Frequent readers of my columns will note that I am not only a follower of the Rays but also a fan of Carl Crawford by default because he does what I like best, and that is steal bases.
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.
Carl Crawford has successfully stolen 44 bases in baseball's first half of the 2009 season. While I was originally hoping for 50 when he was on a torrid pace, I backtracked settling for 45 which he didn't quite achieve.
Frankly, after basically standing still since June 16 (the date of my second column in the above series) Crawford has stolen only eight bases in 12 attempts. The silver lining in all this is the fact that he's 4/4 so far in July but simply must pick up the damn pace.
While 44 steals may sound all fine and good to the uninformed reader, it really isn't when you consider he stole 21 bases in the month of May alone. Granted six of these (13% of his season total) came in one May 3 game against Boston or the fact that he went 21/22 that month, and his numbers have steadily declined since then.
Excuse No. 1: What's the big deal? A guy can't be expected to keep up that torrid pace right?
Tell that to 1985 St. Louis Cardinals rookie Vince Coleman who stole 110 bases. I've still got several of his baseball cards as his era emphasized the true meaning of "small ball" ,that is overhyped today as a pacifier for the steroid critics.
Excuse No. 2: We want to win, and why waste outs on the base paths trying to make something happen when we need to win?
Coleman's 1985 team not only finished the regular season in first place with 101 wins but made it all the way to the World Series before losing to in-state rival Kansas City Royals in seven games (yes, those Royals). Running=winning perhaps?
Excuse No. 3: Now that the team is winning, we don't want to risk injury to one of our best players.
Coleman played in 151 games that year, and Crawford's actually on pace to play in ten more games than that, and have ten more at-bats: 646 to 636.
Consider the fact that Crawford averages only 111 games a season (largely inflated due to the fact he played in just 109 games last year), and fans can expect to see Crawford missing about 20 games in the second half of the season. This will severely cut into his numbers, pace, and all but put a nail on what was once a fine runnin' season that brought back nostalgic '80s memories for me.
This is pansy logic to me considering that if you want to win, don't you want to play your best players as often as you can and encourage them to leave their best effort out on the field? As Crawford goes, so goes the Rays. (Correlation No. 2 anyone?)
Oh well, at least I have Jacoby Ellsbury to watch in the second half too...
Putting his run into historical context
Regardless of what happens both in terms of on-field success for the Rays or Crawford and his stats themselves, his 44/51 first half steals is already awfully impressive.
- His 44 steals already ties 1999 AL season stolen base champion Brian Hunter and is two away from 2000 champ Johnny "no speed" Damon. On top of that, it eclipses 2002 champ Alfonso Soriano's 41 thefts.
- In the National League it compares favorably to 2001 co-champions Jimmy Rollins and Juan Pierre who finished with 46 steals apiece. Luis Castillo followed this up with 48 the next year.
- Crawford's 81 steal pace would be the highest in Major League Baseball since Coleman stole the same number in 1988 that was only topped by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson's 93 that same year.
- Henderson did it for a non-traditional running team, the New York Yankees, while Crawford plays for the fun-and-gun aggressive Rays. On the Rays, stealing and small ball are expected to keep this small market team in contention since they lack the payroll to compete in other conventional ways.
I personally want Crawford to at least get this 81 benchmark since it would not only be the highest number in a generation, but the higher he goes, the more it brings the stolen base back to relevancy. Perhaps future players will incorporate it into their offensive games noting its success. If only there was a way for the Rays to use this correlation of running with winning.
Hmmmm. Precedent anyone?
81, while shallow in my mind, would be the highest number since Jose Reyes stole 78 for the Mets in 2007. Moving into the next category of numbers, the 80s, looks so much better than being just another runner who finishes with 70+.
We've seen that before.
The 70+ club: (last decade only)
1997: Brian Hunter, 74
1999: Tony Womack, 72
2004: Scott Podsednik, 70
None of these runners will ever be mistaken for Coleman and Henderson. In the case of Womack, while he never reached this number again, he did have some milder "success" stealing a boring 60 in 1997 and 58 in 1998 during his run as three-time NL stolen base champion.
However, the bottom line is, anyone can have one good year, right Podsednik? (Podsednik started out on a similar exciting pace only to tail off disappointingly at the end like Crawford is threatening to duplicate.)
Additionally, stealing 80+ bags creates more excitement for both the fans since the runner is that much closer to triple digits, and the athlete who can begin to strive for that number now as a truly reachable, realistic goal with just a bit more effort, consistency, and commitment.
Coleman and Henderson both demonstrate model consistency, something I think the 27 year old Crawford has, if he can stay healthy. Hopefully this is only the beginning, and maybe with some luck (and practice) he can be the next generation's Henderson, or at least Coleman—if Ellsbury doesn't stake that claim first.