The Baltimore Orioles don’t produce a lot of stolen bases, but they aren’t terrible at executing them.
I get it. There are very few moments at a baseball game that are more exciting than hearing the crack of the bat and instantly knowing that the baseball isn’t coming back. I’ve watched some of the greats of my time hit majestic home runs, and as the ball soars the air, I feel the same anticipation and awe every single time. However, I miss the art of stealing bases.
As of Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte leads the majors with 25 stolen bases. Only eight players have at least 20 stolen bases, with every team at or around 100 games played. The Baltimore Orioles are currently 25th in the league in stolen bases with 35. The Orioles finished dead last in stolen bases in 2017 (32), 2016 (19), 2015 (44) and 2014 (44).
Unfortunately, Manny Machado accounted for eight of those stolen bases. Craig Gentry has 10 as a part-time player (currently on the DL). Jace Peterson has nine but brings a .188 batting average to the table and has no future with the organization.
No other player on the Orioles’ roster has more than one stolen base. The last time a regular starter not named Manny Machado had more than two stolen bases in a season was 2015. Gerardo Parra recorded five, Jimmy Paredes had four and Adam Jones stole three. Nate McLouth (84.7 % successful SB rate) was the last real “threat” on the basepaths the franchise had, stealing 42 bases between 2012 and 2013.
You have to go back another five years, to 2007, to see when a Baltimore Oriole led the American League in stolen bases. Brian Roberts swiped 50 bags that year, finishing tied with Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford for the AL crown.
There are zero reasons to think Jace Peterson or Craig Gentry return next season, so can the Orioles finally climb out of the cellar of the stolen base ranks?
With lower percentages of players getting on base, mounting base-running injuries and teams relying more heavily on the long ball to bring in runs, the decline of the stolen base has been well-documented not just in Baltimore, but across the league. Considering the number of factors at play, I don’t envision the stolen base returning to Birdland anytime soon.
Cedric Mullins is sure to earn his big league call-up very soon. He has 72 stolen bases in four minor league seasons (80% success rate) but has a history of hamstring injuries that have caused him to miss a lot of time over the years.
DJ Stewart should also be in Baltimore next season, bringing with him the ability to produce 20-20 seasons. He has just eight stolen bases this year in AAA and has a career success rate of 77%, borderline to what many managers consider their comfort level.
The newest addition to the Orioles, Yusniel Diaz, is known for his speed in the outfield, however his 44% stolen base success rate is far from inspiring. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, you have to believe the 21-year-old continues to add weight to his frame, possibly slowing him down further.
Only one player at the AAA or AA level has reached double digits in stolen bases this season, Anderson Feliz. He’s a 26-year-old journeyman.
The Baltimore Orioles aren’t necessarily bad at stealing bases.
When a team ranks dead last in stolen bases for numerous seasons in a row, one is often led to believe that said team is bad at stealing bases. That isn’t necessarily true for the Orioles. When it comes to Baltimore, it’s all about quality over quantity.
Despite finishing last in total stolen bases since 2014, Baltimore never finished last in stolen base percentage. They came close, finishing 29th in success rate in 2016 (59%). The O’s have still been in the bottom-third of the league, but they have been more successful if we look at success rate over raw stolen base numbers.
This season, Baltimore ranks fifth with a 78% success rate, just behind the Red Sox (83%), Indians (82%), Angels (82%) and Brewers (79%).
If we look at wSB, the Orioles find themselves with the 10th best mark in the league. According to Fangraphs, wSB is an estimation of the number of runs a player contributes by means of stolen bases. Just like WAR, zero is average while a positive number means a player’s stolen bases are making positive contributions to his team’s ability to score runs. If a player steals 25 bases but also gets caught stealing 20 times, they are hurting their team more than helping.
Baltimore ranks 10th with a 1.0 wSB rating, compared to Boston’s league-leading 6.4 wSB. The only other team who ranks in the bottom third in total stolen bases but has produced a positive wSB is the New York Yankees (41 stolen bases, 0.4 wSB).
With the front office seemingly willing to change the way they run the franchise (international scouting, more analytics, trading away vets for the foundation of a rebuild), maybe I’m proven wrong, and the stolen base does come back to Camden Yards.
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