Gerardo Parra is probably one of the most underrated players in baseball. He’s been on the Diamondbacks roster since 2009, but they never saw fit to give him a regular job, keeping him as a part-time reserve and injury fill-in, despite the fact that his production suggested he was good enough for a starting role. Finally, this year, a series of injuries to Adam Eaton, Cody Ross, and Jason Kubel have forced Kirk Gibson to put Parra in the line-up everyday, and he’s responded with his best performance to date. Through 335 plate appearances, he has a 133 wRC+ and UZR continues to rate him as an elite defensive outfielder, so he’s already at +3.1 WAR with half a season left to play.
However, in the midst of Parra’s excellent overall performance, there’s one glaring problem; he’s threatening to post one of the worst base stealing seasons in recent history.
Parra has attempted 15 stolen bases this year, but he’s only been successful on six of those 15 attempts, a dreadful 40% stolen base rate. The Major League average this season is 73%. Despite the fact that Parra ranks 19th in the majors in stolen base attempts, he’s #1 in getting caught stealing, and is the only player running on a regular basis who isn’t succeeding at a high rate. For reference, here are the 20 players who have attempted at least 15 stolen bases this year, along with their success rate:
As a group, the other 19 highly aggressive base stealers are succeeding at an 82% clip, and only three of the other 19 — Rios, Gardner, and Bourn — have a success rate below the league average. Generally, guys who run a lot are good at it, which is why they run a lot in the first place.
Parra, though, has been a disaster stealing bases this year, and by wSB — which is the runs a player has added or lost through base stealing — he’s already cost the Diamondbacks 2.6 runs through his base stealing efforts. At -2.6 wSB in half a season, Parra is on pace to easily dethrone Luis Castillo‘s -4.1 mark from 2003 — he was 21 for 40 in base stealing that year — as the worst wSB season of the last 12 years, which is as far back as our play by play data goes.
Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, we can spotlight other terrible baserunning seasons before 2002, however. If we go back to 1990, which was when the crazy baserunning of the 1980s started to fade away, we can look at the success rate of every player in a season where they attempted at least 15 steals. Using that query, we find seven players that have stolen at a lower success rate than Parra’s 40% clip in a season where they tried fairly regularly, with Jay Payton‘s 31% success rate in 16 attempts back in 2000 ranking as the most futile SB% season since the beginning of the 1990s.
For sheer recklessness during this period though, the actual leader might be Greg Gagne back in 1994; he was just 10 for 27 in base stealing. No other player during that time has attempted 20+ steals while succeeding at a rate below 40%. In terms of all time base running futility, 1987 Will Clark is tough to beat, as he went just 5 for 22, a hilariously putrid 23% success rate that stands as the lowest mark of any player in the last 100 years for a player who attempted at least 20 steals.
Parra’s not going to be quite that awful, but we’re only halfway through the season and he’s already tried to swipe 15 bases despite the fact that he’s terrible at it. Even before this season, Parra had a career 68% success rate, and his terrible performance this year has lowered that down to 62%. Put simply, a player who gets thrown out 38% of the time they try to steal should just stop trying. Outs are too valuable to simply be given away, and the occasional successful advancement doesn’t outweigh the cost of giving outs away.
Gerardo Parra is an excellent player, and one of the main reasons the Diamondbacks are in first place this season. But, really, there’s no reason he should still be allowed to try and steal second base with any kind of regularity. It’s time for Gibson to give Parra a firm red light before he runs himself into the kinds of history books you don’t want to be associated with.