Stolen bases not as trendy as they seem

Updated: May 24, 2009

Paul Jasienski/Getty Images

Carl Crawford, 28-for-28 in stolen base attempts, is on pace to reach 100 steals in 2009.

There is no doubt that teams in the post-steroid era are looking for different ways to score runs and different ways to prevent runs. We've had a real emphasis on defense the past couple of years. The Rays and Phillies, arguably the two best defensive teams in baseball last year, both made the World Series. Everyone understands that in addition to defense you need a depth of pitching or you are not going to win.

A lot has been made of the stolen base as an offensive weapon recently.

We've seen two steals of the plate (by Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and Houston's Michael Bourn) so far this season. We've seen Dexter Fowler of the Rockies steal five bases in a game and Carl Crawford of the Rays steal six in a game. All of this suggests that running is really expanding and that teams are trying to steal more bases than in the past.

But as I look at the stolen base figures, there hasn't been that much of a spike. Stolen bases are up just a little bit, but barely, from the 2000 season, which, as most fans will remember, was at the peak of the steroid era. The increase from 2000 to now is negligible, suggesting that teams are still hesitant to try to advance 90 feet on a play at the risk of an out.

Baseball is still very much an offensive game, and what people tend to forget is that in the past first-base coaches weren't always standing around with stop watches in their hands timing pitchers as they throw to the plate and catchers as they throw to second base. Now, that is commonplace.

About 15 years ago, teams really made an effort to take the running game away, and the trend has continued ever since. That's why we don't see as many steals anymore. Every pitcher slide-steps now and teams understand that they need to hold guys at first base to prevent runs.

So is the home run falling out of fashion? Hardly. Yes, the home run has been steadily decreasing since 1999-2000, but the number hasn't gone down that drastically. We are in an era when guys will swing as hard as they can, whether it's a 3-0 count or an 0-2 count. That's part of the reason why so many hitters are striking out. Chris Davis just struck out in 21 straight games, and that feat wasn't even remarkable. Plenty of hitters have reached 20-game strikeout streaks in the past few years. Keep in mind that Joe DiMaggio's longest strikeout streak was four games. And now 20 games isn't anything special.

There are players from every era who consistently swung for the fences, but one legacy of the steroid era is the large number of hitters who get to the plate and swing big every time. We may be starting to see more hitters change their approach, but it's happening very, very slowly. Despite some of the attention that the stolen base has received lately, we won't be seeing as many steals as we did 40 years ago. Baseball isn't ready, and probably never will be, to turn its back on the long ball.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: May 21 | May 20 | May 19 | May 18 | May 17

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllThis season, "Baseball Tonight" will be tracking Web Gems. We'll publish a leaderboard on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page each Monday. In addition to listing the leaders in appearances (both players and teams) on "Baseball Tonight," we'll offer up the leaders in Web Gem Points.

Web Gem Points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem Points leaderboard
Brandon Inge 22
Nick Punto 17
Ryan Sweeney 17
David Wright 16
Michael Bourn 13
Ryan Zimmerman 13

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 7
David Wright New York Mets Third base 7
Nick Punto Minnesota Infield 4
Michael Bourn Houston Center field 4
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Third base 4
Ryan Sweeney Oakland Outfield 4

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
Washington 13
Texas 12
Tampa Bay 12
Philadelphia 12
NY Mets 11
Oakland 11

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Cardinals at Brewers, 2:05 p.m. ET

It's a battle of aces -- Chris Carpenter vs. Yovani Gallardo -- as the two NL Central front-runners open their second series of the season. The Brewers swept the Cardinals in St. Louis more than a week ago. Despite an oblique injury that sidelined him for more than a month, Carpenter has yet to allow an earned run in 2009, pitching 15 scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Gallardo has emerged as the Brewers' No. 1 starter. Before losing his last start at Houston, he'd won three straight decisions.

Tigers at Royals, 2:10 p.m. ET

The two AL Central leaders open a three-game set. Justin Verlander, perhaps baseball's hottest pitcher, takes the mound for Detroit as the two AL Central leaders open a three-game set. In his past five starts, the Tigers fireballer has gone 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings. In his career he's also owned a 7-1 record and 2.43 ERA against the Royals, who've lost 11 of their past 15 and were shut out twice over the weekend. Gil Meche (2-4, 4.42 ERA) starts for Kansas City.

Rays at Indians, 6:05 p.m. ET

Baseball's top prospect, David Price, makes his first start of 2009 for the Rays, who will try to end a 13-game road losing streak at Cleveland, where they haven't won since 2005. Price, 23, went 1-4 with a 3.93 ERA at Triple-A Durham. The left-hander, starting in place of the injured Scott Kazmir, will face Indians starter Fausto Carmona, who gave up five runs but beat Tampa Bay on May 14.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
J. Hamilton, Tex6HouHamptonTop 1: 3-1, 2 Outs. None on.
M. Teixeira, NYY13PhiHamelsBot 6: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
A. Dunn, Was14BalWalkerBot 7: 2-2, 1 Outs. Gr. Slam.
J. Wilson, Pit1CWSJenksTop 9: 1-0, 2 Outs. None on.
K. Griffey Jr., Sea5SFZitoBot 1: 0-0, 2 Outs. 1 on.
J. Morneau, Min13MilStetterBot 7: 0-0, 2 Outs. Gr. Slam.

The complete list of Sunday's homers


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BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
9:30 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Chris Singleton
1:20 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Chris Singleton

BBTN MINUTE: PRICE'S DEBUT

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

The San Diego Padres have won nine straight games, the longest streak in the National League this season, but you wouldn't know it by their offensive numbers. Meanwhile, their pitching staff allowed only 16 runs in nine games:

Padres during 9-game win streak
BA *.209
Runs/Game 3.9 (35/9)
ERA 1.63 (16 ER, 88 IP)
BA .229
IP-K 88-76
*Adrian Gonzalez: .176 BA, 2 RBIs

WEB GEMS

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Adam Dunn• The Nationals haven't had many bright spots in 2009, but Adam Dunn was one on Sunday. The slugger clubbed a two-run homer and a grand slam in consecutive innings, completing a six-RBI day as he carried Washington past Baltimore 8-5 to avoid a three-game sweep.
WORST
Shawn Camp• The Blue Jays' bullpen has the third-best ERA in the majors at 3.37, but they didn't do the job Sunday. With the score tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor combined to surrender seven runs on five hits and two walks in the inning as the Braves walked away with a 10-2 victory and a three-game sweep of the Jays, who've now lost six straight.

NUMBERS TO KNOW: THE DECLINE OF DAVID ORTIZ

David Ortiz Red Sox batting coach Dave Magadan said following Sunday's win that dropping David Ortiz from the No. 3 spot in the order could be talked about as a possibility. Ortiz has one home run in 154 at-bats, he was 0-for-12 against the Mets over the weekend, and he's hitting .195, including .161 in May.

Ortiz BA vs. Fastballs
Note: Did not look at 2008; Ortiz did not play between June 1 and July 25
2006-07 2009
Overall .361 .194
When behind .262 .100
When ahead .414 .156
*Inside strikes .374 .241
*Fastballs on the inside part of the strike zone.

From 2006 to 2007, Ortiz's slugging percentage on inside fastballs (strikes on inside part of strike zone) was .897; in 2009 that number is .345 -- that's a difference of .552! (Ortiz's career slugging percentage overall is .545)

BA on fastballs
Ortiz Diff. from MLB avg.
2006 .350 +.056
2007 .371 +.077
2008 .297 +.003
2009 .194 -.100

Slugging percentage overall
Ortiz Diff. from MLB avg.
2006 .659 +.218
2007 .633 +.192
2008 .507 +.066
2009 .291 -.150

Ortiz partially tore a tendon in his left wrist on May 31, 2008. He missed over a month and a half and returned on July 25. Obviously, since that injury, he's seen his performance at the plate decline.

Ortiz decline since 2006
Before tendon injury Since tendon Injury
BA on fastballs .344 .247
Diff. from MLB avg. +.050 -.047
Slug. pct. .617 .413
Diff. from MLB avg. +.176 -.028

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Monday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes

CUBS' OFFENSE IS LOST