Red Sox: Where will speed come from?


The Boston Red Sox were a below-average team on the base paths last year, but will they steal more bases in 2016?

Do the Boston Red Sox have a need for speed? Based on last year’s results on the base paths they might.

The team ranked a modest ninth in the American League with 71 steals last season, but approximately 15 percent of those were swiped by players that are no longer on the roster. Take those away and the Red Sox would rank near the bottom of the league, which poses the question as to whether or not they have done enough to remain in the middle of the pack or even improve in that aspect.

Gone are the days when the Red Sox roster included a player with blazing speed, a Jacoby Ellsbury type capable of stealing 50+ bases per season. Last year Mookie Betts led the team with 21 steals, while only one other player reached double-digits. While a conservative approach to the running game is partly by design, it’s also a reflection of how the roster is constructed. A look at the lineup shows a couple of sloth-footed heavyweights, including David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval, who can’t be counted on to contribute much in this category. If either of them swipes a bag this year it’s only because they caught the defense napping.

So where will the Red Sox turn to for speed?

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Betts will continue to be the primary source of steals, which is one of the traits that makes him the most ideal choice for the lead-off spot. Another 20+ steal season seems to be the floor, but he has the speed to reach a much higher ceiling. He won’t be leading the league in this category, but approaching 30 steals is a realistic expectation.

Boston should find more speed from their other outfielders as well. Rusney Castillo only managed 4 steals last year, but he has the speed to be a threat for 20+ per season. In order to reach that level he’ll first need to work on getting on base more often, as his .288 OBP was responsible for limiting his chances on the base paths. Jackie Bradley has decent speed as well, as we’ve seen with the amount of ground he can cover in the outfield. He only tallied 3 steals last year, but when 31 of your 55 hits go for extra-bases it doesn’t leave a lot of opportunities left to steal. Also consider that both of these outfielders played in less than half the team’s games last year, so over a full season it’s reasonable to expect they can hit double-digits. They will be backed up by Chris Young, who has stolen at least 22 bags in a season on three different occasions and managed 10 as recently as 2013 despite being limited to part-time duty.

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Xander Bogaerts was second on the team last year with 10 steals in 12 attempts. He’s capable of swiping more than that, but his spot in the lineup ahead of Ortiz may limit his opportunities. We should still expect another season in double-digits with a modest increase over last year.

Blake Swihart may not be the fastest guy on the team, but he is one of the most athletic catchers in the game. He’s not a major threat to steal, but when you factor in the position he plays he should contribute at an above-average level.

A healthy Dustin Pedroia is capable of 20+ steals, which he’s accomplished four times in his career. The veteran second baseman has stolen a total of only 8 bases over the last two years at a miserable 50 percent success rate, but he’s determined to turn that around this year.

"“I’m going to run more,” Pedroia proclaimed at the Red Sox Winter Weekend last month, according to the Boston Herald. “The last couple years, when I was running, David was getting walked. I kind of want him to hit. So that stuff changes. But certain parts of last year, Bogey hit behind me, so time to go.”"

The 32-year old may be losing a step at this stage of his career, but he has good instincts and can still be effective on the base paths when he picks his spots wisely. He has also altered his training regimen to focus more on athleticism over strength, which should help him regain some of the speed he appeared to have lost over the last two years. He may not reach 20 steals again in his career, but as long as he remains healthy he’s a threat to at least crack double-digits.

The Red Sox were in the bottom half of the league in total steals last year, but they were fifth in efficiency with a 72.45 percent success rate. If they can retain that efficiency while increasing their opportunities we could see the Red Sox break into the top-five in the league.

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Boston fans know as well as anyone the importance of a base stealing threat, needing only to recall the heroics of Dave Roberts in the 2004 ALCS. They don’t have a pinch-runner of that caliber on standby and won’t have anyone challenging for the league-lead in the category, but the combined efforts of everyone in the lineup should at least push the Red Sox into the top half of the league this year.