Season Finale: Part V: Returning the Stolen Base to Baseball Prominence

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Season Finale: Part V: Returning the Stolen Base to Baseball Prominence
(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Part V, (season-finale) in a series. I'll do it again next year and compare it to this year.

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 an advocate of its return to baseball prominence.

Before reading this article, be sure to read parts I, II, III, and IV of my season-long mini-series outlining the possibility of another 100-steal man in major league baseball, "The Quest for 100 Steals: Can Carl Crawford or Anyone Else Do It?", "The Quest for 100 steals-can Carl Crawford do it?" and "Returning The Stolen Base To Baseball Prominence (Part III)" and "Returning the Stolen Base to Baseball Prominence (Part IV)"

October 12, 2009 here were the top five finishers in 2009:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury. Finished with 70 steals in 82 attempts 85.3%.

Since the last September 1 update Ellsbury went 12/13 in September and 3/5 in four games in October to reach the 70 steal plateau.

In just his second season, Ellsbury, still only 26, managed to increase his career high in steals by an even 20 after getting 50 as a rookie last year. Because of his consistency and unbelievable accuracy and timing, he'll only continue to get better but we have to start to wonder when he's maxed out that number as its already so high in only his second full season.

Could we see a Teemu Selanne-esque drop-off next year? (Selanne, an NHL player, scored his career high, 76 goals, as a rookie for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992 and never came close to that number again. 85 would be a nice goal for 2010 but there comes a point when he has a Vince Coleman like drop (Coleman swiped his career high, 110 as a rookie in 1985 for the Cardinals as I keep referencing).

Ellsbury's steals by month:

April: 10

May: 11

June: 12 (perfect 12/12)

July 14

August: 8

September: 7? (12 actual)

October 3

Ellsbury thankfully smashed my pessimistic pick of seven for September and based on his 3/5 October performance in just four games, its pretty obvious that he had 70 as a target goal and was determined to get it, and good for him.

His 3/5 shouldn't be alarming as in just four games its not that big of a deal, and as I said, even the worst observer can analyze what his ultimate goal was, which was to get 70 steals.  In the process, Ellsbury topped the Red Sox old mark of 54 steals in 1973.

He'll again be among the league leaders in 2010 and for good reason but for now, he deserves to be SB champ because of his uncanny accuracy and picking his spots.

2. Michael Bourn, Astros, 61 steals in 73 attempts (83.5%)

Bourn, the Ellsbury of the National league, gave beleagured Astros fans something to cheer about after the team skid to the end of the season. Bourn finished the season 13/14 in September but had no steals in four games in October.

Freakingly similar to Ellsbury, Bourn not only also increased his previous steals high by 20 (it was 41) but also at 26, he's young enough to hopefully not reached his peak. Considering he now hits for average—.285 which dramatically raised his career batting average to .262, this mixed with his cheap price ($434,000) are all reasons he should see plenty of playing time and get plenty of chances to run wild in 2010.  

Bourn's steals by month:

April: 6

May: 10

June: 9

July: 12

August: 11

September: 10? (13)

He also suprassed my goal of 10 for him meaning he and Ellsbury continued to play hard until the end which is good to see. Similar consistency for him as well. (notice a correlation, SB—wanna be's?) I hope you are.

He'll again by a league leader in 2010—if not the champ.

3. Carl Crawford, Rays 60 steals in 76 attempts (78.9%)

No player disappointed me more the waning months of the season than Crawford who kept coming up with excuse after excuse why he first couldn't steal 100 bases, nor why he started to get caught more often.

Apparantly now, its Tampa Bay Rays' Carl Crawford upset, says umpires are repeatedly missing calls on stolen base attempts" target="_blank">because of his unique feet-first slide that the umpires are missing when he's allegedy safe. Sure, Carl, whatever works, you quitter.

Crawford's steals by month:

April: 9

May: 21

June: 10

July: 8

August: 7

September ???? My guess—4 (5 actually)

We'll Crawford "showed me" by going a typical 5/10 in September and getting no steals in October. Still he not only overcame my goal for him, but not lost in his season, he did set a career high with those 60 thefts. Still, its painfully obvious that this is all he wanted to do, and once he succeeded, (Sept. 29) he was done, just like his team.

Fitting.

Oh sure, he'll be among the league leaders next year. Likely a low top five or maybe 6-7 with a very "Crawford like" 55 steals but he'll never be the player he could be or one I think he could be, because he simply refuses to do so and is rather content at being just another base-stealer instead of one of the best like Ellsbury has the potential to become.

He gets this spot by default since he had such a torrid start and rode that out, but next year when there is more consistent and healthy (read: Nyjer Morgan) competition, expect him to fade because he just doesn't care. Never a good combination.

4. Chone Figgins Angels/Nyger Morgan, Nationals/BJ Upton Rays all finished with 42 an thus, tied for 4th.

I'm not going to break down each player. For that see my older articles above which they are all covered with their possibilites and expectations (or lack thereof—Figgins/Upton). Just know that I expect Upton to be traded for bullpen help (Joe Nathan?) as we saw what killed the Rays this year.

Upton's got a lot of that "I don't care" attitude that seems to infect the Rays club house so buyer-beware.

Morgan's the key. He plays for a horrid team so he should get all the chances in the world. Barring that injury that kept him out the final six weeks, he would have too topped 60 steals—amazing considering he had 18 on his July 1 trade to the Nats who let him run. When he comes back, no reason to believe the 29 year old won't get this goal and probably finish top five.

5. Rajai Davis, A's 41 steals in 53 attempts (77%)

Davis, not only steals at a rate lower than most manager's like to see (80%) but he's 29 next Monday (Happy Birthday, Rajai!) and plays for a team where one's job is never safe and where the goal always seems to get younger and cheaper so a trade to a contender probably isn't out of the question. If I'm Davis, I'm not taking out a long term morgage in the Bay Area anytime soon.

Why does Davis matter? Well, he went 15/18 in August and 11/14 in September proving as one to watch come 2010 wherever that is for the Connecticut native. A trade to the San Diego Padres and their hopeless situation not to mention annual outfield need would make sense and give him the playing time needed to really showcase his talents.

So who else could emerge in 2010?

1. Julio Borbon, (pictured) Texas Rangers, LF 19 steals 23 attempts in only 46 games (82%)

With a bullet. If there is anyone to watch next year, its him. The 23 year old promoted to the majors on June 29 didn't really start playing full time until August 15, when he stole four bases. In fact, in a ten day stretch from August 9-18 (basically his first full week) he stole eight bases in nine attempts putting him on the map.

But its also not like this was a mirage for he went 8/10 in September before an 0/1 October giving him 19 in just 46 games or 157 at bats. Over a full season this projects to 66 steals which he could very well do next year if given the playing time and a starting spot which is never guaranteed in the whiffle-ball hitters park that is Arlington.

Still with a .312 batting average (not sure how much influenced by the Coors of the AL) they'll be sure to find him a way. I'm telling you fantasy owners, pick him up now while you can and while he's a virtual unknown. You won't be sorry you did. With his speed and youth, he's not even close to maxing out. Expect 50 next year-at least.

2. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers, SS 33 steals in 39 attempts (85%)

Steals by month:

April 2/2

May 4/5

June 9/9

July 5/6

August 4/5

September 8/11

October 1/1

Even younger than Borbon, this rookie, and the prize of the 2007 Mark Teixeira dump off to the Braves which robbed them of most of their farm depth, is still only 21 and still learning the game. When he does, look out.

Appropriate that a former Braves farmhand would spell his name Andru after all the Andruw Jones years and now the two are continually lined in Texas. Wierd. The average, at .267 is a bit low for an everyday player but the Rangers see him as a future star (and for good reason) and with his speed he'll continue to play-and shine.

Don't overlook his never-quit attitude evidenced by his 8 thefts in September and one for good measure in October when the team was clearly fading on a nightly basis.

Next year 50 should be in store for him too in a very Ellsbury-like manner.

3. Eric Young Jr. 2B Colorado Rockies 4 steals 8 attempts (50%)

Pay no attention to the meager number rather the meager sample size as the younger Young played in only 30 games and had just 57 at-bats. Just know that his daddy, Eric Sr. was a stolen base threat and the genes traveled well and this Young stole over 450 bases in his career and was a former All-Star to boot.

None of his numbers jump out at you, but he did top 50 steals three times in a season. Basically he was a consistent 40 steal man based on his career average (44) and there is no doubt his son wil be every bit of that soon.

Just exactly how does this translate to Eric Jr? Because the Rockies are already deep with Clint Barmes at second, and loaded in the outfield, a trade is probable as I'm not sure how he plays enough everyday without such a move. Additionally, his minor league steals stats are impressive at all levels 87 at A ball in 2006, 73 at High-A in 2007, 46 at AA in 2008 and 58 last year in AAA while serving as an AAA All-Star.

Still, at just 24 and with his father's bloodline he'll be one to watch, wherever that is. Someone will pick him up that intends to start and thus, play him (Pittsburgh? the price is right) and they in turn, will be very happy. I see him in a Nyjer Morgan situation where a young team that can afford to grow with him (and put up with the learning curve and low BA) giving him a chance to prove himself.

If given the chance, what do you think he'll do? Why, steal 40-50 of course. Why would we expect anything different?

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