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Jerad Eickhoff might have a stolen base problem

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Do opposing runners know of a pattern against the right hander?

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The other night against the Los Angeles Angels, Jerad Eickhoff faced Mike Trout with a runner on first. That runner on first was our old friend Ben Revere. Revere has been known throughout his career as a player with speed and a desire to run, as his 205 stolen bases (257 attempts) in 821 games can attest to. So, with a player on first with an itchy trigger finger, Eickhoff was probably aware of what was going through the left fielder’s mind.

Now, anyone who has ever played the game and pitched knows, in order to control the running game, a pitcher needs to throw over to first to keep the runner honest. This serves a few purposes. One, a good move to first can get a quick out if the pitcher catches the runner leaning. Second, it can upset both the runner’s and the hitter’s timing, as both players might distracted by repeated throws over. Finally, if throwing over causes the runner to move back closer to the bag even a foot or two, it could mean the difference between a double play and a simple force out at second base.

So, Eickhoff followed protocol and proceeded to toss two pickoff throws to Tommy Joseph, sending Revere scampering back safely. Then, on the next pitch, before Eickhoff had even started a move toward home, Revere was off and running, stealing second with relative ease.

Even for a runner with Revere’s speed, it was startling to see how Revere seemed to know that Eickhoff would be going home with the pitch, therefore was afforded an extra step that erased any shot of catcher Andrew Knapp throwing him out. Thanks to MLB’s draconian rules on embedding gifs or other videos (there’s no official MLB video of the steal), I can’t show you, but you get the picture. It got me to thinking: did Revere know that Eickhoff was going to throw home?

Baserunners spend a lot of time studying various pickoff moves of opposing pitchers. They do so in order to become better at their craft and allow them to steal bases at a more efficient pace. They also study tendencies of pitchers to even attempt pickoffs, hoping to find some kind of pattern that would allow them to take advantage of these patterns and again, steal bases more efficiently.

It seems possible that this kind of studying has caught up to Eickhoff. Based on looking at his starts this year, base runners know that they stand a pretty good chance of stealing on him when he throws over. More specifically, when Eickhoff throws over on a runner who has a tendency to steal, if they (the runners) goes on the next move, they stands a pretty good shot at being safe.

Here’s what I did. I looked at each successful steal attempt this year against Eickhoff and looked for two things:

  1. Did he throw to first?
  2. Did the runner go on the next pitch?

Here’s what I found, in table form:

SB against Eickhoff in 2017

Date Runner Catcher Did Eickhoff throw over? Did runner go on next pitch?
Date Runner Catcher Did Eickhoff throw over? Did runner go on next pitch?
4/5 Billy Hamilton Cameron Rupp once yes
4/22 Freddie Freeman Cameron Rupp no XXXX
5/22 Charlie Blackmon Cameron Rupp no XXXX
5/27 Billy Hamilton Cameron Rupp once yes
Eugenio Suarez Cameron Rupp twice yes
6/12 Mookie Betts Andrew Knapp no XXXX
7/23 Brett Phillips Andrew Knapp once no
Jonathan Villar Andrew Knapp twice yes (both times)
7/29 Brandon Phillips Cameron Rupp no XXXX (double steal)
Freddie Freeman Cameron Rupp no XXXX (double steal)
8/3 Ben Revere Andrew Knapp twice yes
Andrelton Simmons Andrew Knapp once no

*With Villar, a pickoff attempt was made once, then on the next pitch he ran on what turned into a foul ball. The same thing happened again: Eickhoff threw over, then a foul ball. On the third pitch, Suarez went again.

Seems that perhaps my hypothesis was correct. Only twice did the runner not go after Eickhoff had thrown over to first. One of those attempts was a rookie, Brett Phillips, who probably was not as familiar with Eickhoff as these other runners were. It is a small sample size, I’ll admit, but I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging with stolen base attempts against Eickhoff in that when he throws over, if the runner goes on the next movement, he’ll probably be safe.

Now, there are several issues here. This table only accounts for successful stolen bases against Eickhoff, therefore does not take into account runners who were caught stealing. So, to solve that problem, I can report to you that there have been only two caught stealings against him: both were pickoffs. One, on June 7th against the Braves, involved Eickhoff picking off Ender Inciarte at first, for which there is video! I’ll set it up by telling you that before this pickoff, Eickhoff had thrown over twice. Listen carefully to what Tom McCarthy says at the beginning.

Done?

Yeah, he said that Inciarte was leaning, which tells me that Inciarte was probably going because of a pattern he had discovered from film study.

Another issue with this table is that it doesn’t show every single pickoff Eickhoff has attempted. Now, that is something that I will not show in table form, since it would stretch this table down towards infinity and who wants to look at that? I can tell you, though, that just from looking at each at bat Eickhoff has had with a runner on base, many are at bats against non-runners, such as Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp and the like. The players you do see in this table are those with a history of attempting some steals throughout their career. Freddie Freeman stands out because he must have some kind of hex on Eickhoff. In that April 22 game, Freeman reached base twice against him. Eickhoff threw over 5 times total. Weird.

Is there a way that Eickhoff can fix this so that baserunners with the ability to steal don’t get better jumps, and so that perhaps non-basestealers aren’t able to suddenly discover a newfound ability to swipe bags? Not sure. That’s something for the coaching staff to address. It’s definitely something they’ll want to look into soon. Eickhoff currently ranks 14th in baseball with those 12 stolen bases against after allowing only 9 all of last year.

You might want to blame this on the catching and that is fair. Catchers only have two caught stealings with Eickhoff on the mound this year as opposed to five last year, and as we’ve seen, you can’t really credit the catchers with them as they were pickoffs by Eickhoff. Cameron Rupp, who received a lot of scorn for his catching ability, has actually thrown out 32% of would be base stealers, above the league average. Andrew Knapp (22%) hasn’t been as good. Referring back to the table, it’s almost 50-50 for those steals against the catchers, so this argument isn’t really all that valid. This is something that Eickhoff has to fix.

Whatever the reason is, it something worth investigating for the coaching staff for the rest of the season. Eickhoff does not want this to become even more of a problem as he continues his development as a pitcher.