The Final Season: Base Stealing

Pirates 2 – Braves 1; CJ: 0-3, BB

Braves lost, but it’s great to see Michael Bourn out there again. He hurt his thumb sliding head first into second a little over a week ago, and he missed a good number of games after that. But he came back yesterday, had a couple hits and a walk, then one today. Both days he scored a run. Big thumbs up on that (unless it hurts too much).

But it’s also good thing because I think, as the Braves have said from the start of the season, that to be successful, they need Bourn to play well. If they’re going to be a contender this post season, they need Bourn to get on base and get things going. In short, they need his speed.

That got me thinking about speed in baseball and why it’s so important and how tough it is to steal bases. Speed, in the traditional sense, it probably actually not that rare in baseball. These are athletes, so they most all of them (minus Brian McCann and other catchers and most first baseman) get down the first baseman faster than say the average Joe. So, really, it takes exceptional speed to steal a base.

And why is speed so important? It really does make things happen. From the start, it disrupts the pitcher’s motion and distracts from his attention. I mean, most pitchers even have to change their delivery when a guy is on first, going from a full motion to essentially a half one. I would imagine that makes getting the same results with your pitches slightly challenging.

Then, as far as the playoffs, you have the best versus the best, so you’re not going to see a lot of 6-0 games. Instead, you’re going to see a lot of 3-2, 4-3 kind of games. Thus, “manufacturing” runs, or getting a guy on, over, and in, becomes incredibly important. If you have a guy that can get a single and then steal a base to put himself into scoring position, he could potentially score and be the difference maker in your game.

There is certainly an art to stealing. You have to know when to go and when to hang back. You have to know when to go feet first or head first. Or, if you’re Bourn, you never go head first, unless you forget your own rule and injure yourself when you do.

But base stealing is all about picking your spots. Feeling out the pitcher and the defense, and knowing when is the right time. Some managers let guys decide that for themselves, or let certain players decide, at least. I imagine Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t give McCann free reign to run when he wants as he does Bourn. And if you’re a guy like, Bourn, you have to pick wisely. Does the pitcher have a good pickoff move that could catch you leaning? Does he have a quick or slow delivery to the plate? Either way, can I get a good jump on him? Does he throw pitches that are easy for a catcher to glove and release? And does the all-important catcher have a good arm?

And you know what, I bet the best base stealers would tell you it’s all instinct, and not a checklist like I’ve listed above. They just know, and they go. Done and done.

But it’s a thrilling part of the game for sure, holding your breath to see if the guy will make it or not. Then there’s the half million replays for you to play coach-potato umpire. Do you both make the right call?

Base stealing is an exciting, essential part of baseball. Seems like a team has got to have it be successful. Hopefully that means the Braves will be successful this postseason.