Gone are the days of Rickey Henderson annually racking up over 100 stolen bases. As baseball transitioned from the pitcher friendly 1980’s, through the steroid era of the late ’90’s and early 2000’s, the art of the stolen base fell off precipitously. Teams were no longer willing to risk an out on the base paths as the game adopted a philosophical change in order to capitalize on the surge in home runs.
As baseball has moved out of the steroid era and into an era dominated by pitching, stolen base numbers have been slow to recover. In fact, 2015 produced the lowest amount of stolen bases since 1975 when there were only 24 Major League franchises. Furthermore, last year the Cincinnati Reds led the league in stolen bases with 134, a mere four more stolen bases than Rickey Henderson’s season high of 130.
While the stolen base has been in decline, it still can be an effective weapon for teams who do not boast a potent lineup full of power hitters. Take the Kansas City Royals for example, a team who finished fifth in the league in stolen bases and rode an offensive style more befitting of a team from the 1980’s all the way to a World Series title. As baseball continues to evolve with specialized pitchers for seemingly every possible situation, it is plausible the stolen base could continue its declining numbers.
The stolen base is an art form of sorts as it requires just as much skill and preparation as it does speed to become someone who is proficient at swiping bases. Typically the benchmark for base theft is 70 percent and the elite base thieves are successful 75 percent or more of the time. Let’s take a look at a few players, who by today’s standards, excel in stealing bases.
Great article! It’s amazing how different MLB is from when I last followed it closely 25 years ago.
I heard rumors towards the end of last season that teams were working out track stars with the intention of adding arsenals of pinch runners when the rosters expand in September, but no one went through with it.
Like you said, there must be a lot more to base stealing than just being really fast.