So far this year the Atlanta Braves are dead last in baseball in stolen bases with a grand total of 3. For the past several years we haven't been much of a running team, but that doesn't mean that throughout the 14-year streak we were a team that did run a lot. In fact, there were years we were near the top of the league in stolen bases, and other years where we were near the bottom -- and in all of those years we won. But for the most part, we were right around the league average, and hardly in the bottom three or four.
The last few years, since Rafael Furcal left at the end of 2005, we have been more of a speed bump than a speed team, registering three straight seasons among the bottom five stolen base teams in baseball. Is this a contributing factor to our lack of winning the last three years, or is it something else? Could it simply be the mix of players we have or is there a recent lack of aggressiveness that has overcome the Braves? Below is a chart of Atlanta's stolen bases verses the MLB high, low, and average from each of those years (94 and 95 were thrown out because of shortened seasons).
To tell you the truth, I had a lot of fun compiling that chart. Call it my mid-afternoon Baseball Reference playtime. It's interesting to see the decline of the stolen base from 1990 until present day, not only in the top stolen base teams, but also in the league average. Though the stolen base does seem to be making a comeback in baseball starting around 2006, but the Braves have not been a part of that comeback, having been left behind by the rest of the league.
We've got some speedy guys on our club. Jordan Schafer will eventually get a solid green light and rattle off several steals in a week. Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar have smart speed, and Matt Diaz and Brian McCann get the occaisional pitcher who forgets about them on the mound and allows them to slog over to second. There's some speed on our bench with Omar Infante and Martin Prado. But the old guys, Chipper Jones, Garret Anderson, Greg Norton, and Casey Kotchman, are not going to be getting any steals anytime soon. Jeff Francoeur had speed in the minors, but he seems completely unable to know when to go to second in the majors -- having been successful only 9 out of 20 attempts in the bigs.
Whether it is Bobby Cox's fear of running into too many outs, or a team that just doesn't posess anyone capable of taking the extra base, the Braves are forgetting that speed and stolen bases are a part of the game of baseball, and to not use all the tools of the trade may lead to less than spectacular results.