Thirty years have drifted by since a baseball player has stolen 80 bases in a season. Thirty … long … years. That used to be a thing. In the 20 seasons between 1969-88, it happened 16 times by eight different players. It was cool.Then, all of a sudden, it stopped.
Thirty years have drifted by since a baseball player has stolen 80 bases in a season. Thirty … long … years. That used to be a thing. In the 20 seasons between 1969-88, it happened 16 times by eight different players. It was cool.
Then, all of a sudden, it stopped. It's no surprise that the most recent players to do it were Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman; those two, along with Tim Raines, represented a whole different way of playing baseball. Add in Eric Davis, who stole 80 bases in his extraordinary 1986 season -- look for more about him in an upcoming Throwback Thursday.
But players don't play that game now -- it's pretty obvious why. There has been a strategic shift in baseball thinking; everyone now understands that while a 90-feet gain on the basepaths has value, that value is dwarfed by the harm of an out. In the 1980s, there were more than 30,000 steals, which was awesome, but runners were successful only 68 percent of the time. That, the data tells you, isn't a good enough return.
And so what we've seen since 2004 -- coincidence that this was one year after "Moneyball" came out? -- is teams running less and being successful more. This is smarter baseball, but it isn't more exciting baseball. The stolen base is a breathtaking moment in the game.
Is there even a chance for an 80-stolen base season in 2018?
I think there are five potential candidates:
1. Dee Gordon, Mariners: He has led his league in stolen bases three of the past four seasons, and Gordon has both the base-running and on-base skill to make this happen. Also, the Mariners traded for him, which suggests that they will give him the green light. Gordon is a high-risk base stealer -- he has also led his league in caught-stealing two of the the past three years -- so for this to happen, the Mariners will have to be willing to endure some pain. But through six games, he has not been caught in three attempts -- three steals, six games, that's 80-stolen base pace!
2. Trea Turner, Nationals: OK, there are problems with this. If you were the Washington Nationals, and you had Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon and the rest coming up, would you risk sending Turner? Maybe not, but he has the 80-steal tool kit. He's very fast, he has shown some on-base skills, he's a good base-stealer who swiped 46 bags in just 98 games last year -- that's just about an 80-steal pace. I list Turner second behind Gordon, but I would probably bet first on Turner.
3. Tim Anderson, White Sox: There is nothing in Anderson's past to suggest that he could steal 80 bases in a season -- his career high in the Minors was 49 steals with Double-A Birmingham, and he only stole 15 bases last year. But Anderson has four steals in six games so far this year (small sample sizes be gone!), and he is a terrific athlete. Maybe the White Sox, with nothing to lose this year, will play some Go Go Sox baseball and let Anderson go crazy in 2018. Dare to dream.
4. Byron Buxton, Twins: I admit this is a longshot, but Buxton could steal 80 bases if the Twins played that game. His pure speed is electrifying, and unlike Gordon, he almost never gets caught when attempting to steal. Buxton swiped 29 bases in 30 attempts last year. The Twins hit him down in the order, because getting on base has been a big problem; Whitey Herzog would have probably gotten him to 80 stolen bases.
5. Billy Hamilton, Reds: Hamilton was once at the center of our stolen-base dreams because of his electrifying speed -- as a 21-year-old, he stole 155 bases in the minors -- but it looks like this will never happen. Hamilton simply cannot get on base enough. The Reds have stubbornly hit him leadoff, hoping against hope that he could bunt and chop and bloop his way to glory, but it seems like those dreams are coming to an end.
Also worth mentioning: Milwaukee's Jonathan Villar stole 62 bases a couple of year ago, so you don't want to count him out, though he seems to be a different player now.
Price is Right
In Boston, as we all know, nobody needs an excuse to panic about the Red Sox. It's a natural state. But there was particular reason for panic this offseason, because the Yankees got Giancarlo Stanton, and last year Boston finished dead last in the American League in homers for the first time in 25 years ... and David Price.
Oh, David Price.
He was at the heart of what the new Red Sox would be. They would be a Boston team that built around the two best left-handed pitchers in the league -- Price and Chris Sale. This was bold thinking; the conventional wisdom in Boston had been to mostly avoid left-handed pitchers, because, you know, the Green Monster there in left field was awfully close to the plate.
Sure, in the past half-century the Red Sox had an occasional Bill Lee, a Bobby Ojeda, a Bruce Hurst. Jonathan Lester was the most successful of the group, but in general lefties -- especially power lefties -- were for other teams, and the Red Sox focused on right-handed pitchers.
So this was a new plan, but for it to work, the Red Sox needed Price to be the pitcher he was as a young man, when he was a more-or-less perennial Cy Young Award candidate. The past three years, he was not.
In Price's first year with Boston, he did some good things -- led the AL in starts and innings pitched among other things -- but he was roughed up more than he had been in years, and last season was basically a disaster between the injuries and squabbles with the press and the team's own announcing team.
The hope was that Price would find a way to adjust to baseball's new realities in 2018 -- and so far, he has been fantastic. Two starts. Seven innings each. Seven total hits allowed, six of them singles, No runs. He has been in complete command.
One big part of this: He's throwing his cutter more often. When Price won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012, he was a free-wheeling, hard-throwing force of nature. He threw his upper-90s fastball most of the time, backed it up with a cutter (it's sort of a cutter/slider) and a changeup, and he overpowered hitters. But Price now goes through what every pitcher eventually goes through. He's older. His velocity is down in the lower 90s now. Every team in the league has an Infinite Jest-length book on his tendencies.
And here comes the cutter. First two starts, he threw it a bit more than one-third of the time -- that's roughly twice as often as he has been throwing it in recent years -- and hitters have been helpless against it. He threw the cutter 30 times in Thursday's start against Tampa Bay, and the Rays managed only four balls in play, none of them hit hard.
Yes, it should be noted that both of Price's starts have been against Tampa Bay; this is the danger of putting too much stock in small sample sizes. But Price is at the center of Boston's hopes in 2018, and every good sign helps.
On July 28, 2015, the Washington Nationals made one of the worst trades of the decade. They were worried about their closer situation for the upcoming playoffs -- this even though their closer at the time, Drew Storen, was pitching lights out -- so they made a deal with the Phillies for longtime closing star Jonathan Papelbon. The trade blew up the team. It's possible -- maybe even likely -- that the team would have blown up anyway, but the Nationals fell apart, Storen fell apart, and the only thing anyone remembers about that Nationals team was the time Papelbon choked Harper for supposedly not hustling.
Papelbon was dreadful for the Nationals the following year, and his career ended.
If the Nationals had traded nothing for Papelbon, it would have been a disastrous deal. But they actually traded pitcher NIck Pivetta. The Phillies absolutely love Pivetta. They are a team with numerous young pitching talents, but Pivetta has become a favorite, and on Thursday he showed again why.
Yes, it was against Miami, a team that, well ... please keep Don Mattingly in your thoughts. Still, Pivetta was electrifying -- 5 2/3 innings, four hits, nine strikeouts -- mid-90s fastball mixed with a devastating curve that the Marlins had no idea what to do with. He threw 24 curveballs, almost half of them -- 11 in total -- were either called or swinging strikes. He also mixed in a slider and two-seam fastball. It was an impressive display.
In Philadelphia, that Papelbon trade is the gift that keeps on giving.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.