Here’s something you probably didn’t see coming, whatever the time of year: the Chicago Cubs have the second most stolen bases in Spring Training this year. The average team has about 18 stolen bases by this point, and the Cubs are up to 28.
Watch out, league, the Cubs are runnin’ wild this year!
Or are they?
I can’t help but wonder if this is a spring-exclusive aberration, and the last few years of the Joe Maddon era kinda back that up. In 2017, the Cubs stole just 15 bases in the spring, 26th in baseball. So nothing doing there. But in 2016, they were 7th with 28. In 2015, they were 6th with 25. In three of the past four years, the Cubs have been a base-stealin’ kinda team in Spring Training.
Did the regular season wind up matching the previous spring escapades?
- 2015: 95 SB, 9th in MLB
- 2016: 66, 20th
- 2017: 62, 24th
… so, not really. In the regular season under Joe Maddon, the Cubs have not been much of a base-stealing team, and have progressively become less and less.
You also have to consider who it is that’s doing all the stealing this spring. Of those 28 stolen bases, half have been accumulated by guys who won’t be making the big league roster. Sure, they, too, could be stealing as part of a philosophical approach. Or they could just be guys who happen to run a little bit more, and don’t really have anything to do with how the Cubs plan to operate in the regular season.
Given the preceding Spring Training track record, I don’t think we can fairly say that this year’s wild running will necessarily translate into the regular season.
But maybe the Cubs can just improve overall on the bases?
Last year, the Cubs’ -6.6 BsR (base running value translated to runs) was 24th in baseball. To put that in context, a good base running club can put up a +15 to 20 BsR score, which is worth about one or two extra wins over the course of a season.
And that’s what the Cubs did in 2016, when they put up a 15.9 BsR, 5th in baseball. And they did it in 2015, too, at 15.8, 2nd in baseball.
That swing from being up 15 runs on the bases to down over 6 is more than a two-win move in the standings. That can turn a playoff race, and it sounds like the coaching staff is making the running game – not just stolen bases, but running overall – a point of emphasis this spring (Tribune). Sure, personnel changes always impact these things, but if the Cubs can get just a little better at taking the extra base, and reduce the handful of times they needlessly get thrown out on the bases, then the net improvement could be significant. (And we might even get to see Kyle Schwarber successfully take home from second base on a wild pitch.)
In case you were wondering, among Cubs regulars last year, some BsR scores:
- Kris Bryant: 4.8
- Javy Baez: 3.8
- Addison Russell: 1.0
- Kyle Schwarber: -0.4
- Jason Heyward: -0.8
- Albert Almora: -1.7
- Ben Zobrist: -1.9
- Ian Happ: -2.6
- Anthony Rizzo: -4.6
- Willson Contreras: -6.0
It’s not hard to see some guys who could improve, given their natural ability and previous track records. For Rizzo and Contreras, in particular, that’s a whole lot of individual value being lost on the bases.