The Pittsburgh Pirates were successful on only 58 percent of their stolen base attempts, swiping just 73 bases in 125 attempts, the worst in Major League Baseball. Andrew McCutchen led the team with 20 stolen bases but was also caught stealing 12 times, tied for the team lead. This season, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has made it a priority to improve the Pirates’ base running and increase the theft rate for 2013.
Hurdle doesn’t have an easy task ahead of him. Aside from McCutchen, the Pirates lineup is void of real speedsters. Starling Marte, called up last season and made his MLB debut on July 26th, finished second on the team in steals with 12 while being thrown out only five times. After Marte, not a single Pirates player had double-digit steals last season.
The Pirates will need to improve their stolen base rate and stop giving up outs on the basepaths if they hope to begin to turn around the misfortunes that have befallen this team in the last two decades. It won’t be easy but Clint Hurdle, a former catcher, should be able to impart some wisdom into his ballplayers as to when the best time to steal is, how to get a good lead, and how to read a pitcher.
It will, of course, be up to the players to execute. Adding Marte over a full season should boost the stolen base numbers. However, speed is only a percentage of stealing bases. Reading the pitcher, understanding the right time to start running, seeing how the middle infielder is setting up and deciding how to slide are all decisions that must be made in a short time span to ensure the bag gets swiped.
The Pirates do have some talent on the base paths. McCutchen and Marte are both very fast. Alex Presley has some speed as well, stealing nine bases last year, although he did get thrown out seven times as well.
Speed doesn’t translate automatically to stolen bases and Hurdle will have his work cut out for him as he tries to improve this facet of the Pirates’ game. If he doesn’t see the desired results this spring he might as well abandon the running game altogether. The Pirates are within reach of their first .500 season since 1992 and it is better to play station to station baseball rather than give away outs on the bases.