The Bizarro Season to Rickey Henderson in 1982

A few weeks ago, I came across an article for Friday Flashbacks about Rickey Henderson stealing his 100th base in 1982, in only the 105th team game. He would go on to steal 130 bases that season, breaking Lou Brock’s modern day record for stolen bases in a single season. Quite an amazing accomplishment, and something unfathomable today, when players steal far less frequently and this year’s leader (currently Michael Bourn) will likely end up with less than half that total.

I thought it might be a fun exercise to go back through Rickey Henderson’s 1982 season to see what the bizarro version might be. In many ways, it wasn’t Rickey’s best season. Don’t get me wrong, for a mere mortal baseball player it would have been a career year, but his slugging percentage was lower than it would be every year until he was 35, and his batting average was down, and he was thrown out stealing 42 times to go with those 130 steals, so his success rate on stolen bases that year was below his career average. So, I wanted to look at what hitters matched the bizarro Rickey, where the caught stealings are converted to outs at the plate, and stolen bases converted to total bases for a batter. Obviously, it’s not a true conversion, as getting on base has more value (and I think we’ll see that).

So, what I did was look at Rickey’s caught stealings, and divided them between his ratio of hits to walks (he may have had some caught stealings after reaching on fielder’s choice, errors, hit by pitch, etc., but we’ll ignore those for this purpose). I then subtracted off the hits, and converted those “caught stealing” walks to official at bat outs. On the other hand, I added the total stolen bases to his total bases batting.

In 1982, Rickey’s official line was .268/.398/.382. Making our imaginary conversion of those stolen bases and caught stealings to hitting numbers, bizarro 1982 Rickey (with no stolen bases) has a hitting line of .216/.331/.476 as the average and on base percentage drop, and the slugging percentage rises. What real life batters most resemble our imaginary Rickey Henderson 1982 when we convert him from speed to power? Here are the 10 most similar seasons (min. 250 plate appearances) in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage to our Slow, non-basestealing, Bizarro Rickey Henderson.

1. ???????????, ????? (.218, .329, .469)
2. David Ortiz, 2001 (.234, .324, .475)
3. Carlos Pena, 2005 (.235, .325, .477)
4. Bob Robertson, 1974 (.229, .320, .479)
5. Mike Cameron, 2008 (.243, .331, .477)
6. Mike Cameron, 2004 (.231, .319, .479)
7. Mark McGwire, 1989 (.231, .339, .467)
8. Ian Stewart, 2009 (.228, .322, .464)
9. Andruw Jones, 2010 (.230, .341, .486)
10. Jim Edmonds, 2008 (.229, .320, .479)

Eight of the ten seasons on here show up in the last decade, and half in the last 4 seasons. This isn’t to suggest these seasons are anywhere close to Rickey Henderson’s value in 1982–different, better run environments for most; fewer at bats; worse defenders and runners (which matter for more than stolen bases; and a much lower on base percentage. They also weren’t horrible or lacking value, so there not the opposite of Rickey as a player–a role player who is below replacement value.

The top of the list? It’s occurring this year, and it is the three true outcomes guy, Mark Reynolds of the Baltimore Orioles who is putting up that Bizarro Rickey line. I think that fits perfectly–Mark Reynolds with his swinging strikes and extra base hits and bad defense, trading outs and bases at the plate for extra bases and outs on the base paths, really is the Bizarro Rickey.

[photo via Getty]

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