The current formula for scoring runs in Major League Baseball? More manufactured runs and less power jacks (MFR >PJ, or something like that). With a decrease in home runs – which, depending on who you talk to, may be directly related to baseball’s new drug-testing policy – MLB managers have sought out new ways to move players around the bases and across home plate.
And what better way to do that than through the old swipe – yes, the stolen base. Here, now, is a look at some of the most dominant thieves in baseball this season:
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays
Since breaking into the bigs in 2002, Crawford has been regarded as one of baseball’s best basepath burners. He’s had four 50-plus steal seasons, including a career high 59 in 2004 – but that’s nothing compared to what he’s doing this season. With 39 steals through 76 games, Crawford is on pace for a ridiculous 83-steal season, which would be the most in the American League since Rickey Henderson swiped 93 with Oakland in 1988. Crawford is the prototypical burner – he’s exceptionally fast and hits for average (.295 career), then maintains an aggressive approach once on base.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
The reigning American League stolen base champ (50 in 2008), Ellsbury embodies Boston’s change in approach to scoring runs. When many think of the World Series-winning Red Sox, they think Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz bashing in runs from the middle of the lineup. Now, though, the modern-day Sox are more small ball with Ellsbury stealing bases (31 so far) and Dustin Pedroia (no slouch himself with 12) slapping singles. It’s funny to think that – in 2006 – not a single Red Sox player had more than 22 steals; last season Ellsbury got his 50 while Pedroia, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo all had 12 or more.
Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
Bourn burst onto the scene last year, taking 41 bags for an Astros team that didn’t have much in the way of base stealing. Prior to acquiring Bourn from Philadelphia, Houston was one of the most inept base-stealing teams in Major League Baseball – in 2006, the immortal Hunter Pence led the team with 11. But that’s all changed with the emergence of Bourn. His 25 steals are tops in the National League and he’s on pace for 55 – meaning he could be Houston’s first National League stolen base champ since Craig Biggio in 1994.
Chone Figgins, Los Angeles Angels
Figgins is the prototypical scrapper. Listed at 5’8, 180lbs, the Angels 3B is one of those high-average, high-on base percentage types who looks to get on first – then wreak havoc. Figgins broke onto the scene in 2005-06, stealing 114 bases in the two seasons combined. Since then, he’s emerged as one of the American League’s best thieves. After a down year in 2008 (just 34 swipes) Figgins is back this year – he sits fourth in the AL with 25 steals and is on pace for 51 – that’d be the third 50-plus steal season of his career.