It's hard to adequately take notice of all the ways that the Nationals were awful last season. One overlooked deficiency is that the Nationals were exactly the 29th best team in baseball in stolen base percentage, trailed by just Dusty Baker's Cincinnati Reds (why in that park they're running at all I can't say, but I digress). The Nationals attempted 124 stolen bases and were successful just 65.3% of the time (81 SB, 43 CS).
To be helping the team, the stolen base success rate needs to be around at least 73%. That's because the run value (the average runs added as a result of a particular event) of a stolen base is 0.175, while the run value of a caught stealing in -0.467. (These run value rates come from The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin and calculated by tallying up the results of a massive amount of play-by-play data from the history of MLB.)
One caveat here is that like sac bunts, the value of a stolen base is highly context dependent, so you can't just assume that you're hurting the team if your cumulative run value is below zero. For instance, if you have 3 SB and 2 CS, you'll be in the negative, but if those stolen bases were all in tie games in the ninth inning and the caught stealings were in blowout losses, then you're ahead in terms of win value. But setting that aside, if you're anywhere below 70% you're clearly taking runs off the board.
In the Nationals' case, they took a net 5.9 runs off the board, almost enough to cost them a full additional loss.
Who were the biggest culprits? Cristian Guzman, with 6 SB and 5 CS, cost the team 1.29 runs. Roger Bernadina's 4 SB and 3 CS cost us 0.70. Emilio Bonifacio was 7 and 4 for a net loss of .64. Austin Kearns was 2 and 2, for a net loss of 0.58. Jesus Flores, Aaron Boone, Alberto Gonzalez, Wily Mo Pena, and Wil Nieves all had one CS and no SB.
Who was the best? Our new favorite National Willie Harris snagged 13 in 16 attempts for a net gain of .87 runs. Elijah Dukes stole 13 in 17 attempts. Lastings Milledge ran the most and basically broke even in terms of run value with 24 SB and 9 CS. Ryan Langerhas was successful in two attempts. Basically no one else was any good.
Make no mistake, however--the primary blame here should fall on Manny. He's the guy who gives red lights and green lights, and if the team as a whole is below par, you have to hang that on the manager.
It's too bad, because Manny talks a really good game about the running game and the need to be successful three-quarters of the time or more. Last year we were right in the middle of the pack with a success rate of exactly 75% for a net gain of 1.34 runs (if that doesn't sound like much gain for all that work, you're right it's not, and you should change your 5x5 roto league to a points league next year). And this year we not only ran less effectively, we ran more. Last year we attempted just 92 stolen bases, and this year that number jumped to 124.
Of course, things could always be worse. Under Frank Robinson (aka the worst manager in baseball... too bad for Jim I didn't blog in those days or this site could have a different favorite target), the Nationals were dead last in baseball in 2005 with a putrid 50% success rate in 90 attempts, costing us a whopping 13.14 runs (about one and a half losses), while in 2006 we stole 123 bases with 62 CS, costing us 7.2 runs and just a bit less than one win.