The Boston Red Sox have never been noted as a team that steals a lot of bases, but for one iconic moment in 2004, Dave Roberts demonstrated the value of the steal. Still, a team that for generations was built on power in a condensed ballpark, the idea of speed being a centerpiece fell short. Boston is in 23rd place in MLB on steals this season, but they are selective at 25th place in times caught.
Through the years, the Red Sox have had the occasionally stolen base champion in my years of watching the team - Jackie Jensen, Tommy Harper, and Jacoby Ellsbury all led the American League while playing for Boston.
Baseball has had an off and on again relationship with speed. The stolen base and "small ball" was how the game was played in the Dead Ball Era. Babe Ruth changed that, but in the 1960s and 1970s, the pendulum swung back again.
It was inspired by an influx of Black and Hispanic players and, especially in the National League, the stolen base returned to prominence. Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Vince Coleman, and a cadre of others brought the phrase "speed demons" to the forefront. Combine that speed with dynamic power, and you have Willie Mays.
Rule changes have been implemented to bring back the steal with larger bases and restricted pickoff limitations and the results are showing. But what about Boston?
The Red Sox can "steal" some games with Duran, Hamilton
Jarren Duran was sent packing to Worcester only to return to possibly salvage his career. Duran is a burner in the true sense and ranks 23rd in MLB on sprint speed measured by feet per second. The MLB average is 27 ft/s. Duran scores 29.3 ft/s, but swiping a base takes more than pure speed.
Charlie Finley, the owner of the A's, brought in world-class sprinter Herb Washington as a designated runner. Washington stole 31 bases in his time with the A's but was caught 17 times. Base stealing is a baseball science and art of reading the pitcher, knowing the situation, quickness, who is catching, and even field conditions. Ty Cobb knew something about stealing a base and trickery. When Cobb was on first, he often cleaned his spikes by kicking the bag toward second for that extra inch.
The Red Sox did a modicum of homework with a new emphasis on speed by acquiring Adalberto Mondesi from the Royals. Mondesi led the AL in steals during the COVID-shortened 2020 season with 24. Conversely, Mondesi has twice exceeded 30 ft/s on the sprint scale, which is elite. For his career, Mondesi has 133 steals against 23 failures, and now Mondesi is on the IL attempting to recover from significant knee surgery and could be gone for the season.
The Red Sox could start stealing a lot more bases very soon
The fastest man in the organization has now arrived in "The Show" with David Hamilton's promotion to the Red Sox. Hamilton was part of the Hunter Renfroe deal with the Brewers and may be showing significant dividends.
In 2022, Hamilton topped the organization with 70 steals at a 90% success rate. The switch-hitting infielder had surprising power in Worcester with 11 home runs before his callup to Boston. The knock on Hamilton is you can't steal first base, but Hamilton has hit in the .250 range at every stop and doing that in MLB would make Hamilton a solid contributor.
Hamilton made an impact in his very first game with his recall. Against the Twins, Hamilton stole second, standing up with a significant jump. If Hamilton gets some playing time, we may see more of his speed from the 25-year-old.
When to steal and understanding the situation is exemplified by Justin Turner whose spirit speed is a turtle-like 25.3 and slightly ahead of Rafael Devers and Triston Casas. Turner's jaunt to first base is also a team low water mark of 4.84. However, Turner is 4/4 in steals and 45/10 for his career. Impressive for a 38-year-old veteran and smart situational base running.
Hamilton's and Mondesi's future is still an open question but with Trevor Story soon returning, they both may compete for second base or a utility position. The one item both have is plus speed. Hopefully Mondesi is able to rehab his injury successfully to make this an interesting roster decision for Boston. Otherwise, he'll fall into the what could have been category.