Preventing baserunners is the best way for a pitcher to prevent runs, of course, but he can often improve his bottom line by preventing baserunner advances via stolen bases for those batters he fails to retire. After all, each successful stolen base against him carries a penalty in expected runs—and lost double-play opportunities—and the only way to avoid that penalty is to prevent stolen base attempts altogether.
With the understanding that a pitcher’s time to the plate is the most important variable in the stolen-base equation, I examined how each pitching prospect fared in terms of discouraging steal attempts in 2015. Specifically, I examined the rate of steal attempts per baserunner (minus home runs, which yield no steal opportunities) for all full-season pitchers in the 2016 Prospect Handbook.
I then compared their rates with the league average(s). The results are expressed as the Hold rating displayed below, where a positive reading indicates stolen-base attempts prevented above league average. The top 12 prospects by this method appear in this piece.
Other categories that might require explanation: RS stands for runs saved, which estimates the actual impact in terms of runs scored for basestealing events. BR stands for baserunners (minus home runs). ATT% is the steal attempts divided by baserunners, or an estimated “takeoff” rate, in the parlance of the more sophisticated Baseball Prospectus metric.
1. Tyler Danish, rhp, White Sox
Danish worked as the youngest starter in the Southern League last season, and while the then-20-year-old served up a 4.50 ERA and league-high 12 homers, the 2013 second-rounder managed opposing baserunners like a veteran. He allowed just six steal attempts in 26 starts at Double-A Birmingham.
2. Chris Lee, lhp, Orioles
A fourth-round pick in 2011, Lee began to emerge after the Astros traded him to the Orioles for international bonus money last May. He kept the ball on the ground, didn’t allow many home runs and controlled the running game at Double-A Bowie in 2015.
3. David Hess, rhp, Orioles
Hess looks like he will fit right into the Orioles’ command-oriented rotation one day. The 2014 fifth-round pick from Tennessee Tech pitches to his strengths and keeps the opposing running game in check. He allowed just six steal attempts in 27 starts in 2015, mostly at high Class A Frederick.
4. Amir Garrett, lhp, Reds
Given that he is 6-foot-5 and long-levered, Garrett’s presence here is noteworthy, and perhaps a nod to the former college basketball player’s athleticism. He recorded times as quick as 1.1 seconds to the plate at high Class A Daytona last season.
5. Chris Anderson, rhp, Dodgers
While some indicators, such as below-average control (he walked 4.2 per nine innings at Double-A Tulsa last year) and a shaky third pitch, point to a future in the bullpen for the 2013 first-rounder, some other indicators, such as a durable frame, live fastball and ability to hold baserunners, continue to point to a future in the rotation.
6. Elniery Garcia, lhp, Phillies
The Dominican lefthander turned in an encouraging full-season debut at low Class A Lakewood last year, ranking eighth in the South Atlantic League with a 3.23 ERA, showing advanced feel for the strike zone at a young age as well as an ability to hold runners close.
7. Gabriel Ynoa, rhp, Mets
Ynoa may not be a strikeout machine like so many of the Mets’ recent prospect graduates, but like so many pitchers on this ranking, he pounds the strike zone, keeps the ball in the yard and limits stolen-base attempts.
8. Tyrell Jenkins, rhp, Braves
Though six of seven basestealers succeeded against Jenkins in 2015, and though his control appeared rusty after a string of truncated seasons (he walked 4.0 per nine innings), he reached Triple-A Gwinnett, logged a career high innings total and discouraged baserunners from trying to steal.
9. Steven Brault, lhp, Pirates
Brault stands out for his ability to limit stolen-base attempts in a Pirates organization where several prominent pitchers pay little heed to baserunners, e.g. Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole and top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. For a control-oriented pitcher like Brault, though, it pays to be attentive, and he has moved quickly to Triple-A Indianapolis this season.
10. Ariel Jurado, rhp, Rangers
Keeping runners tethered to first base is especially advantageous for a groundball machine like Jurado, who generated three groundouts for every airout last season at low Class A Hickory.
11. Seth Lugo, rhp, Mets
Lugo presents one of the better underdog tales in the minors. A 34th-round pick in 2011 out of Centenary (La.), he missed the entire 2012 season with a serious spinal condition, but he has charged up the ladder since then, landing on the 40-man roster last November and at Triple-A Las Vegas this season. A sharp curveball is his best pitch.
12. Jose Berrios, rhp, Twins
A prospect with no glaring weakness, Berrios nullified the running game in the high minors last season, allowing just eight steal attempts in 27 starts while also leading the minors with 175 strikeouts. He will factor with the Twins this season.
Now, on to the flip side of the coin. The following full-season pitching prospects, who appeared in the 2016 Prospect Handbook, allowed the highest rate of stolen-base attempts above the league average(s). An asterisk (*) denotes a lefthander.
While many pitchers can save themselves a run or two during the course of a season by holding baserunners close, the true negative impact of stolen bases can be illustrated by the poor-hold-rating pitchers above. For example, Marlins righthander Tyler Kolek allowed 41 steals in 47 attempts last season at low Class A Greensboro.
Using a simple weighted scale in which a successful steal costs the pitcher 0.25 runs and a caught stealing credits him with 0.50 runs, Kolek allowed an estimated seven runs on stolen-base attempts alone. Adding seven earned runs to his ledger would push his ERA from 4.56 to 6.38.