There were a number of great comments on my Kendall post from Friday.  One that caught my eye was from TJ:

“I would love to see a column on pitchers and stolen bases.  I think most people understand and can easily look up stats to see how a catcher impacts the running game.  But what about the pitchers?”

I thought that was a great (and valid) question.  I made an assumption that runners were attempting to steal against Kendall because they perceived they could be successful.  His attempted steals per nine (which is the highest rate in baseball at 1.6) struck me as the result of an aging catcher behind the plate who the opposition knew couldn’t cut down enough runners to make a difference.  Anyway, the comment prompted me to look at the Royals pitchers and the stolen base attempts when they are on the mound.

I found something extremely interesting.

Through games of the weekend, here’s where we stand, ranked by stolen base opportunities.

(SB Opp is the number of times a runner is on first or second with the next base open.  SB and CS are self-explanatory.  SB Att% is the percentage of stolen base attempts.)

What can we glean from this?

— We can add holding runners to things that Greinke is awesome at doing.  He’s always been good at it.  Last year, runners attempted a steal in just 4.4% of all opportunities.  That was actually kind of high for him.  For his career, runners are going on Greinke just 3.4% of the time.  Like I said, he’s kind of great.

(By the way, Greinke has more stolen base opportunities because he’s thrown 10 more innings than any other starter.  Aside from pushing Meche to the first Sunday of the season, the Royals have yet to skip – or substitute – a starter.  Greinke has now made 10 starts.)

— Meche is a problem.  He has really slowed his delivery with runners on base.  Last year, he was at 7.6% for his SB Att% and in 2008 he was at 4.3%.  I figured since runners were going crazy on the bases against Meche, it would mean he’s struggling from the stretch and hitters would be having a field day when they came to bat with runners on.  After all, the guy has a 6.75 ERA.  However, that’s not really the case.  The opposition is hitting .263/.377/.379 with men on base.  It’s the walks that prolong the inning.  Meche has walked 17 batters with a runner on base, but 12 of those have come with first base open.

Makes sense, I suppose.  He’s struggled with his command all year and has always featured a high leg kick from the stretch.  I went back and looked at some of his starts from this year.  Earlier in the season, his leg kick was about half of what it’s been lately.  Lately he’s been bringing his front leg all the way to his waist and hiding the ball behind his front knee.  This isn’t always the case… He will still take a lower kick and shorter stride.  For fun, I grabbed a couple of shots.  The one on the left is Meche’s first start of the season with the knee just below the waist.  The one on the right is Meche’s start against Texas earlier this month.  Note the knee above the waist.

I looked for a pattern… game situation, type of runner on base, etc and came up with nothing.  It seems pretty random when he uses his high kick compared to a lower one.  Either way, it’s not working.  He can take forever to deliver his pitch.

Nobody has been run on more than Gil Meche.  Nobody.

— Runners have always stolen against Hochevar.  His stolen base attempt percentage has gone up each year he’s started in the majors.  From 8.3% in ’08 to 10.6% in ’09 to this year’s 13.1%.  Runners have attempted to steal third base four times with Hochevar on the mound – that number leads the league.  Three of the four have been successful.

We’ve known almost since he was drafted that Hochevar had difficulty keeping the running game in check.  Statistically, it looks like he’s getting worse.

— Bannister and Davies are run on more than the average pitcher (ML average is a SBAtt% of around 6.5%), but compared to Hochevar and Meche, it seems like they know what they’re doing in controlling the running game.

— Finally, I lumped the relievers into a group for simplicity.  No reliever stands out as being easy to steal on and the game is different in the later innings – managers take fewer risks on the bases.  Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Farnsworth have both had two successful steals against them in three attempts.  Both steals and attempts are tops in the relief corps.  No one has attempted a steal in 25 opportunities against Joakim Soria.

So to revisit my Kendall post from Friday, it now seems to me that runners are going more on Hochevar and Meche.  Over 46% of all stolen base attempts against the Royals have come with those two on the hill.  They’ve only thrown 24% of the Royals innings this year. In other words, it’s a highly disproportionate number of stolen base attempts.  I can’t blame the catcher for the fact that Royals games have turned into one way track meets.  This rests on the starting pitchers (Greinke excluded, naturally).  Especially Meche and Hochevar.

I still think Kendall is pretty average defensively (although he’s definitely an improvement over the previous catching duo), and Matt Klaassen has the numbers that back up my assumptions. But he took too much heat for what ultimately was the failings of his pitching staff.

Sorry, Kendall.