Shutting Down the Run Game: Hundley, Grandal, Rivera and Hedges

Base stealing is an art. The greats like Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman created beauty when they ran the bases and caused havoc on opposing pitchers, catchers and managers.

A successful stolen base requires three things: a good jump, all-out commitment to the steal and a crafty slide. On the other end of things, catching a runner on the base paths requires constant focus from the pitcher and a catcher armed with the physical gifts to erase the base runner seeking a competitive advantage.

The 2013 Padres finished 14th in Major League Baseball in caught stealing percentage at 29%, but their 25th place finish in total stolen bases allowed (107) shows opponents ran without much concern. The 2012 Padres finished 21st in the league in CS% (24%) and ranked 29th in baseball with 152 steals allowed.

Luckily, the road to improvement seems pretty simple. When you start to look into base stealing what you quickly realize is that you’ve got a math problem on your hands. It takes an “average” base stealer between 3.3 and 3.4 seconds to get from first to second base*. What that means is that we’ve got to figure out a way for the Padres to get the ball from the pitcher to the catcher to the second-base bag in somewhere between 3.25-3.3 seconds just to be on the safe side. We’ve got work to do…

*going from second to third is an entirely different animal, so we’re just going to focus on the play that happens much more frequently

Here’s a quick reference chart showing stolen base success rate by time. As you can see, there’s a direct correlation between the variables:

Combined Time

SB Attempts

SB Rate

< 3.25 seconds



3.25-3.40 seconds



3.40-3.55 seconds



> 3.55 seconds



*Via BIS

Here’s a cheat sheet to get a better idea of what those times mean:

  • Slow Runner – 3.5+ (think bad jumps and guys who would be on the backend of a double steal)
  • Base Stealers – 3.3-3.49 (most guys fit here that actively steal – think Jason Kipnis or Hunter Pence)
  • Elite Speed 3.0-3.29 (super elite speedsters – think Billy Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury or Mike Trout)

Let’s start with the pitcher.

The pitcher on the mound is the first line of defense when stopping the run even though he is far from directly involved in the throw from home to second base. MLB pitchers are expected to have a diversified arsenal of tricks they can use to keep a runner’s lead short, including: pickoff moves, varied times of holding the ball before starting their windup and a slide step – or similar mechanism to quicken their delivery.

Elite pickoff moves are often possessed by quick-footed pitchers and deployed as a tool to both tire runners and shorten their lead due to the constant attention being paid. Varying times between receiving the pitch call from the catcher and beginning the windup mostly comes with experience and requires only minimal focus for even the most novice pitchers to execute. Slide steps and other quickening mechanisms are extremely efficient in shaving precious tenths of a second off delivery times, but this often comes at the expense of a deterioration in movement, velocity and location.

So after deciding that the pitcher is the starting cog in this entire process, what we’re left with is the realization that we (meaning humans analyzing the situation, not the Padres “we”) can’t ask pitchers to do much more than they’re currently doing.

On to the catchers…but first a video of puppies vs. stairs so not everyone’s bummed out…ok, we good? Don’t worry, we’ll pick up the stragglers later that fell down the puppy video black hole.

Let’s look at the Padres catching crop one at a time.

Nick Hundley – while respected as a serviceable defensive backstop – has never possessed great catch-and throw skills. For his career, Hundley has caught just 28% of runners. His total of 331 steals allowed ranks 8th among catchers since Hundley made his debut in 2008. Moving in to the scouting end of things we see that Hundley routinely posts pop times* between 2.1-2.3 seconds. Going back to our math problem from before we can now see that when Hundley is behind the plate Padres pitchers have between 1.2-1.3 seconds** to deliver a pitch in order to nail average runners at second base.

*”pop time” simply refers to the time it takes for the ball to travel from the catcher’s glove to the second baseman’s glove

**most MLB-level pitchers will get the ball to the plate under 1.5 seconds. 1.3 or lower are the elite guys.

Yasmani Grandal has undergone an interesting shift in his defensive skills since entering professional baseball. As a collegiate catcher Grandal’s superb athleticism allowed him to consistently post better-than-average pop times in the 1.9-1.95 range. As Grandal added muscle and focused on other aspects of his defensive game – to great success – his pop times began to worsen, settling in to the 2.1-2.2 range in the last few years which has led to a 20% caught-stealing rate with the Padres.

Rene Rivera perfectly fits the mold of a backup catcher. Not only are his game-calling and framing skills above average, but Rivera is consistently able to post sub-1.9 pop times. This led to an eye-popping 56% caught-stealing rate in a 21-game cameo in 2013 and a 42% rate for his career.

Looking towards the future a bit, Austin Hedges may well be the best of the bunch. He consistently posts sub 1.85-second pop times through elite mechanics and a lightning quick release.

Once again going back to the math discussed earlier, you can begin to see why so many are excited about Hedges’ potential on defense and why it may singlehandedly turn around the Padres’ run defense. Assuming Hedges is able to maintain at worst 1.9-second pop times on average means Padres pitchers will have between 1.4-1.5 seconds to deliver the ball to the plate to catch a 3.3 second runner at second base. This would allow Padres pitchers to keep their desired delivery pace, which would better maintain their effectiveness with runners on base.*

*With runners on base in 2013 Padres pitchers ranked 21st in both strikeout rate and xFIP while tying for the 12th highest walk rate

Let’s take a look at a few examples in practice:

Tyson Ross to home: 1.51 seconds
Rivera to second: 1.79 seconds
Andrew McCutchen from first to second: 3.32 seconds

Of course the absurd accuracy of Rivera’s throw helps:

Rene Rivera Throw

0:27 second mark:

Pitcher to home: 1.61 seconds
Hedges to second: 1.75 seconds
Runner from first to second: 3.4 seconds (as best we can tell)

Jason Marquis to home: 1.3 seconds
Grandal to second: 2.11 seconds
Ben Revere from first to second: 3.3 seconds

Video here (sorry)

Brad Boxberger to home: 1.55 seconds
Hundley to second: 2.1 seconds
AJ Ellis from first to second: 3.8 seconds

As you can see, having catchers like Rivera and Hedges in the fold bodes extremely well for the future of San Diego’s run defense. While it’s not as large of a part of today’s game as in year’s past, it’s easy to see why prospect evaluators value a guy like Hedges so highly before he’s even shown a consistent offensive game.

Defense will always be a huge factor in the Padres’ success due to their home ballpark and division. Controlling the run game is a small but crucial aspect that the organization needs to improve if they’re going to capitalize on every possible advantage.


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  • Drew Tweedie

    Great analysis, and the Hedges video is insane.

  • USMC53

    Thanks for this post. First rate analysis and a lot of fun to read and watch. Reading stuff like this will make the long winter much more bearable.

  • shaynes41

    Any analysis on how much SBs actually hurt? How much does a SB actually affect the final score? Might make for some interesting choices between defensive vs. offensive minded catchers.

    • Drew Tweedie

      The run value per SB is +.16 in 2006 per Appelman (

      I’m not sure if run value changes significantly season-to-season, but if so, the run value of a stolen base has likely increased due to the league-wide drop in offense (.314 wOBA in 2013 compared to .331 in 2006).

      • Padres Prospects

        Great point!

        Also, worth noting that across the league steal attempts have gone down while efficiency has improved. So if the Padres are seeing one of the largest stolen base volumes against, it leads me to believe the run value for the Padres may be pretty high.

    • As much as AH is lauded for his ability to control the running game he gets even higher marks for his ability to handle a pitching staff and call a game. It’s the total package on defense that will allow him to make it with holes in his offensive game.

      • Lonnie Brownell

        Speaking of the total package, it’s kind of amazing that Hundley ranks sixth among all MLB catchers in Fangraphs “defense” stat for 2013 (for however much weight you can put into that particular stat). His 1.9 fWAR this year is that high because of defense, it appears. His bWAR, however, is only 1.0, mostly due to offense. Go figure.

        Also, Hundley was third in stolen bases allowed (81), but also in a three-way tie for second for stealing put-outs (28). I guess guys try to run enough on you, you’re going to score high in both categories. That’s our Nick!

      • Important to note that FanGraphs’ catcher defense not only looks at a player’s ability to cut down the opponent’s running game, but also their ability to block pitches. Hundley has been average at the former, but outstanding in the latter. His Passed Pitch Runs (RPP) and Calculated Passed Pitches (CPP) figures were Top 5 in the league this season.

        Also, keep in mind that FanGraphs doesn’t incorporate pitch framing into their calculations. That would hurt Hundley greatly. Seems he benefited greatly from a career-year behind the plate, at least when it comes to FanGraphs defensive value calculations.

      • Lonnie Brownell

        Right, which is why I don’t put too much value into defensive or pitching value stats overall, other than to see how, within any system (e.g., FanGraphs or B-R), players rank amongst their peers.

      • Agreed. I’m more interested in how Hundley’s strength in blocking pitches might have influenced his pitch calling throughout the course of a season. Might feel more comfortable than others calling for an off-speed pitch or something in the dirt.

        Haven’t had a chance to test this theory yet, though.

      • Padres Prospects

        Also, does his propensity and confidence in blocking pitches hurt his framing? Is he naturally adept at blocking pitches or has he been told to never let a pitch passed him? If the latter it’s easy to conceive how other parts of his defensive game would suffer.

        Tons of assumptions in my statement (mostly baseless) but this is a really interesting topic.

      • Lonnie Brownell

        Both interesting points you and Bryant bring up re: playing to a given catcher’s strengths/proclivities…and why you might want Nick back there for Volquez (forget framing, just keep it in front of you) and Rivera for Cashner (get those borderline calls).

  • Grandal looks like he loses all of his time between pop and release – very slow foot work relative to Rivera and Hedges.

  • Glenn

    Hard to take this article seriously when a Hall of Famer like Rickey Henderson’s name is misspelled in the second sentence.

    • Fixed.

      Forgive Padres Prospects. He doesn’t pay that much attention to the big leagues.

      • Glenn

        Would be easier to forgive if Henderson didn’t play the bulk of three seasons with the Padres.

    • Padres Prospects

      Shoot, my bad. Good catch Glen.

      (see what I did there)

      • Glenn

        Ha! Love it! Good stuff.