When the coaching staff of the Los Angeles Dodgers underwent a makeover for the 2011 season, the most significant addition was that of former Dodger great Davey Lopes. Not only did he bring the reputation of an outstanding first base coach, but he had a close connection with Matt Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, and seemed to take Kemp himself under his wing. The pair developed a rapport with each other early on, one which assisted Kemp on his way to his MVP caliber 2011 season.
Apart from his role in that breakthrough, and getting back to the impact Lopes had on the entire team, his role as a first base coach role was the primary reason why so many Dodgers fans were hyped for his arrival, as he developed a reputation with the Philadelphia Phillies for being the best first base coach/base stealing guru in the majors.
For his part, Lopes practiced what he's preaching, as he amassed 557 stolen bases and 114 caught stealings in his 16-year MLB career for a success rate of 83.0%. We now know that this combination of baserunning aggression and efficiency is the ideal scenario on the basepaths, and just as he helped the Phillies immensely, the Dodgers took off under his tutelage as well.As a team, the Dodgers were 92 out of 142 in 2010 for a success rate of 64.8%, well below the break-even threshold (~75%). In 2011, however, they were 126 out of 166 for a 75.9% success clip. That's not especially valuable in terms of being above break-even, but it's a gigantic step forward from the previous year. Furthermore, he took a team that I felt was already overaggressive in 2010, got far more aggressive in 2011, but managed to dramatically increase their success rate.
Of course, going by the overall team comparison from year-to-year is not especially valuable, particularly because these current Dodgers teams have so much year-to-year turnover.
So what about the individual players that carried over from 2010 into 2011? How did they compare?
The omission was Rafael Furcal, who stole 22 of 26 in 2010, 5 of 8 in 2011 with the Dodgers, and 4 of 6 in 2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals. I removed him because of factors that would confound the data, primarily his injuries and the trade.
Now the problem with sample size is a given, especially since there are so few carryovers, but of what we were able to observe, the improvement was significant (~20%). Additionally, given the past history of base stealing improvement under Lopes with the Phillies, it's not exactly a stretch to say the improvement was more than a coincidence.
Unfortunately, the upcoming season will have a ton of turnover as well, but it should still allow for a solid read on what Lopes can do with the team. Between maintaining Kemp's high level, improving the efficiency of the secondary and tertiary base stealers*, and, most importantly, turning Dee Gordon into an elite level thief, there's a lot to accomplish in 2012, and most of it remains daunting.
*Just out of curiosity, I'd like to see if he can make Jerry Sands into a running threat, as Sands flashed the skill in the minor leagues.
I realize that none of these results or observations are all that surprising or even markedly different from what many of us had already assumed, but seeing it put into numbers is always a plus for me. This is especially true when it involves a coach, as it's extremely rare that an aspect of a coach's value to the team can be quantified by results on the field. Luckily for us, this appears to be one of the clear cases where it applies, and results show that Lopes is well worth whatever the Dodgers are paying him.