Brett Gardner and the Stolen Base Revival in the Post-Steroid Era

Marc RubinContributor IIIFebruary 26, 2012

In Moneyball, Billy Beane expresses derision relative to stolen base attempts, explaining that the risk of an out far exceeds the potential return of a successful steal. And yet in the 2011 season he signs Coco Crisp to a two-year, $14 million contract based primarily on Crisp's ability to steal. 

What changed in the interim?

More stringent MLB drug testing has played a role in a significant drop in HRs and runs scored over the past several years. That significant drop has gone unnoticed by most fans and even many team executives have been slow to recognize the trend. In fact teams fall into four categories relative to their stolen base philosophies.

First are those clubs who have embraced the stolen base as an offensive weapon for the past decade. The LAA have been immensely successful with their running approach and Tampa Bay has prospered with it in recent times. The NY Mets were winners in the early 2000s, largely attributable to Jose Reyes' prowess stealing bases and both expansion franchises Florida and Washington have embraced the speed game as well.    

Second are those clubs who have employed the stolen base consistently but not prominently, primarily because they have been among the few to sustain their HR prowess even in the post-steroid era. Detroit, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St Louis and Milwaukee fall into this category.  Now that St Louis has lost Pujols and Milwaukee has lost Fielder look for both teams to rebuild their offenses around speed.

Third is the largest group who have recognized the game is changing and have recognized the necessity of creating runs with speed.

NYY, LAD, SFG and Colorado commenced their transitions in 2006.

Boston commenced theirs in 2007.

Houston and Oakland began in 2008.

Pittsburgh, Arizona and Texas committed to the run in 2009.

Seattle, KC, Cleveland and San Diego changed in 2010.

Toronto evolved in 2011.

That's 15 teams, 50 percent of MLB franchises, who have markedly changed their offenses within the past five seasons; the significant changes will be exhibited below.

Fourth are the laggards who have failed to adapt to their diminished HR capability and have continued a plodding base-running attitude that has contributed to these teams' recent failings. Baltimore and the two Chicago teams, Cubs and White Sox are the "malingerers" and these organizations have themselves recognized their problems and installed new executive management.

Baltimore has hired Dan Duquette as its GM.

The Chicago Cubs have hired Theo Epstein and Jeb Hoyer as their new leadership.

The Chicago White Sox have replaced manager Ozzie Guillen.

Here are the specifics regarding teams in the third and fourth categories.

TEAM    HRs/yr 2002-5    HRs/yr 2006-11   %DELTA    SBAs/yr2002-5    SBAs/yr 2006-11   %DELTA


NYY           231                     208                -10%              124                     158                 +28%

LAD           158                     133                -16%              121                     167.5              +38%

SFG           172                    127                 -26%               89                     120                 +34%

COL           175                    169                 -  4%             108                     151                  +40%

BOS(06/7)  206                    191                 -  7%               92                     132                  +44%

HOU(07/8)  174                    128                 -26%             114                     152.5                +34%

OAK(07/8)  178                    121                 -32%               67                     161                 +140%   

PIT(08/9)    147                    119                 -19%             104                     135                   +30% 

TEX(08/9)   216                    197                 - 9%               95                     181                   +90%

ARI(08/9)   162                    175                  +8%             107                     152                   +42%

SEA(09/10) 146                   105                 -28%             142                     173                   +22%

SDP(09/10) 145                   111                 -23%             106                     194                   +83%

CLE(09/10)  181                   141                 -22%             112                    128                    +14%

KCR(09/10)  134                  125                 - 7%              128                    188                    +47%

TOR(10/11)  179                  183                 +2%                90                    178                    +98%


Brett Gardner has been the engine powering the Yankees transformation for he accounted for 62 of NYY's 184 stolen-base attempts in 2011, 33 percent, and was successful on 49, which is 79 percent.

He accounted for 118 of 317 stolen-base attempts in 2010 and 11, 37 percent, and was successful on 96, which is 81 percent.

He accounted for 149 of 456 stolen-base attempts in 2009-11, 33 percent, and was successful on 122, 82 percent.

And with him hitting leadoff last year the Yankees went 39-18, 684.

Now Oakland is hoping Crisp can be the same sort of catalyst while San Diego is counting upon Cameron Maybin and Toronto is banking upon Rajai Davis and Boston is depending upon Jacoby Ellsbury to ignite their respective offenses.

Look at the numbers for the "troubled" clubs

BAL(07/8)   164                  162               -1%                   147                  111                      -25%

CHIC(08/9)  186                  153              -18%                  114                    89                     -22%

CHIW(10/11) 210                154              -27%                  145                   134                         -8%

These teams did not adapt to their failing power games and consequently were miserable losers.

Look for the following from each in 2012:

Robert Andino, who stole more than 20 bases in both 2005 and 2007 in the mnors, will be encouraged to run and provide the type impetus Brian Roberts did when the Orioles were last relevant.

Brent Morel, who stole 25 bases in 2009 in the minors yet had only nine attempts for the 2011 White Sox, will be unleashed.

Starlin Castro, who stole 28 bases in 2009 in the minors and 22 for the Cubs last year, will be asked to double that total in 2012

Look for the running game to be a prominent part of 2012 MLB offense.


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