Computers and sabermetrics have changed baseball for better or for worse. Every imaginable aspect of the game has a stat tied to it. Batting, pitching, and fielding outcomes all lie in the hands of a computer. Devices dictate where players should position themselves defensively, and what pitches to throw at certain situations. The predictability of baseball has condensed its way into one’s fingertips on a smartphone. Baseball needs to revert to what it was using small ball.
The Stolen Base
What happened to the stolen base? I mean seriously. There was a time not so long ago when it seemed players would regularly steal at least 50 bases a season. This is even minuscule to the numbers in which players like Rickey Henderson would put up back in the 1980s. Stealing was a fun aspect to the game that has been forgotten with the new home run/walk/strikeout happy Major Leagues. Leadoff hitters aren’t even leadoff hitters anymore. It’s not uncommon to see a slow guy like Carlos Santana lead off a game. With these weird jumblings of lineups, you’ll get things like this. It’s crazy to think the last American League player to steal more than 60 bases was when Chicago’s Juan Pierre stole 68 in 2010.
Stealing second to get into scoring position could play a HUGE role in determining a ballgame. For example, the reason why the Red Sox broke their curse in 2004 was due to a Dave Roberts stolen base.
Up until the early 2010s, teams would have constant batting orders that wouldn’t change day to day. The leadoff hitter was someone who was speedy and could get on base, the number two batter would try to move him into scoring position, and the three, four, and five guys would be given the opportunity to drive in the leadoff man. Consistency and chemistry would develop with these lineups leading to an offense that works as a unit. This is how it was and the way it should be.
Too bad this doesn’t work well for sabermetrics. They say, no matter what, players should have a high on-base percentage, high home run rate, and a high strikeout rate, no matter where they are in the lineup.
The beauty of small ball is that rallies can be formed as a result. What’s disappointing is year after year I see too many opportunities for teams to score runs that’re squandered due to batters not bunting the runner over when the leadoff man hits a double. Bunting that runner to third creates a golden opportunity to just get a run on the board, even if it’s an out.
Teams will often elect to let the hitter in this situation foolishly swing away, more often than not striking out. Bunting is a lost art form. There’s an old saying that speed kills. The difference between a whole run or even two is having a fast man on the base paths.
Unfortunately, baseball doesn’t seem like it’s heading anywhere near this direction again. That’s why when I see teams implementing small ball by means of bunting and stealing, it puts a smile on my face. You don’t see it too often and it makes the game extra special. It really gives you a glimpse of the past.