By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In order to manufacture more runs going forward, the White Sox need to find a way to get the best out the speed players the organization has at the top of the order. Both outfielder Adam Eaton and shortstop Tim Anderson should be more serious stolen base threats going forward.
Eaton has yet to master the art of the stolen base. He has been held back by the philosophy of the two- and three-run homers. As the game’s mindset has shifted to sluggers in the middle of the order hitting the long ball, stolen bases are down. Homers are up significantly in MLB over last season, and strikeouts are at an all-time high. These statistical facts leave little room for the hit-and-run or straight steal.
Eaton has 12 steals in 17 attempts, while Anderson is 10-for-12 in steal attempts. The 71 percent positive ratio in tries for Eaton is just below the 75 percent success rates on steal attempts that teams shoot for. Eaton has impacted the game with his speed in other areas of the game, so he has the potential to be more successful on stolen bases.
“Pitchers are more physical and pop time for the catchers with strong arms are certainly better,” Eaton said. “Remember pitchers throw harder now than ever before. If anything, we are probably getting a little slower. In that sense, I think it is a little more risk to try and steal).”
Eaton has been a force on defense in part because of his speed, and his 18 assists are the most by any outfielder in the majors. His eight triples lead the American League.
The stolen base vehicle would be a nice element take advantage of for both Anderson and Eaton in 2017.
“Different guys have different philosophies,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think it’s just the home runs being up. The strikeouts are a part of it. There are a lot more swing-and-miss guys than there used to be. The hit-and-run is not used as much. (Hitters) are pretty much swinging hard even when they get to two strikes.”
The Indians have been efficient with 112 stolen bases and only 28 unsuccessful tries. The White Sox have taken fewer chances with 69 steals in 100 attempts.
“The advantage of doing it is you get a lot more guys in scoring position,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “For us playing against Kansas City the last few years, you see what speed can do. That just becomes an element that makes it tougher on the defense. A pitcher may miss with his pitch a little bit or with location if he is worried about somebody at first base taking second base. We have seen it up close, so we know there is a value to it. Statistically, if you have a guy that has a pretty good chance at stealing a base, we are going to let him do it.”
While Eaton and Anderson have speed, the full-time green light isn’t yet there for them.
“I can’t tell you that,” Eaton said in a half-serious, half-kidding tone when asked how often he’s on his own to steal a base. “I can’t, I just can’t tell you about that. If I am running and I am safe, then I am on my own.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.