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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The gift of the Rajai

By John McTigue, ESPN Stats & Info

Rickey Henderson was known to say some…interesting…things throughout his career.

"I wish they had told me (about steroids). My God, could you imagine Rickey on 'roids? Oh, baby, look out!"

"Speeches and me don't get along sometimes. It is kind of like putting a tie too tight on my neck. I'm going to do whatever feels right."

And my personal favorite, when Rickey called Padres GM Kevin Towers looking for a job:

"Kevin, this is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball."

But when Rickey Henderson declared that A’s outfielder Rajai Davis could steal 75-80 bases this year, nobody laughed. Instead, many wondered if he could.

Davis’ big hold-up is getting on base and getting playing time and since he’s slated to start this year, the latter might not be an issue. The big question is this:

If given the opportunity, should he even try?

Davis is a career 77.5 percent base stealer (93-120) and in 2009 he was successful 77.4 percent of the time. Of the players with 40+ steals last year, Davis ranked fourth in percentage behind Jacoby Ellsbury (85.4%), Michael Bourn (83.6%) and Carl Crawford (78.9%). However, Davis’ percentage could have been even better if it weren’t for a risky tendency.

Davis’ no-fear attitude on the base paths make a quest for 75 steals more of a likelihood given the opportunity, but the risk is obviously there. So is the risk worth it?

Davis scored 18 times after stealing a base last year and while each steal might not have directly contributed to the run, for our purposes, let’s just assume they did. Davis got caught 12 times in 2009, so right there you can see his successes slightly outweigh his failures.

To get more analytical, Davis ranked 6th in EqSBR (Equivalent Stolen Base Runs) in 2009 at 2.63. According to Baseball Prospectus, EqSBR is defined as the number of theoretical runs contributed by a baserunner above what would be expected given the number and quality of their baserunning opportunities. Ellsbury led EqSBR in 2009 with a 7.06 rating and Figgins, the reigning caught stealing co-champ, had an EqSBR of -3.35.

And while the following might be circumstantial evidence, it is pretty interesting. In 2009, the A’s went 27-12 (.692) when Davis stole a base and 48-75 (.390) when he didn’t.

So should Davis try to live up to Rickey’s expectations? As long as he can keep the positives from outweighing the negatives, then yes. If those caught stealing numbers start to add up though, Davis should probably rethink his tendencies, particularly running against lefties.