Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why does Hunter Pence get caught stealing so much?

Hunter Pence has stolen nine bases this season. And has been caught stealing five times. How is this possible, especially for a guy who is as fast as Pence? Let's take a look first at his stolen bases:

April 18 @ Chicago, vs RHP Carlos Marmol/righty Koyie Hill. 9th inning, 1 out.
Hill had been in the game only since the top of the inning. After Lee flied out, Pence singled on the first pitch. With Blum up, Pence took off on a 1-1 count, and later scored on Blum's double.

April 25 v. Pittsburgh, vs. RHP Charlie Morton/righty Ryan Doumit. 3rd inning, 2 out.
The Astros jumped on the Pirates in the third inning, helped by Pence's stolen base. Carlos Lee had stolen second (!) two batters before Pence had come up, and Berkman had walked immediately before Pence's AB. So when Pence reached on a fielder's choice, it scored Bourn to give the Astros a 3-1 lead. With Pedro Feliz up, Pence took off on a 1-0 pitch and stole second. He and Lee both scored on Pedro Feliz' single.

May 26 @ Milwaukee, vs. RHP Claudio Vargas/righty George Kottaras. 5th inning, 0 out.
Vargas had just entered the game with the Astros up 4-0. Pence drew a seven-pitch leadoff walk, and took off with Carlos Lee at bat on an 0-1 pitch. Lee later struck out swinging, but Pence scored on Berkman's single.

May 27 @ Milwaukee, vs. LHP Zach Braddock/righty George Kottaras. 7th inning, 0 out/1 out.
This was Pence's only multi-SB game of the season (so far). Braddock had just come in with a 3-2 lead, and Pence hit a leadoff single. With Berkman up, he stole second on a 1-2 pitch to Berkman, and stole third on the first pitch to Blum.

June 6 v. Chicago, vs. RHP Bob Howry/righty Koyie Hill. 8th inning, 2 out.
The Astros were ahead 6-3 when Pence drew an eight-pitch walk. With Feliz up two batters later, Pence took off on a 2-1 pitch and stole second.

June 13 @ New York Yankees, vs. RHP Phil Hughes/righty Jorge Posada. 1st inning, 1 out.
The Astros were up for their first turn against Hughes, and Bourn had gotten on first with a single. Keppinger had lined out, and Pence drew a six-pitch walk. With Carlos Lee up, both Bourn and Pence took off on a 1-1 count. Bourn scored on Lee's sac fly, and Cory Sullivan ended the inning.

June 22 v. San Francisco, vs. RHP Tim Lincecum/righty Bengie Molina. 4th inning, 1 out.
What looked like a hit-and-run with Pence on 1st with one out, and Chris Johnson at the plate, Johnson struck out swinging on a nine-pitch full count, and Pence was on the move, stealing second off Molina.

June 23 v. San Francisco, vs. RHP Guillermo Mota/righty Bengie Molina. 6th inning, 0 out.
Pence led off the inning with a single, and on a 1-0 count with Chris Johnson up, Pence stole second, later scoring on Johnson's double.

Okay, so here's what we have. Nine stolen bases against four teams (Brewers 3, Cubs 2, Giants 2, Yankees, and Pirates). Three stolen bases with no outs, four with one out, and two with two outs. Only three stolen bases against a starter, while six stolen bases came with the pitcher having just entered the game in that same inning. Eight of the nine stolen bases were off of RHPs.

Now, on to the Caught Stealings:

April 15 @ St. Louis, vs. RHP Kyle Lohse. 2nd inning, 1 out.
Lohse picks Pence off first with one out and the count at 1-1.

May 4 v. Arizona, vs. RHP Ian Kennedy/righty Chris Snyder. 6th inning, 1 out.
With the Astros down 1-0, Pence hit a first-pitch leadoff single. With a 2-1 count to Manzella, Pence was caught in a rundown (2-4-3-6) for the second out of the inning.

May 8 v. San Fiego, vs. RHP Jon Garland/righty Yorvit Torrealba. 5th inning, 1 out.
With the Astros down 1-0, Pence hit a first-pitch leadoff single. Pence took off on a 1-1 pitch to Matsui, and was thrown out for the second out of the game.

May 23 vs. Tampa Bay, vs. RHP Dan Wheeler/righty John Jaso. 7th inning, 1 out.
After Pence knocked in Keppinger to close the Rays' lead to 7-5, Pence was caught stealing one batter later on a 1-1 pitch to Carlos Lee.

July 3 @ San Diego, vs. RHP Kevin Correia/righty Nick Hundley. 2nd inning, 1 out.
Pence got a one-out single in the 2nd (game tied at 0-0), and with Jason Castro up, Pence took off on the seventh pitch of a 2-2 AB. Castro was called out on strikes, and Pence was thrown out to end the inning.

So what do we see here? Two of his five CSs were legit throw-outs by the catcher. One was a pickoff, one was a rundown, and one was a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play. Of the 14 "attempts," eight were taken with a one-ball count. Only once did he run on the first pitch. In two instances was the hit-and-run on, and Pence was successful once. In four of the five CSs, Pence tried to run on the starting pitcher. One was Lohse's pickoff, but the other three were gun-downs.

So why can't Pence steal more bases? I don't know how often he has the green light, but he's been caught three times on a 1-1 count. All five of the times he's been caught have been when the Astros are tied or behind. Maybe he's just predictable.

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