You know who don’t steal a lot of bases? Pitchers. Also big guys, but specifically, for our purposes here, pitchers. For one thing, pitchers are infrequently on base. For another thing, pitchers are infrequently well-trained at running the bases. For still another thing, there’s an injury risk, as attempted base-stealers can hurt their hands or their shoulders. In short, the potential costs are determined to outweigh the potential benefits, so pitchers stay put. We’ve written about this a little before.
National League pitchers bat somewhat often, but their steals are few and far between. Last year, three NL pitchers successfully stole bases. The year before, three again. The year before, three again. The year before, three again. NL pitchers haven’t accrued double-digit stolen bases in a season since 1989, when they combined to steal ten. American League pitchers bat far less often, and so their steals are even fewer and farther between. Last year, zero AL pitchers successfully stole bases. The year before, zero again. The year before, zero again. The year before, zero again. As a matter of fact, the last stolen base by an AL pitcher came in the summer of 2002.
It was June 16, and the Rangers were playing the Astros. At that point, the Rangers were bad, and the Astros were bad, and Kenny Rogers was starting opposite Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez was 22 years old, and promising. Rogers was 37 years old, having already exceeded a couple thousand innings. For an idea of how long ago this was, Rangers relievers in the same game included Hideki Irabu and John Rocker. Anyway, between Rogers and Hernandez, one of them would end up with a stolen base. It wasn’t the 22-year-old.
I won’t bother with the setting, really, but it was 3-2 Rangers in the top of the fourth. With one out and one on, Rogers himself lined an RBI single in a 1-and-2 count. The next batter was Ryan Ludwick, and on the very first pitch, Rogers took off. Against Carlos Hernandez and Brad Ausmus, Rogers successfully stole second base. It was the only steal attempt of his career.
Aumus, for his career, was an above-average throwing catcher. Hernandez was left-handed, and that season, over 111 innings, he allowed just four steals. One of them was by a 37-year-old Kenny Rogers. It was the first stolen base by a pitcher in Rangers franchise history, at least since the adoption of the DH, and it remains the only one. I can’t find much in the way of details, but I can tell you that, immediately following, the broadcast listed Rogers’ career stolen-base numbers next to those of Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson. In the bottom of the fourth, Rogers allowed a leadoff home run, and the game-tying single. The Rangers would ultimately lose.
That’s the most recent successful steal by an American League pitcher, but we’re not yet done with Kenny Rogers’ 2002. As a player, in 2002, Kenny Rogers finished with one stolen base. As a pitcher, in 2002, Kenny Rogers finished with zero stolen bases allowed. There was one attempt, and it was unsuccessful, and Rogers threw 210.2 innings. Since 1945, 20 times has a pitcher allowed zero stolen bases while reaching or exceeding 200 innings pitched. Rogers in 2002 is the last guy to do it, and before him you have to go back to Luis Tiant in 1968. Kenny Rogers didn’t allow steals, which is how he finished with more steals than he gave up.
So, all right, Rogers in 2002 was the last AL pitcher to successfully steal a base. He is not, however, the last AL pitcher to attempt to successfully steal a base. In 2003, Jason Standridge gave it a go for the Devil Rays, sort of. In 2012, Chris Archer gave it a go for the regular Rays. Both Standridge and Archer were thrown out. Theirs were the only attempts of the last decade.
On June 21, 2003, the Devil Rays were visiting the Marlins, and in the top of the third, Dontrelle Willis issued to Standridge a leadoff walk. The next batter was Julio Lugo, and:
Double Play: Strikeout Looking, Standridge Caught Stealing 2B (C-SS)
[Willis] walked Standridge to open the third, but then struck out Julio Lugo on a 3-2 pitch — and Standridge was thrown out as he ran slowly toward second on the same play. Tampa Bay didn’t have another baserunner.
“I knew that if I kept on going, I was getting thrown out anyway,” Standridge said. “It’d been so long said I’d been on the … basepaths, since high school, six or seven years ago. I didn’t know what else to do.”
In Jason Standridge’s one career big-league plate appearance, he drew a walk. In Jason Standridge’s one career big-league time on base, he got thrown out jogging to second because he “didn’t know what else to do.”
Now we fast forward to June 24, 2012. This was a game in which Archer didn’t even pitch. Rather:
The day before, in Philadelphia, Archer had pinch-run for Jose Lobaton, and he scored. On this day, Archer pinch-ran for Hideki Matsui. It was 3-1 Rays in the top of the eighth, and there were two outs, and Chad Qualls was pitching to Ben Zobrist. Archer took off for second on the third pitch, and the end result was heartbreaking.
Archer slid, and was safe, and then he over-slid, and was out. At one instant, Archer had the first successful AL pitcher steal since Kenny Rogers in 2002. At the next instant, Archer was recovering his helmet and returning to the dugout, regretful and ashamed. He had it, all the way up until he didn’t have it anymore.
Given the opportunity I will successfully steal a base this year! Ps. Rocking the #USF shirt!!! #slash yfrog.us/0cn6mheqzdyjby…
— Chris Archer (@ChrisArcher42) January 10, 2013
The world is rooting for you, Chris Archer. The world is rooting for you. It has been entirely too much time.