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Stop, Thief!

   by Al McMordie - 05/06/2005

Home runs have been in the news, even before the season started, with all the talk about steroids, Barry Bonds, and home run records. Home runs are certainly the most glamorized aspect of baseball, especially when you watch highlights on ESPN each night. However, winning baseball encompasses so much more than bombs, dingers or taters.

Let's take a close look at stolen bases. Steals are a very different offensive approach than waiting for the long ball. Instead of trying to score via the home run or extra base hits, steals can just as efficiently help a team cross home plate. When you hear terms like "National League style" or "manufacturing runs," it is referring to scoring this way: Drawing a walk, followed by a steal of second, a ground ball to advance the runner to third, then a sacrifice fly. The point is: There wasn't a single hit, but a team still scored a run. And one non-flashy run that way counts the same as a prodigious solo homer on the scoreboard.

Steals do many other things to help a team, too. With a guy on first or second who can steal, the opposing pitcher often is aware of this, taking his focus away from the batter. Errant throws to second can trickle into the outfield on a steal attempt, with the batter getting an easy pass to third. In addition, speed on the base paths is just as important as a steal, with players taking the extra base, going from first to third or second to home.

Take a look at the top four teams in the American League in stolen bases: 1) Angels, 2) Devil Rays, 3) Orioles, 4) White Sox, 5) Twins. What stands out about that list? They're all in first place! That is, the Orioles, White Sox and Angels are all in first place, with the Twins in second place with a strong record. Of that list, only Tampa Bay is having a poor season. And two of those teams, Chicago and Baltimore, have been the big surprises of the AL this season. Clearly, steals are a big part of their success.

The Orioles have a dynamite one-two punch atop the order in Brian Roberts and Luis Matos, two guys who are getting on and swiping bases regularly (19 combined steals in 27 games). And speaking of swiping, the White Sox made a key offseason move by stealing LF Scott Podsednik from the Brewers, and he's helped to jumpstart the Chicago offense with 11 steals in 22 games. The biggest surprise in the National League is the Arizona Diamondbacks, and notice they have the third-most steals in the NL.

One final point: Who was third in the American League during the 2002 season in steals? The eventual surprise World Series champion Anaheim Angels. And who led the NL in steals in 2003? The Florida Marlins with 150. Those same Marlins who came out of nowhere to win the 2003 World Series. Steals may not make the flashy Sports Center highlights, but they are very important as there are many ways to score runs and win games. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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