Red Sox showing new penchant for stealing bases
The Boston Red Sox have been uncharacteristically aggressive on the base paths in the early part of this season.
The Boston Red Sox have come out of the gate running this season.
The potent Red Sox lineups of recent years have typically relied on power over speed, but in the early going this season we are seeing a more aggressive approach on the base paths.
Boston currently leads the majors with 20 stolen bases this year. They aren’t piling up steals with reckless abandon either, as they have also been the most efficient, having been caught stealing only twice for a success rate of 90.91 percent. Only a handful of teams have a success rate of at least 80 percent and every team outside of Boston is under 83 percent.
The Red Sox are running laps around the competition on the base paths, which is a bit surprising from a team that ranked 19th in steals last season and near the bottom of the majors at 25th in 2014. Boston hasn’t been an elite base stealing team since 2013, when Jacoby Ellsbury was handling the bulk of the damage with a league leading 52 steals. Once Ellsbury fled to New York that offseason the Red Sox were left without a player that possessed that type of speed in their lineup.
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They still don’t have anyone quite as fast as Ellsbury in his prime, but an infusion of youth on this roster has led to increased production on the base paths. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts currently sit tied with our old friend Jacoby for third in the league with five steals apiece. Betts swiped 21 bags a year ago and seems primed to eclipse that mark this season. Bogaerts only stole 10 bases last year, but clearly has the speed to pile up plenty more. He was hesitant to take off running last year given how often he bats in front of David Ortiz, but he’s shown more willingness to run so far this year.
Speaking of Big Papi, the 40-year old slugger has a stolen base on his resume this year. It was his first since 2013, when he set a career-high with 4 steals, so don’t expect many more.
Then there is “Hustle” Hanley Ramirez looking to prove that his days as a base stealing threat aren’t over yet. He has three steals this season, which already puts him halfway to his total from last year. The 32-year old is far removed from being the scrawny kid that swiped 51 bags in his first two major league seasons, but a healthy Ramirez is capable of contributing 15-20 steals this year.
Dustin Pedroia hasn’t stolen a base yet, but he entered spring training claiming that his offseason routine that focused on flexibility over bulk would lead to more speed this season. He’s looked great at the plate so far and has certainly been on base often enough to have opportunities to run. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before he starts contributing to the team’s major league leading total.
While the Red Sox have been running wild this season, it’s not as if they’ve suddenly morphed into a team that needs to manufacture runs with small-ball tactics. Their home run output has been disappointing, ranking only 27th in the majors with 17 so far, but they lead the majors with 59 doubles. They also lead the AL in runs scored (111), batting average (.278), triples (7) and OPS (.787). This team can still hit.
Will the Red Sox continue to run this much? Recent history tells us no, but with six lineup regulars that are age 27 or younger, this team is in better position to be aggressive on the base paths than they have been in the past. Manager John Farrell has typically taken a more conservative approach, but he entered the season on the hot seat and needs to take some chances to save his job.
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This is a lineup that can beat you in a lot of ways, so adding the speed dynamic as an additional threat makes the Red Sox significantly more dangerous.