In my extended research on batter trends I've worked on trying to project stolen bases, which is a function of how many times you get on base as well as the frequency of your stolen bag attempts. A simple metric I developed for this purpose is steal rate, where you divide the total number of attempts (SB + CS) by the number of times a hitter gets on base ((PA x OBP)-HR). The 2009 AL average was .078.
Chone Figgins last year had a .205 steal rate. Good, right? However, I looked at past years and discovered a discouraging trend:
Steal rates by year:
The first thing that comes to mind is that, at age 31, Chone may be slowing down. However, last year with the Angels he also logged the most PA's he's ever had in a season, as he slid into a full time role at 3B. Could fatigue have also been a factor?
Steal rate by month for Chone Figgins in 2009:
Uh, yikes. Research turns up no data on anything in June 2009 that might have slowed him down. He didn't miss any significant time with injuries, and like all other 2009 starts he batted leadoff. And his career rates indicate that this isn't a typical pattern.
Career steal rates by month:
However, his career accuracy rates do tell:
Notice the sharp drop after a couple months, right down around and below the baseline success rate you need to make stealing worthwhile.
Whether it was a decision by Chone himself or the Angels management and coaches, could there have been an active awareness of Chone's declining success rate as the season progressed, and an according ease of steal attempts as the season wore on, especially considering that Chone is getting older and could lose a little bit of speed?
I can't confirm that. But if that was the case, it may not have worked: Chone only nailed about 71% of his steal attempts in 2009, so even as he dialed down those attempts, he was getting caught enough that the overall value of his base stealing was close to zero runs, possibly even below water. If we use Tom Tango's Markov derived run values (which TBH are a bit outdated), Chone roughly cost the Angels about half a run overall with his base stealing. That ignores the run expectancy context of his attempts, granted, but even adjusting for current data, it's likely Chone Figgins' baserunning is not at the level where he can make 60 stolen base attempts and help his team by doing so.
In a sense, batting Chone behind Ichiro may make sense as having Ichiro in front of him will a) block him from a few opportunities to steal and perhaps naturally reduce the number of times he attempts to steal and b) help provide a double distraction as a baserunner, create more pressure situations and perhaps improve the chances of some of his steal opportunities.
I don't expect Chone to steal 40 bases in Seattle. If nothing else, the average #2 AL hitter attempts 58% of the steals that the leadoff hitter attempts, and even given that the average 2-hitter isn't a base stealer, the fact that Chone will have someone in front of him roughly 35% of the time and will be on base with the Mariners' best hitters at bat far more often (which will dissuade steal attempts) will stunt Chone's opportunities to steal accordingly. So batting 2nd will take away some of the opportunities Chone would have had. In fact, it's likely he won't make more that 30-35 attempts this season. But the combination of circumstances along with a more selective approach should help improve his success rate, and 23-25 stolen bags certainly isn't out of the question.