I studied “the Davey Lopes effect” last year, an attempt to find a source for the Phillies’ success on the bases. The details are below the third question in this “Five Questions” bit about the Phillies I did at The Hardball Times. If you peruse the numbers, I think you’ll see a clear trend where the addition of Lopes coincides with improvement in both stolen base attempts (particularly third base) and success rate.
A difference in opinion on Lopes’ salary led to his parting from Philadelphia and eventual move to Los Angeles. Compared to the league average, the Dodgers have stolen eight more bases and have been thrown out seven fewer times. Matt Kemp, with 27 stolen bases in 30 attempts (90 percent) is personally responsible for 37.5 percent of the total stolen bases and 34 percent of the total attempts, so he should be the primary focus.
Going into 2011, Kemp was a liability on the bases. He was 104-for-143 (73 percent), which is above the general 70 percent threshold for base-stealing to be worthwhile, but he was disappointingly 19-for-34 (56 percent) in 2010. With the addition of Lopes, Kemp has become an extremely threatening base runner, in addition to his progression as a talented hitter (.968 OPS). He has attempted to steal third base six times, which is tied for a career high with two-fifths of the season remaining.
Outside of Kemp, the Dodgers have been relying on speedy young players and grizzled veterans for stealing bases. Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dee Gordon are 22-for-28 (79 percent) combined, while Jamey Carroll, Aaron Miles, and Juan Uribe are a combined 8-for-8. For the young players, it is impossible to use the stats to see a Lopes effect; for the vets, they have not attempted nearly enough stolen bases for a difference to be meaningful.
On a team level, the Dodgers as a whole are significantly better off this year than they had been in 2010. Although the Dodgers had the fourth-most stolen base attempts last year, they had the third-worst success rate (65 percent) and they barely broke even in 2009 (71 percent).
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Dodgers have attempted to steal third base 16 times, 12 successfully (a pace for 26 attempts). Lopes’ trademark with the Phillies was making them aggressively take third base. As my article at THT illustrated, the Phillies went from the third percentile on third base attempts in 2006 to 97th in ’09. The Dodgers attempted to steal third 13 times last year with nine successes and were 12-for-19 in ’09.
It is still much too early to say that Lopes has significantly affected the Dodgers’ base running, but there are some clear trends. It appears that Lopes brought the same philosophies that turned the Phillies into aggressive, efficient base running machines to Los Angeles.