Last week, Ryan Wallerson of the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece about this (read HERE). I thought it was an interesting take, especially since the Yankees historically favor the home run over the stolen base. Yet the Yankees are struggling to hit home runs, they are stealing bases, and they are winning. Moreover, it is no accident.
When Joe Torre first took over the Yankees in 1996, he emphasized small ball. They were stealing bases. They were laying down bunts to move runners. As the old adage goes, get ’em on, get ‘em over, get ’em in. That team did it well. In fact, most of the teams from the Torre era were able to keep runners moving through traditional skills like bunting and stealing bases. Most successful teams do. It makes sense if you think about it.
Stolen bases do a number of things that wreak havoc with opposing teams. Free bases turn into runs. Any runner that can steal bases can take second if they reach first. It is a very simple formula. You reach first, you can take second. You reach second, it only takes a single to bring in a fast runner. It takes one less hit and one less batter to score than if you are standing on first. In addition, base stealers force pitchers to pitch to them. No one wants to give a free pass to a fast runner. Getting pitches to hit makes batters much more productive. Finally, they can be a major distraction on the bases. How many times have we seen pitchers lose focus, throw bad pitches, because they are paying way too much attention to the guy on first? All of which leads to more runs.
There has been a lot written about the lack of home runs at the start of this season. It remains to be seen how much that will matter in the season’s final tally. What is obvious is that baseball hitters are being forced to adjust. With advanced scouting and maneuvers like the shift gaining more and more prominence, just swinging away and hitting it hard somewhere is not enough. Teams have to be smarter about how they approach their offense strategy. The fundamentals are going to matter more than they have in the past. The Yankees, if they continue to pursue their approach of aggressive base running and stealing, should be well positioned to have a productive season.