Run on Impulse: The Best Natural Base Stealers in MLB

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIMarch 18, 2016

Run on Impulse: The Best Natural Base Stealers in MLB

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    Billy Hamilton is always a threat when he's on the bases.
    Billy Hamilton is always a threat when he's on the bases.John Minchillo/Associated Press

    It's not just his unreal knack for swiping bags that earns Billy Hamilton the title of best natural base stealer in MLB. It's also the fact that the king of thieves almost never gets apprehended.

    In the process of drawing up the rankings of the 10 purest base stealers in the game, let's focus on two key factors:

    1. The total number of steals that the given player piled up
    2. How efficient he was in stealing those bags

    The major emphasis was placed on 2015 numbers, but larger track records were also part of the equation—especially when trying to differentiate between similarly talented base robbers.

    There was a flood of players under consideration for these rankings, but that didn't stop a pair of Kansas City Royals outfielders from snatching spots in the top 10.

Honorable Mentions

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    Charlie Blackmon is fearless on the bases, as he stole 43 times in 2015—good for third in the majors. The problem is that he was caught on 13 occasions.
    Charlie Blackmon is fearless on the bases, as he stole 43 times in 2015—good for third in the majors. The problem is that he was caught on 13 occasions.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Based on the criteria laid out, here are the big leaguers who were under consideration for this top 10 but who ultimately ended up missing the cut:

    • CF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
    • LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
    • CF Billy Burns, Oakland Athletics
    • CF Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
    • 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
    • 2B D.J. LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
    • LF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
    • 2B Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
    • RF Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
    • SS Jose Reyes, Colorado Rockies
    • SS Jean Segura, Arizona Diamondbacks
    • CF Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals

10. LF Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians

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    Michael Brantley knows how to pick his spots.
    Michael Brantley knows how to pick his spots.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 15

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 93 percent

    The Rundown

    Good luck throwing out Michael Brantley.

    Over the past two campaigns, the Cleveland Indians linchpin has been thrown out exactly two times.

    So, just how is the left fielder stuck in the 10th position in these rankings?

    Simply put, Brantley doesn't run enough.

    Last year, the 28-year-old was 15 for 16 in stolen base attempts, and the year before that, Brantley was 23 for 24.

    Just when his first attempt will come in 2016 is yet to be determined. The 2014 American League All-Star, who is still on the mend from offseason surgery on his right shoulder, hopes to be in the mix from day one.

    "I want to be back as soon as I can," Brantley said, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. "That's Opening Day," Brantley said. "And if it's not Opening Day, whenever I can get back to help my teammates."

    According to Bastian, the Tribe will play it safe with Brantley, and he should be back to anchoring the lineup—and snatching bases—by the beginning of May.

9. 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

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    Jose Altuve's penchant for stealing is just one of the reasons that he's such a dynamic table setter.
    Jose Altuve's penchant for stealing is just one of the reasons that he's such a dynamic table setter.Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 38

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 75 percent

    The Rundown

    Jose Altuve is the tone setter for the scary-good Houston Astros.

    Just leave it to Jesse Pantuosco of Yahoo Sports to explain: "The Astros are a young, scrappy team that likes to take chances."

    And as Pantuosco noted, that makes the 25-year-old Venezuelan, who has averaged 40.5 steals in his first four full seasons, the ideal spark plug at the Juice Box: "Altuve, a trigger-happy leadoff man with absolutely no fear, was born to be an Astro."

    Last season, that absence of fear lead Altuve to 38 steals—most in the AL. That absence of fear also allowed catchers to gun him down 13 times. And for that reason, Altuve remains anchored in the No. 9 spot.

8. CF Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays

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    With his blazing speed, Kevin Pillar causes a ruckus on the bases.
    With his blazing speed, Kevin Pillar causes a ruckus on the bases.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 25

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 86 percent

    The Rundown

    Kevin Pillar is not just a frequent robber of home runs. The Toronto Blue Jays center fielder is also a shrewd thief of bases.

    Last season, Pillar tallied 25 steals for the division-winning Jays in just 29 attempts. While that's an impressive haul, Pillar doesn't climb higher in the rankings because he had stolen just a single base in parts of two seasons leading into 2015.

    During the upcoming campaign, Pillar wants to put his wheels to use in the vacant top spot in the batting order:

    "I definitely think I’d make a great leadoff hitter," Pillar declared, per Melissa Couto of the Toronto Star. "I had success doing it in the minor leagues.”

    Admittedly, Pillar's .314 OBP in 2015 provides reason for concern, but that 86 percent stolen-base percentage sure would look excellent atop Toronto's uber-powerful lineup.

7. CF Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals

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    Lorenzo Cain glides around first base at the Royals spring camp in Surprise, Arizona.
    Lorenzo Cain glides around first base at the Royals spring camp in Surprise, Arizona.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 28

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 82 percent

    The Rundown

    As he demonstrated with his daring dash from first to home in Game 6 of last fall's AL Championship Series, Lorenzo Cain was born to fly.

    As Matt Monagan of MLB.com's Cut4 put it, the Kansas City Royals 6'2" center fielder "look[ed] more like something out of a video game than the reality you and I live in," as he circled the bases with uncommon grace.

    Cain's galloping strides have also paid serious dividends in the stolen base department. Last season, the Vladosta, Georgia, native was second in the Junior Circuit with 28 steals. What's more, Cain was successful 82 percent of the time that he set off for the races.

6. CF Ben Revere, Washington Nationals

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    Ben Revere has never stolen fewer than 31 bases over the course of a full major league season.
    Ben Revere has never stolen fewer than 31 bases over the course of a full major league season.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 31

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 82 percent

    The Rundown

    It's pretty easy to understand how Ben Revere ended up on this list.

    Ever since becoming a big league regular back in 2011, the outfielder has been a base-stealing machine for the Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. Following his offseason trade to the Washington Nationals, Revere is set to bring his talents to the nation's capital.

    In 2015, Revere stole 31 bags in 38 attempts while splitting his time between Citizens Bank Park and the Rogers Centre.

    As solid as those numbers were, that actually qualified as a relative down year for the speedster. Per Baseball-Reference.com, the lefty hitter has averaged 44 steals per 162 games during his tenure in the majors.

5. RF Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs

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    Jason Heyward's glove and legs will make him one popular dude at Wrigley Field.
    Jason Heyward's glove and legs will make him one popular dude at Wrigley Field.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 23

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 88 percent

    The Rundown

    A three-time Gold Glove winner, Jason Heyward is famous for his work in the field.

    The Chicago Cubs new $184-million right fielder also deserves plenty of credit for his success as a base runner.

    In 2015, Heyward stole 23 times in 26 attempts for the St. Louis Cardinals, which means he was safe 88 percent of the time. To put that into context, that ties Heyward for the second-best success rate for any big leaguer who attempted at least 26 steals, per Baseball-Reference.com.

    That impressive showing on the bases was no fluke for Heyward. Back in 2014, the right fielder was 20 for 24 when he made his move.

4. CF A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    A.J. Pollock smacked 20 jacks and stole 39 bases for the D-backs out of the leadoff spot in 2015.
    A.J. Pollock smacked 20 jacks and stole 39 bases for the D-backs out of the leadoff spot in 2015.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 39

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 85 percent

    The Rundown

    A.J. Pollock is the most underappreciated superstar in the game.

    In 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks leadoff man was eighth in the majors in WAR, sandwiched between Yoenis Cespedes and Lorenzo Cain, according to FanGraphs.

    Back at the beginning of February, Jim Bowden of ESPN dished out some lofty praise for the 28-year-old, writing that Pollock is, "the third-best center fielder in baseball, behind only [Mike] Trout and Andrew McCutchen."

    One category where Pollock has both of those former MVPs beat is in the stolen base department. Last season, Pollock stole 39 times, which not only easily trumped the combined output of Trout and McCuthcen, but was also fourth-best in baseball.

    And Pollock not only racked up the SB's, but he did so in a highly economical manner (85 percent success rate).

3. 2B Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins

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    Dee Gordon is the most agressive base stealer in the game.
    Dee Gordon is the most agressive base stealer in the game.Steve Nesius/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 58

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 78 percent

    The Rundown

    Over the past two seasons, no one has pilfered more bases than Dee Gordon.

    At the same time, no one has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar as frequently as the 27-year-old second baseman has over the past two campaigns. Last year, Gordon had to pick himself up and trot back to the Miami Marlins dugout on 20 occasions.

    Gordon's stolen base percentage of 78 percent is the second-lowest of any player in this rankings, but there's no ignoring the sheer numbers of steals he has recorded. 122—to be exact—since he became a full-time big leaguer at the outset of 2014.

    That relentless approach earns Gordon, the 2015 National League batting champ, third place in these rankings—even if a little more discretion wouldn't hurt.

2. RF Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City Royals

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    Part-timer or not, Jarrod Dyson has compiled at least 26 steals in each of the past four seasons.
    Part-timer or not, Jarrod Dyson has compiled at least 26 steals in each of the past four seasons.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 26

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 90 percent

    The Rundown

    The crazy part about Jarrod Dyson landing in second in the rankings, is that he has never even been a big-league regular in parts of six seasons with the Kansas City Royals.

    During the Royals run to the World Series title, Dyson was a flat-out nightmare for opposing batteries, purloining 26 bases in 29 attempts. That works out to a 90 percent success rate. To be fair, that was nothing new for Dyson. As a Royal, Dyson has been safe 86 percent of the time.

    Unfortunately for the rest of the AL, Dyson should have even more opportunities to do damage on the bases in 2016. Per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, manager Ned Yost has tabbed Dyson as the "front-runner" in the right-field derby. That's awfully bad news for pitchers and catchers all across the circuit.

1. CF Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

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    Billy Hamilton always has the green light.
    Billy Hamilton always has the green light.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Total Stolen Bases in 2015: 57

    Stolen Success Rate in 2015: 88 percent

    The Rundown

    There was no way Billy Hamilton wasn't going to occupy the top spot in these rankings.

    Sure, Dee Gordon stole one more base (58) than Hamilton did in 2015, but let's dig into the numbers to reveal the real story.

    Per the calculations of Baseball-Reference.com, Gordon had 264 stolen base opportunities last season. In other words, Gordon successfully stole 22 percent of the time that he had the chance.

    Meanwhile, Hamilton collected 57 steals in 114 opportunities—or 50 percent of the time. Just imagine what kind of numbers Hamilton would post if he could manage to raise that lousy .287 OBP he owns in parts of three go-arounds with the Cincinnati Reds.

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com, unless otherwise noted.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.