 am

    gary cohen talks to much

    • Eraff
      August 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm

      omg…yes! …but I don’t mind if he’s talking or provoking baseball talk. He needs to cut out at least 15% of his talking. Probably more

  2. TexasGusCC
    August 19, 2018 at 6:09 am

    Brian, nice job on a boatload of work in this piece. As you seemed to be less concerned on this matter on Friday night than most others, as I was reading this piece I was mentally preparing a rebuttal. But, your admission at the end that this is a problem is either a conflict to the article, or a curveball to throw me off my stride.

    Laura Albanese in Newsday wrote, “Not only is Thor upset about his inability to hold baserunners (the Phillies swiped five bags off him and batterymate Kevin Plawecki last night), but he also hinted at some wider mechanical issues he’s trying to work through. “It’s something I battle every day when I go out there,” said Syndergaard. “I’m just trying to correct a lot of things that I’ve been doing wrong for a long time.””

    I equate this problem to a team in football being unable to stop opponents between the 20’s but tightening up in the red zone. Problem is, if you continue to allow the other team to keep advancing easily, it will catch up with you in the wrong moment against a better team in a playoff situation. I’m sure if the Jorge Alfaro’s can steal two bases in one game, the other guys could have stolen 15. However, the opposition won’t show you all their cards if they don’t need to.

    In the game, we saw that Matz and Syndergaard have allowed 27 and 25 steals, respectively, and next highest is 16. When you consider how many games they’ve missed, it’s about double the next best. Too, keep in mind how the Cubs basically won a game when they stole four bases in the seventh inning against Matz when he had a lead, including an easy steal of home by Baez. It’s more than just a problem, it’s a defensive defect that adds stressful pitches to a game and defensive pressure to your teammates – who are already handicapped defensively.

    • August 19, 2018 at 10:07 am

      Thanks Gus!

      When I started compiling the list, I did not know where the information was going to lead. My opinion was that it was nowhere close to being the issue that others thought.

      But at no time did I think it was not a problem whatsoever. Maybe I didn’t communicate that well. But when everyone around me is hyperventilating about what a problem the steals are – and I say, “Instead of focusing on the SB allowed, focus on the hits,” maybe that comes across to others as thinking that the steals are unimportant. Instead, it’s merely prioritizing the problems.

  3. Eraff
    August 19, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Noah’s Base Stealer problem is probably not greatly correctable. His delivery features a fairly long “ball in hand” phase that makes his delivery slow, and it’s an embedded athletic move. By the way, I think it also compromises his ability to pitch around “lack of Stuff”, now and in the future, because the hitters get such a good view of the ball—- this may answer that nagging “BABIP against”. That problem is a hint at the fact that he has spectacular Pitches…but he’s “merely” a good to very good pitcher. Add the arm and he’s “near -top-shelf)

    He can try a slide step— it often doesn’t work well for Pitchers. He should alter timing of delivery more…that’s probably a big help(along with some throw overs).

    The biggest thing Noah can do to address the base stealer problem is to become a better Pitcher…the Greg Maddox approach was that the Execution and Mix of Pitches rendered RISP situations much less damaging. He needs to locate and execute and mix pitches. He’s content with throwing it through a wall…he’s spoken about throwing harder, and I take him at face value. He means it….I believe it’s the wrong focus.

    Interesting fangraphs article:

    • August 19, 2018 at 10:23 am

      The FG article is a well-presented piece of what we’ve been saying in the chatters and elsewhere — that Noah needs to mix up his locations a-la JDG.

      What gets a little attention but probably needs more is that Noah has allowed more SB since coming off the DL. While I agree with you that it’s not greatly correctable, he should be able to get back to where he was earlier in the season. His first 11 games, he allowed 12 SB. His last six games, he’s allowed 13.

  4. TJ
    August 19, 2018 at 8:14 am

    From a layman’s point of view, while Syndergaard has great “stuff”, it may be a little too “great” in that it is always in or around the zone. The hitters seem very comfortable despite his gas, which seems to be very straight. Hopefully this is caused by his lack of innings in the last two seasons. A steal here and there is one thing, but getting abused certainly matters, even if the stat sheet doesn’t support it. It becomes a mindset and has to distract his confidence and focus negatively.

  5. John Fox
    August 19, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Interesting article and a lot of research. It shows that 4 runs scored off of Syndergaard that would not have scored without a stolen base. But since he has yielded 41 runs this year, those 4 runs are nearly 10% of the total he has given up this year, which sounds like a bit of a problem to me.

  6. Chris F
    August 19, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    First, nicely researched story as always Brian. I always am challenged by your writing, and find it among the best of any novel Mets content anywhere. I would say your articles and Tim Britton at The Athletic are the finest perspectives presently available.

    I struggle admittedly with a variety of ways we all deconstruct data. Its a hazard of the job, and Im mostly crippled by most outcomes largely under the “3 blind people touch an elephants tail, leg, and trunk and never see the elephant” argument. How we parse data, and separate variables, is simply critical in interpreting it. Are we the blind people discovering Noah Syndergaard?

    There is no arguing the numbers you present. However, I feel deep inside, this “problem” completely saturates Noah’s brain – I can see why. People run on him at virtual will. He is working to correct it with Eiland. Reporters ask him about every outing. As a result it most certainly is a problem. I am certain every pitch has him thinking about stealing with runners on. I struggle to think this is not translating to overall pitching stress. I can imagine this thought train –> “no one on, 1 out, *cannot* let this 1-hole hitter get on, must get him out”. Result is he over pitches, nibbles, gets lost in base-runner prevention and not pitching. Its easier to hit that pitcher. He’s also working with a limited inventory of pitching ability. It should be clear by now he is a mile behind deGrom as a pitcher. All he has is down, down, down and east/west. He’s not fast enough to make that work IMO. If it was 99-102 every pitch them maybe.

    Returning to the data. I wonder if the best solution is really the simplest, if not most egregious: have Noah compeltely forget runners are on base. Sure every few pitches step off the rubber for honesty, look at the runner, but when it comes to pitching, just go with the idea of “I am gonna win this battle more than most pitchers, so forget who is on, if 1 scores, so be it”.

    • August 19, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      In regards to your last graph, my opinion is that Noah does this already to a certain extent — when there are two outs.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Eraff
    August 19, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Relative to some of our comments, I’ll just remind myself that Noah is a nice Pitcher to send out every 5th day. DeGrom is at a rare level now….he’s certainly one of the top 6 starters in the game, and he might be the best this year. “Not as Good as deGrom” is not an insult.

    With that said… Noah’s not a good pitcher with less stuff, game by game and in the future. deGrom can pitch with lesser stuff, and he’d still compete.

    deGrom is unusual as far as the Arc of his progress and success reminds Me of Tom Brady. deGrom arrived almost without announcement–Rafael Montero was the Headliner, behind some other Brilliant names.

    I also compare him to Brady because they both added tremendous incremental arm talent than they had previously shown. It was a Hot Gun in Philly last night, but Jake has consistently shown 95, 97….98. Add the addition and improvement of his pitches. He learned how to climb the ladder at 93-95….. it’s even more devastating now when he’s at 96-98.

    He’s One Helluva Pitcher!

  8. Madman
    August 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    I still think Syndergard will never be an “ace” if baserunners can run at will against him. When an Alfaro can steal two bases in one game that proves it is something that needs to be worked on. DPs are harder to get, a single can score a run when a base is stolen.

  9. Rae
    August 20, 2018 at 9:25 am

    You are correct. Syndergaard believes his own hype which neither amounts to wins or a good game pitched or fielded. He is a selfish pitcher who needs to look at how Jacob deGrom handles base runners. Sydergaard is also too slow when he pitches to the plate as he is very Steve Trachsel like which is not a good thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: