Will Boston Red Sox be able to run to a World Series title?

Can the Boston Red Sox change a game with a stolen base? This is a team that has demonstrated that ability that is matched by only one other AL potential playoff opponent.

Just how important is speed in baseball? All season long we have witnessed a Boston Red Sox team challenge defenses with aggressive base running. In some memorable instances, the results were quite embarrassing to a player and manager, Alex Cora.

The most recognizable speed factor in baseball is the stolen base.  The first memorable stolen base I witness was in 1955 in Game 1 of the World Series when Jackie Robinson swiped home. Stealing home even then was somewhat of a rarity and Billy Martin tried it in the same game only to be nabbed. The Yankees still won the game 6-5.

Then there is 2004 and just the mention of the name Dave Roberts conjures up “The Steal” that dramatically influenced the ALCS against the Yankees. Roberts historic theft became the catalyst for a Red Sox victory after Bill Mueller drove him in to tie the game.

To metrics enthusiasts, BsR is an all-encompassing statistic as described below. For the Red Sox, the -6.2 BsR is last among the American League playoff teams. Cleveland has a 15.2 BsR to lead all AL clubs. What is of note is the Red Sox -1.3 BsR of the second half. You can get deeper into the metrics and examine other components that delineate baserunning, but my focus is on steals and wSB.

Base Running (BsR) is FanGraphs’ all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average. It is the combination of Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR) which are all available on the leaderboards and player pages.

The Red Sox are quite adept at pilfering bases and are currently second in the AL with 122 and caught only 31 times. All season long, Boston has displayed aggressiveness on the base paths and attempted to put pressure on the defenses with steals and at times adventurism that has ended tragically or been a delightful highlight.

wSB is easy to read and easy to use. Zero is always league average for that season and it is measured in runs above or below average. This means a player with a +5 wSB has been worth five more runs than the average player given that player’s stolen base activity and opportunities. Generally, you see values between -3 and +6 for full time players, but that isn’t written in stone. – FanGraphs

The Red Sox have an 8.3 wSB and that is league best. Cleveland – a team that has 132 steals and 35 caught is a notch behind at 8.1 wSB. The Red Sox in the second half have seen that number drop to a 1.3 wSB. Red Sox fans are well aware of the capabilities of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, and Andrew Benintendi in the steals category. And if you are after a leader on the negative that is Brock Holt being caught seven times.

Cleveland presents the most notable stolen base threat to the Red Sox and the A’s the least opportunist with just 35 steals. The Yankees have 63 and the reigning champion Astros have 71 steals to round out potential competition. Then comes stopping them.

The Red Sox catching group has been quite proficient at that with 30 caught and 64 successful. The league average caught stealing percentage (lgCS%) is 28%, Christian Vazquez has a 37 CS% and Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon a 26 CS%. Leon’s figure this season has dropped his career level to 37 CS%.

The importance of a steal in a short series can certainly change the entire outcome and Boston has that ability and from more than just one player. There is no need for a Quintin Berry, Rajai Davis, or Roberts to be sitting and waiting to swipe a base. And the aggressiveness other than steals has become more selective and refined as the season has progressed.

If the series comes to generating runs by taking an extra base or a selective steal the Red Sox certainly have the weapons.