Private Lessons in St. Louis - Rick Strickland Baseball

From 2010 to 2012, the Kansas City Royals were their typical old selves. Like most of the two decades prior, they averaged 70 wins in those three seasons and were out of contention well before the leaves started changing colors.

But a funny thing happened in 2013 when they led the majors in stolen bases. They won about 20 percent more ballgames and finished that fall with a robust 86 victories.

In 2014, they led the league again in stolen bases and made it to the World Series before losing to San Francisco in seven games. Then, in 2015 -- when they finished second in the American League in SB -- they swiped their way to a World Series championship, taking down New York four games to one.

Over the course of those two World Series seasons, the Royals stole 257 bases and hit 234 home runs, good for a 1.10 SB-to-HR ratio. The rest of the league -- as in, the 29 other teams that didn’t win the championship -- stole far fewer bases proportionally, and had a 0.58 SB-to-HR ratio.

The Golden Age of Thievery
Clearly, aggressiveness on the basepaths paid off for the Royals’ and their long-suffering fans. Not only did they win their first championship in 30 years, but they were playing an exciting brand of baseball, including against the Mets in the Fall Classic when they stole seven bases in five games.

They were reminiscent of teams from the mid-1970s’ heyday of stolen bases. In that era, there was a dramatic shift toward putting pressure on opposing batteries, best reflected in the following statistic: the three-year period from 1974 to 1976 had the largest increase in stolen bases in major league history.

And as you might have guessed, the champions of those three seasons were excellent base-stealing teams: Oakland had the second most in the majors in `74, and Cincinnati had the third most in both `75 and `76.

So what led to this three-year explosion in steals, when the per-team average SB-to-HR ratio was 1.07? And why have Royals baserunners been given the perpetual green light lately?

Science Versus the Steal
A more interesting question, perhaps, is why the rest of the league hasn’t followed the Royals’ lead? After all, in 2014 and 2015, the pennant-winning Royals averaged 128 steals per season: a full 40 more than the league average of 88.

The short answer may simply be that it’s more difficult to steal bases these days. In our Statcast world of Sabermetrics and standard deviations, the science behind thwarting would-be base stealers is robust. Pitchers understand that delivering to home in under 1.4 seconds is crucial; coaching staffs have hi-tech video to analyze base stealers’ tendencies; we even know what you ate for breakfast.

And yet, through it all, the Royals demonstrated that stocking a roster with good base stealers pays dividends: When they had multiple players with double-digit steals, they went to two World Series.

What Do Players Need to Do?
Obviously, quickness and instincts are important: David Ortiz and Prince Fielder were never going to be threats to swipe too many bags. But there are quite a few things beyond foot speed that young players need to do to become good base stealers.

1.)Calculate - If the time it takes a runner to go 90 feet is less than the time it takes the pitcher to throw home and the catcher to throw to second or third, he’s good to go. And in this day and age, players eat this sort of data up in the pre-game so they know for sure when the green light should be turned on.

2.)Recognize - Pitchers are creatures of habit, and much like poker players, they have their “tells.” Their motion from the stretch almost certainly starts the same way each time, so studious base runners can become successful base stealers by identifying when a pitcher’s going home or when he’s throwing over.

3.)Stay Low - To get a fast, powerful start out of your lead offs, most professionals will tell you to stay as low as possible when taking your first few steps. You want to generate momentum then, and staying low will give you an initial burst that helps you get to top speed in the fewest number of strides.

4.)Be Fearless - Without a 100% commitment to confidence and taking that extra base, your first step won’t be as assured and it will lack the explosiveness it needs. To be successful like the true base stealing wizards of the past and present, you need to have an aggressive -- in a way, threatening -- mindset.

"You have to have that threat," said Oakland’s Rajai Davis -- he of the third-most stolen bases in MLB since 2007 -- to sportsonearth.com. "You get rid of that threat, then pitchers don't leave as many pitches over the plate. They have to either be quick to the plate and focus on the hitter or focus on the baserunner and leave that ball over the plate."

A Valuable Skill for Young Players
Even though the Royals have had so much success recently on the base paths -- their 153 steals when they went to the World Series in 2014 would have been good for third-best in 1974 when the mid-70s’ resurgence began -- not every MLB team is placing an emphasis on stealing bases.

But some obviously are, as are teams at the pee-wee, high school, and NCAA levels. So having the ability to steal bases can be a big bonus for young players, and with the help of Rick Strickland Baseball’s advanced training programs, you can round out your game by becoming a legitimate threat on the basepaths.




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