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?


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.