One old baseball adage states, "Speed slows down the game," a quote likely coming from Casey Stengel or Yogi Berra.
On the surface, this statement makes no sense. But when you dig deeper, you gauge that when fast players get on base, the entire game changes. From throwing over to first base, to the pitcher stepping off the rubber, a once crisp moving game can get stalled as the pitcher and defense worries about the speedy runner.
Funny thing is that the runner by himself can't hurt the pitcher, unless he steals second, third and home. Only the hitter holding the bat can hurt the pitcher. But the runner does take the pitchers full concentration off the hitter, causing more fastballs to be thrown, often causing a big fat pitch over the middle of the plate.
Just by getting on base, the speedster affects the next couple hitters.
Don Mattingly of the New York Yankees had many of his best seasons hitting two batters behind Rickey Henderson.
However, speedsters affect the game in many other ways, including stolen bases, tracking down long outfield drives and turning possible extra base hits into big play (and game changing) outs.
This list includes Major League Baseball's top 15 fastest burners; all known for their stolen bases, great defense and ability to score from first base on a hard hit double.
It is an aspect of the game "you can't teach" and is top heavy with centerfielders, many of whom are young players of recent major league status. One of the reasons these guys are now major leaguers is that now with implementing consistent drug testing, baseball has transformed itself again into a speed game.
Only a bucketful of games into his major league career, Jackson is showing baseball that he is for real.
Even if his hitting comes down from his lofty early season averages, Jackson's speed and defense is what will keep him a quality major legue player.
I remember watching his game two seasons ago in the Double A playoffs when he made two outstanding catches in the same game. Leaping over the outfield wall, AJax robbed two certain home runs. The most spectacular saw him sprint from right of center into left center and then leaping the wall for the catch.
It has been said he has "closers speed" in the outfield, and he needs that now as his routes to the ball are somewhat skewed. While watching him again last week against the Yankees, he made some amazing catches in center field based solely on his speed.
He has six stolen bases this season against one caught stealing. Pretty good for the rookie with less that 40 games under his belt at the major league level.
He sparked the Pittsburgh offense when he first came up in the middle of last season, and is the key sparkplug to the Pirates third place postion in the NL Central this season.
Defenses tighten up when he is up at bat and on the bases, but his power is also impressive causing a discerning hesitancy for the opposition. His 12/3 SB/CS ratio this season is a testament to his speed, while he has hit .343 this year with a .526 slugging percentage.
His stolen base numbers are impressive (34 of 42 attempts) and can still get better. Look for McCutchen, a former No. 1 pick, to use his speed for the next decade.
The power is a much needed bonus.
He was drafted in the first round basically because of his blazing, "plus-plus" speed and the Rangers are making him into a complete ballplayer.
His stolen bases have not completely translated into the majors, but when Borbon learns more about strike zone discipline and major league pitching patterns, his SB numbers will climb into the 40's - 50's range.
What is likely going to turn out as a decent trade for both teams, when the Nationals acquired Morgan from the Pirates, he was given a new lease on life.
Morgan's speed is unquestioned, but his stolen base numbers (8 SB/8 CS) show he has not yet mastered the art of reading pitchers, and is stealing bases based soley on speed.
He has been at the top of Washington order since the trade, and will likely be there for another couple of years before the wheels begin to fall off.
Similar to #12 Nyjer Morgan, David did not get a full opportunity until a trade. He didn't start getting full-time at-bats in 2009 until the A's traded Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals in late June.
In the season's second half last year, Davis stole a whopping 30 bases, plus hit .325 with 46 runs scored in 277 at-bats.
Much of that was predicated on Davis' speed, which has now transformed the punchless, Money Ball Oakland A's into a speed team.
While Davis' batting average has dropped for 2010, his speed has allowed him 12 stolen bases against just one caught stealing.
During his first plate appearance as a Seattle Mariner, Figgins walked, stole second, advanced to third on a bad throw by the catcher and scored on a base hit.
Typical for Figgins' game. His speed caused THREE errors for the opposition that day.
While he has not been the same productive player overall this season, one aspect of Figgins' game which has not declined is his speed, even at the age of 32.
Averaging 44 steals per season in his six full years in the majors, Figgins is once again off to a good start in 2010 with eight stolen bases.
The major league stolen base leader for 2010 has to be on the list, right?
Pierre's 18 stolen bases is on par with his great 2001-2007 speed seasons when he averaged 54 stolen bases a year.
Pierre was such a catalyst back then, that George Steinbrenner always coveted a speed guy atop the lineup ever since Pierre single-handedly ran the Yankees ragged in the 2003 World Series.
Even at the ripe old age of 32, Pierre has not lost a step.
Speed, speed and more speed. That is Gomez' game.
It was never more apparent than last season when Gomez singled, went to second on a ground out, and scored on Alexi Casilla's extra-inning single for the Minnesota Twins during Game 163 last season.
The strong throw had no chance at catching the wickedly fast Gomez.
Carlos has taken his speed game to the more-relevant National League this season, stealing six bases and no caught-stealings.
Almost 13% of Ichiro Suziki's 2,084 hits have been of the infield variety. His approach of slapping the ball the other way and speeding down to first will likely cause Ichiro to amass over 3,000 hits before his MLB career is over.
His great speed is also evident in his super defense, allowing Ichiro to get to more balls than the usual lumbering right fielders in the game.
Although his 26 stolen bases last season were down from his carrer seasonal average of 35, Ichiro has swiped 10 bags this year, further revealing his legs (despite soem talk) have not declined to normal status.
After seeing many Tampa Bay Rays games on television, BJ Upton is a tremendous defensive center fielder. His speed allows him to regularly track down balls deep over his head. Not bad for a former middle infielder.
His speed translates to the base paths, where he has stolen 40 plus bases in 2008 (44) and 2009 (42). He is well on his way again this season, already swiping nine bags.
He is super fast, stealing dozens of bases each year and playing superb defense in left field for his team.
Crawford has swiped 50 plus bases in five different seasons, including a career high 60 in 2009.
Whether his is leading off or batting third, Reyes still has his blazing speed.
He has led the National League in triples three times and stolen bases three times, including a career high 78 thefts in 2007.
Ther is nothing more exciting in baseball when Reyes hits a line drive into the right field gap or corner and watching him run.
You really have to be fast to record a straight steal home, which Ellsbury accomplished in April 2009.
Ellsbury led the American League in steals in 2008 (50) and 2009 (70). A rib injury has curtailed his 2010 season, but once he returns to the lineup, you can bet Ellsbury will be stealing bases at his usual pace.
He can rundown anything in the outfield, and has stolen bases at an 82% career success rate.
He stole 61 bases last season, leading the National League, and those numbers will likely improve as Bourn has enhanced other aspects of his game including his batting average and OBP.
This past Friday night, Gardner was on first base when Mark Teixeira hit a line drive double down the right field line. The ball hopped off the wall, the relay was made to second baseman Orlando Hudson, who threw home trying to get the speeding Gardner.
Gardner slid across the plate safely with another Yankee run, and the play was not close.
No one else in baseball scores on that hit. Many speedsters probably do not even get sent by their third base coaches.
I saw Gardner for the first time in the 2005 short season NY-Penn League, where his amazing speed dominated the first year professionals.
He has stolen 17 bases this season against one stop, and has stolen bases at a 90% rate in his major league career.
His speed allows him to get to many balls in the outfield including a drive hit on Saturday by Minnesota Joe Mauer, which Gardner tracked down right before the fence.
Brett the Jet is the fastest player in the major leagues, and his blazing speed has contributed to his 28 Yankee leading runs scored, even though he is sixth on the team in overall plate appearances.