If you've read my first two articles, "The Stolen Base: A Lost Art. Will we ever see a 100 Steal Man Again?" and "Gimmie Five! Dexter "The Prowler" Fowler Steals Five Bases in a Game," then you know I am a fan of the stolen base and its return to baseball prominence.
In short, I'd rather see a single player steal four bags a game than hit four home runs, and I've advocated the return of the 100-steal man.
I was fooled into thinking Emilio Bonifacio would be the man to do it, but he fizzled a few weeks into the season following a promising start.
I also was fooled by Dexter Fowler and his misleading five-steal game, which in fairness I questioned at the time as an outlier. Sadly, Dexter has stolen only two bases since April 27 and has crashed to 27th in the league stolen-base standings.
One man has been consistent through it all: Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays.
You may recall my saying that on the first of each month, I was going to post updates as to the stolen-base leaders and their quest for 100. However, thanks to ESPN's archiving, I cannot access these totals on any given date. Rather, they are simply updated nightly and one doesn't have the ability to go back and track progress on a desired date.
As of today, here are MLB's top five performers:
1. Carl Crawford
He has 36 stolen bases in 39 attempts through 65 games (34-31 team record), on pace for 91. He had 17 steals by May 1, thanks to the magnificent six-steal game (pictured above vs. Boston).
By June 1 he had 30 steals, which through two months still put him on pace for slightly more than 90 steals (an average of about 15 per month).
With six steals to date this month, he needs at least nine more to maintain this 90-plus pace. Thirteen more would give him 49 by July 1, thus keeping him on the 100-steal plateau.
He has 25 steals in 32 attempts through 63 games with the Boston Red Sox (38-25 currently), on pace for 69.
While I keep waiting for the historically pedestrian Red Sox organization to put a stop on him in favor of small ball, so far they have rejected this notion and I hope they continue. At 25 years old, he should have many more years like this in him.
3. B.J. Upton
He has 24 steals in 29 attempts through 65 games with Tampa Bay. Upton is on pace for 64. Like his competitors, Upton is young with vast potential for improvement that should only see these numbers rise in the future.
4. Chone Figgins
Figgins has 22 steals through the first 62 games (33-29) with the Angels, and he's on pace for 58. A few negatives here. First, at 31 he's the oldest of the quintet in question. Second, he has a history of fast stolen-base starts and diminishing finishes (kind of like the Baltimore Orioles). Finally, managers and GMs like to see an 80 percent success rate for stolen bases and Figgins has stolen safely only 75 percent of the time. Expect him to drop off, but I'd love for him to prove me wrong and stay in the race.
5. Michael Bourn
Bourn stole 22 bases in 26 attempts through 61 games with the Houston Astros, and he's on pace for 57. Bourn has let me down in the past—most recently last year with 15 steals through May 1 only to finish with a pathetic 41 for the entire season.
He also played in 138 games and had almost 500 at-bats, so injury wasn't an issue. Maybe that .229 batting average was?
With his team currently in last place, will the desire to run continue throughout or will his philosophy change if the team keeps losing? My guess is this is fool's gold and he'll fall back down to earth soon. Normal Bourn identity crisis.
There you have it—the top five steals leaders as of today. It should be noted that my intent is not just to wish for a 100-steal man as an end-all. It does no good for Crawford or anyone else to steal 100, 101, or 110 if the next closest guy has something like 45 and we are to consider that "fast" by modern MLB standards.
Ellsbury and company need to keep the pressure on Crawford all season long in order to keep this exciting but fading category relevant. While I'd like to see Crawford crack 100, it's just as important that the next closet guy gets 70-plus, followed by a couple of players somewhere in the 60s, then someone concluding the race with something in the high 50s.
History shows 40-50 should not be praised nor celebrated. Not when Vince Coleman stole 110 as a rookie in 1985 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sorry, but Johnny Damon's typical 40 stolen bases does not make him a stolen-base threat in my eyes. Nor do Alfonso Soriano's 40-stolen-base seasons of the past. They simply seem fast by today's benchmark because we have gone away from steals as an offensive ingredient. If no one else is doing it, you appear fast and win stolen-base titles by default.
Check back after July 1 for monthly updates on the quest for 100 and to keep pace. Will one of these men do it? Will their teams' focuses change as we hit the homestretch? Will a new candidate emerge?