The steal is gone. 16 comments


Delino DeShields led the Rangers in stolen bases in 2018. He had twenty. Next highest was Rougned Odor, with twelve.

You look at those numbers and it hardly seems possible. Just twenty stolen bases?

The Rangers played 162 games. That means DeShields, the speedster, the Rangers’ best threat on the bases, swiped a bag every 8.1 games. That’s not even once a week. Odor, every 13.5. The Rangers as a team stole just 74 bases. Not even one every other game.

It’s not just the Rangers who have cement shoes. It’s the trend in baseball.

As Jason Stark pointed out in The Athletic (I am not trying to be a sales rep for this on-line sports magazine, it’s just that I found his article fascinating and chock full of insights which I am parsing out over a few days), Rickey Henderson once stole 130 bases in one season. In 2018, only one total team stole that many bases, the Cleveland Indians.

What’s happened?

Analytics.

The number crunchers have ruined yet another aspect of the game with stats like lead lengths, jumps, and pop time. It used to be, if you saw an opportunity, you went for it. Now it has to be approved by the scientists at NASA. Analytics have all but killed the steal because it’s too risky.

It might be because getting on base is a lot harder than it used to be. Nobody is getting on base, so it’s hard to steal a base when you’re not on a base. And, since pretty much all we see are strikeouts, the old adage “you can’t steal first” is more relevant than ever. So in the rare event a batter does get to first, you don’t want to risk him getting thrown out stealing.

But the stolen base is a lost art.

The stolen base champion in baseball in 2018 was Whit Merrifield. Without looking it up, or looking below, how many bases do you think the best base stealer in baseball stole in 2018?

Eighty? No.

Seventy? No.

Sixty? Fifty? No and no.

Forty-five. Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield stole forty-five bases. Only three players, in fact, stole as many as forty bases. The aforementioned Merrifeld, Washington’s Tre Turner (forty-three), and Tampa Bay’s Mallex Smith (forty).

Ten seasons ago, forty-five steals was good for fifth best. Seventh best twenty years ago. Thirty years ago as well, when Vince Coleman stole eighty-one bases, which was good for only second place, to Rickey Henderson’s ninety-three.

Someone has stolen the steals. In a game that has devolved into home runs or bust, one of the more thrilling plays in the game is lost. The mad dash to second, filled with daring and bravado, facing down the cannon arm of the catcher, raw speed and guile versus sheer power and precision, has disappeared.

Now the most movement you will get is the batter casually carrying his bat back to the dugout after another strikeout.

Joy.

 

 

  • calntom

    Clever as usual Midol, enjoyed the read.

    • dearmidol

      Thanks.

  • Rowdy Yates

    Some excellent discussions yesterday. Enjoyed reading the different points of view.

  • JacobMcCandles

    Ricky had a green light…that year he also got thrown out a ton…one year Tim Raines stole like 72 out of 76. For me its about the propensity of success. A good portion of stolen bases is due to who is on the mound.

  • Gregor_S

    Analytics has reached the point where baseball has become a different sport, and they should call it that. Just as baseball is different from cricket we could have a new sport called analball that could be played in a different league. People who’d prefer to see analball could attend those games while those of us who like baseball could watch games where there are stolen bases, hitters making contact, bunts, lots of baserunners, and pitchers throwing more than 100 pitches and even (gasp!) complete games. Somehow I suspect the attendance figures will favor baseball and the analball leagues will go the way of the Federal League.

    As the last DD fan on this board I have to point out that due to his two hand surgeries and (probably not unrelated) poor hitting he played in only 106 games last year, so his 20 SB worked out to one in every 5.3 games. I haven’t completely lost hope that he can return to his form of 2017 when he had an OBP of .347 and stole 29 bases in 120 games. I know everyone else here wants to move on from him but I still love watching him not only steal bases but run the bases and cover ground in the OF, so I hope he can return to form. If he can’t, I won’t argue in his behalf, but we should realize he is the only genuine base-stealer on the team. Carlos Tocci, who some here think is fast, has never been a base-stealer. As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.

    • dearmidol

      Gregor, my intent was not to disparage DeShields and, yes, you’re right, he didn’t play all 162 games so the number of steals per game is different. What I was trying, and maybe not successfully, to communicate was that you rarely see steals anymore. A stolen base is an oddity.

      And I agree with your assessment that this game has changed so much. It’s a shame in so many ways.

      • Gregor_S

        Oh I got and totally agree with your point that the stolen base is disappearing, and loved your lines about how SBs have to be approved by the scientists at NASA and how someone has stolen the steals and your whole article. If it weren’t for the fear of being too repetitious I’d express my appreciation for your articles every day.

        And I realized you weren’t disparaging DD. I’m not sure why but I seem to have made it my mission in life to defend him at every opportunity.

        • elkaba

          The way I look at it is why wouldn’t we give DD (and Profar, for that matter) their shot at improving this season. It’s not like we’re going anywhere this season and not like these newest prospects are going to show up and be all Mike Trout-like all of a sudden. I guess it’s more a dance with the one that brung you kind of thing. Maybe?

          • Gregor_S

            I’ve gone back and forth on the Profar trade and am now back to my original reaction that it was a mistake. While we don’t know if he’ll improve upon last year, stay about the same, or regress, the fact is he had the kind of year offensively that the Rangers lineup desperately needs. Lots of doubles and triples to go with his 20 HRs, and only 88 strikeouts in 524 ABs. We don’t know if his throwing will get better but even if it doesn’t his offense and pretty good range make up for it. He has at least the potential to be a star, whereas whoever replaces him at 3B almost surely won’t. Patrick Wisdom, the guy they got for Drew Robinson who seems to be the frontrunner, appears to be very strikeout prone.

            So I agree it would have been fun to watch Profar develop. If the Rangers aren’t going to contend, there would at least be some pleasure in seeing a young team come together.

          • JacobMcCandles

            Truth be told, you can’t know whether it will be a good move or not…..but it was the right one.

          • JacobMcCandles

            I think they both have had ample time to show their abilities…..and the weak argument that Profar playing multiple positions has hampered him…meh Was it ideal, no! But it certainly was not a major hurdle.

          • calntom

            So far it looks like DD gets another shot this year. Heineman would have to beat DD out for the job. Tocci will be in ST as well but might need full season at AAA.

    • Rowdy Yates

      ‘Analball”, I like it. Could also be called banalball. Similar, but not quite the same.

    • elkaba

      Sounds like a plan to me. 🙂

  • JacobMcCandles

    Cowpokes in the playoffs!!

  • WhoKnowscs

    Replay could be a factor With replay all those steals from 4-5 years ago.are proving to be cases where they didn’t actually beat them. Granted it’s also because we don’t have the speedy players anymore.