Whit Merrifield, King of Stealing Third

Whit Merrifield
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports activities

If I requested you to visualise the prototypical stolen base, you’d in all probability image a runner taking off for second. Conversely, if I requested you to conjure up essentially the most thrilling stolen base you could possibly think about, you’d decide a play on the plate. Stolen bases at third, then, are the uncared for center little one — too rare to warrant a lot dialog or evaluation, however common sufficient to drum up pleasure. However third is extra than simply the bottom between second and residential, and stealing third recurrently and effectively is a definite talent.

For one factor, steals of third base make for a quicker showdown between catcher and runner. The common pop time on a throw to second final season was 1.97 seconds; on a throw to 3rd, it was 1.55 seconds — almost half a second faster. The space between bases, nonetheless, is similar throughout the diamond, which suggests a runner wants a a lot better bounce when he’s going for third. Thus, stealing third is much less of a race and extra of a thoughts sport. Pure pace is much less essential, however the excellent lead and a well-timed bounce are invaluable.

Equally, potential third-base-stealers additionally need to perform a little additional psychological math. The break-even level for stealing bases adjustments relying on the variety of outs, and the quantity it adjustments by is extra excessive when stealing third. For instance, stealing third with one out has a decrease break-even level than stealing second in any scenario. However, stealing third with two outs has a larger break-even level than stealing second in any scenario. In different phrases, what counts as a great alternative to steal second stays comparatively constant, however what counts as a great time to swipe third is very depending on the variety of outs. This provides one other aspect to the thoughts sport of stealing third base.

Should you require additional proof that swiping third is a cool and distinctive talent, look no additional than Whit Merrifield, the king of this explicit artwork:

What you simply watched is the primary end result that popped up after I googled “Whit Merrifield stealing third base,” however it additionally occurs to be a masterclass within the craft. He took a snug lead and timed his bounce completely, taking off the moment Luis Garcia lifted his leg. He’s already midway to the bag earlier than the ball reaches the catcher’s glove, and he will get to the bottom earlier than the throw, giving the third baseman no probability to tag him out.

Right here’s one other instance. You may see Merrifield’s helmet on the backside of the display screen as he darts to 3rd. All Christian Vázquez can do is shrug as he slides in safely with out contest:

Merrifield is completely good at stealing second base, too. He’s a proficient baserunner throughout. The Blue Jays’ utility man has led the AL in steals 3 times, and he has the Thirteenth-most stolen bases amongst lively gamers. He ranks sixth in weighted stolen base runs since his massive league debut. But whereas most of his stolen bases have come at second, his secret weapon is the 90-foot sprint from second to 3rd. He has the third-most SB3 (stolen bases at third) amongst lively gamers, and the 2 names forward of him — Billy Hamilton and Elvis Andrus — have way more complete stolen bases and stolen base makes an attempt. Subsequently, on a price foundation, nobody does it higher than Merrifield. The next desk lists each lively main leaguer (in response to Baseball Reference) with no less than 85 profession stolen bases. Just one runner on the listing has taken third for greater than 30% of his complete steals:

SB3 Success Amongst Lively Gamers

Stolen Bases (SB), Stolen Bases at 3B (SB3), Stolen Base Makes an attempt (SBA), and Stolen Base Makes an attempt at 3B (SB3A) through Baseball Reference

Of Merrifield’s 175 profession steals, 55 have been of third base. Solely 4 different gamers on the listing have stolen third for even 1 / 4 of their complete stolen bases: Mondesi, Inciarte, Pollock, and Hamilton. What’s extra, Merrifield doesn’t simply steal third base regularly; he steals it effectively. His 91.7% success price ranks third on this listing, behind solely Trevor Story (5-for-5) and Trea Turner (40-for-43). Neither of their leads could be very safe, both; if Story and Turner every get caught yet another time, Merrifield will bounce to the highest.

Merrifield is constant, too. From 2017 to ’21, he ranked prime 5 in SB3 annually. A minimum of 19% of his stolen bases have been at third in each season of his profession, and his SB3/SB has been no less than 37% larger than league common yearly. He led the league with 16 SB3 in each 2018 and ’21, making him considered one of solely 9 gamers within the twenty first century to have stolen third no less than 15 occasions in a season. Solely 4 have finished so twice:

Single-Season SB3 Leaders (since 2000)

Participant Yr SB3
Billy Hamilton 2016 20
Willy Tavares 2008 19
Brian Roberts 2007 19
Juan Pierre 2007 18
Rajai Davis 2012 17
Rajai Davis 2011 17
Scott Podsednik 2005 17
Whit Merrifield 2021 16
Whit Merrifield 2018 16
Billy Hamilton 2015 16
Juan Pierre 2010 16
José Reyes 2007 16
Carlos Beltrán 2004 16

SB3 through Baseball Reference

And the way do Merrifield’s profession numbers evaluate to these of prolific base-stealers like Pierre and Beltrán? Because it seems, he stacks up fairly nicely:

Evaluating Merrifield to the Fashionable Greats

Participant SB3 SB3/SB SB3/SB3A SB3A/SBA
Whit Merrifield 55 31.4% 91.7% 27.5%
Brian Roberts 83 29.1% 89.2% 26.0%
Rajai Davis 114 27.5% 89.1% 24.5%
Carlos Beltran 74 23.7% 90.2% 22.7%
Jose Reyes 112 21.7% 84.2% 20.7%
Juan Pierre 133 21.7% 89.9% 18.1%
Scott Podsednik 49 15.9% 81.7% 14.5%
Willy Tavares 24 12.3% 96.0% 10.5%

SB, SBA, SB3, and SB3A through Baseball Reference

As soon as once more, Merrifield is the one one to have racked up greater than 30% of his steals at third. He’s second in SB3 success price, trailing solely Willy Taveras, who was one thing of a one-hit surprise; though he stole third base 19 occasions in 2008, he solely had 24 SB3 in his profession. Merrifield has stolen third greater than twice as typically with a equally spectacular success price.

Merrifield’s accomplishments are all of the extra spectacular given the period he performs in. Till lately, SB3 (as a proportion of complete stolen bases) had been steadily rising, reaching a peak of 15.1% in 2017. Since 2018, nonetheless, SB3/SB has been on the decline:

League SB3 through Baseball Reference

When Merrifield stole third 16 occasions in 2021, it accounted for five.7% of the league’s complete SB3. No participant within the twenty first century has been accountable for a bigger proportion of the league’s SB3 in a single season. Even when Hamilton stole third 20 occasions in 2016, it solely accounted for less than 5.4% of SB3 that yr. Adjusted for the period he performed in, Merrifield’s 2021 season was essentially the most dominant third-base-stealing efficiency in current reminiscence. I instructed you he was the king.

Now right here comes the unhealthy information: Merrifield didn’t steal third almost as typically in 2022. His SB3 price (as a proportion of his complete steals) was the bottom it’s ever been, as was his SB3 success price:

Merrifield’s SB3 Dropped Off

Timeframe SB SB3 CS3 SB3/SB SB3/SB3A SB3A/SBA
2016-2021 159 52 4 33% 93% 28%
2022 16 3 1 19% 75% 19%

SB stats through Baseball Reference

Merrifield’s midseason transfer to the Blue Jays definitely performed a job in all this. He didn’t try to steal third in any respect with Toronto, and it’s not laborious to guess why. The Jays had the perfect offense within the American League within the second half, and stealing third isn’t as significant when you may have a lineup filled with teammates who can drive you residence from second. Toronto was tied for final within the AL with solely 4 SB3 all season; it clearly wasn’t a method the crew was all in favour of pursuing.

But even with the Royals, Merrifield’s SB3 numbers had been uncommon in 2022, and it’s tougher to clarify. His dash pace was within the 84th percentile, and he wasn’t any slower than the yr earlier than. Apart from, stealing third isn’t a talent I’d anticipate to say no so rapidly with age, because it’s extra about talent and timing than pure pace. With that in thoughts, I’m keen to chalk it as much as small pattern dimension. Merrifield solely performed 95 video games for the Royals, and his OBP was the bottom it’s ever been, which means he had fewer probabilities to steal; you must attain base earlier than you possibly can steal one. As well as, the Royals had fewer right-handed hitters in 2022 than they’ve had lately. Righties stand between residence plate and third base, giving the catcher an impediment on stolen base makes an attempt. In 2021, the Royals gave 59.4% of plate appearances to RHH (apart from Merrifield); final yr, that quantity fell to 51.6%.

Thus, Merrifield stays the king till somebody steals his crown. Right here’s hoping the Blue Jays give him the inexperienced mild just a little extra typically this season. Contemplating his elite 91.7% success price, he deserves the prospect to maintain operating for third.