Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 7/8/13

Some years ago, when they were up-and-coming instead of bad, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez were both Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are well known for their advertising campaigns, and in one they pitched Betancourt and Lopez as the “double play twins,” middle infielders who did everything together, both on and off the field. Betancourt and Lopez, at the time, had a lot in common. Today, they continue to have a lot in common, which is too bad. But they were teammates, and they were sold as a pair. A much better pair of teammates today includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The two are commonly discussed as a duo, as they make up perhaps baseball’s most intimidating lineup core. Cabrera and Fielder are supposed to do some things together, like crush baseballs. In the third inning on Saturday, for example, they slugged back-to-back dingers. What they’re not supposed to do together is steal. Cabrera and Fielder, combined, have fewer career steals than John Kruk. But, Sunday afternoon, the two pulled off a most unlikely double steal, and this demands to be investigated. Background Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Cabrera is an all-world slugger, who wasn’t thought to be nimble enough to go back to playing third base. Fielder is a big boy, and while he can move, the way people say it is that he can move for a big boy. Cabrera stole nine bases in 2006, but he was caught stealing six times, and since then he’s never swiped more than six. Fielder stole seven bases in 2006, but since then he’s never swiped more than three. He stole one base in 2010, 2011, and 2012. According to last year’s Fan Scouting Report, 190 players received at least 20 votes. Cabrera got a speed rating of 27, ranking 175th. Fielder got a speed rating of 25, ranking 178th. Cabrera got a first-step rating of 30, ranking 167th. Fielder got a first-step rating of 20, ranking 185th. Cabrera was seen as comparable to Mike Napoli, while Fielder was seen as comparable to Josh Willingham. These are slow baseball players, for baseball players. In spring training 2010, Cabrera and Brandon Inge pulled off a successful double steal. In Double-A in 2004, Fielder and Jason Belcher pulled off a different sort of double steal. One was in spring training. One was nine years ago. Setting On Sunday, the Indians led the Tigers 5-1 in the top of the sixth. Corey Kluber was pitching, and Cabrera singled to lead off. Fielder followed with a five-pitch walk. Then Victor Martinez struck out swinging, and Jhonny Peralta wound up in a full count. Prior to the full-count pitch, Carlos Santana went out to the mound to have a little talk with Kluber. The two previous times Peralta had faced Kluber, Kluber had struck him out swinging. Standing on deck was Andy Dirks. The Play Cabrera was full of energy as he led off second. He bounced around, and he might have given a signal for the double steal. Alternatively, he might have just waved for no reason, or for no good reason. You can be the judge, because I won’t stop you. You don’t even have to consult with all the other judges. As the pitch was delivered, the runners broke. Peralta swung, but he missed. Santana, though, also missed, and no throw was attempted. The runners reached their bases safely, having stolen. Reactions Santana, naturally, was less than pleased with himself, as he realized what had just happened. Fielder was more pleased. Cabrera was the most pleased. Discussion/Analysis The circumstances must be noted, this having occurred on a 3-and-2 pitch. Had the pitch been a ball, Cabrera and Fielder would’ve just advanced normally. Peralta would’ve been prepared to swing at a strike, and indeed he did swing at a strike, and odds are that, when Peralta swings, he’s going to make contact. This wasn’t intended as a classic double steal, because Peralta wasn’t going to just stand there, inactive. The best-case scenario would’ve been a ball in play, to a vacated hole. Or I guess the best-case scenario would’ve been a home run? One also must note this just happened because Santana dropped the baseball. If you read that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder pulled off a successful double steal, you assume someone on the defensive side must’ve screwed up. It’s unlikely that Cabrera and Fielder would out-run a well-executed play. It’s pretty apparent that, had Santana caught and transferred the ball cleanly, he would’ve had a great shot to throw Cabrera out by several feet: So this was a disaster for Detroit, right up until it wasn’t. This is an example of the value of making them make a play. This is why you can’t just evaluate a sacrifice bunt all simple-like using a run-expectancy table — sometimes, the defense makes a mistake. What we can’t know is the significance of the surprise of Cabrera and Fielder taking off. Santana wouldn’t have seen that coming, so he might’ve been more likely to botch the catch and throw. Indeed, the play was botched, but we don’t know how often that would’ve happened out of a million attempts. In my experience, it’s rare that a catcher just flat-out misses the baseball when he’s trying to throw to a base. Far more often, the catcher will make a wild throw, and Santana would’ve had some chance of doing that later on, but most stolen bases involve some element of surprise, and catchers usually do most things right. This was a double steal that almost certainly should’ve meant the end of the inning for the Tigers. In that the Tigers began this sequence of events, they deserve some credit. In that it only worked out because of an uncommon mistake, they were fortunate. There was a pretty good chance of a swing and miss. In the event of a swing and miss, there was a pretty good chance of Cabrera getting nailed. Behind by four runs in the sixth, the Tigers weren’t in position to be aggressive on the bases, as outs were at a premium. Conclusion Sunday afternoon, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder pulled off a double steal in a game against the Indians. What you’d like to believe is that they pulled off a straight double steal. But, in reality, the batter swung, and the catcher didn’t even catch the baseball, so there wasn’t a throw to a base for one of the runners to beat. This didn’t happen because Cabrera or Fielder did something right; this happened because Santana did something wrong. Remember, in most circumstances, it isn’t all on an individual to succeed. Sometimes all a player needs to succeed is another player’s failure.

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