Steals in baseball are overlooked like the number 14 seed in a March Madness bracket. I like them a lot. They can turn a walk or measly base hit into a productive game-winning rally.
The Giants have usually had one or sometimes two base-stealers who can steal over 20 bases a season. Over the past few years, steal numbers have gone down.
When the Giants were still in New York back in the late-1800′s and early 1900′s, steals were a huge part of the game. The Giants averaged anywhere from 100 to 400 steals per seasons until 1926. After that period, steals became a rare occurrence in baseball as the Giants as a team never touched 100 steals until 1971 – 45 years later.
Power hitters and a high batting average became the spotlight in baseball entertainment in that period, and the quickness of a player was never noticed due to the lack of steals around the league.
Then the steals became a part of the game once again, maybe not as big as the early century, but still the Giants averaged over 100 steals per season until the Giants hit another steal drought in the early 2000′s as guys like Barry Bonds, J.T. Snow, Jeff Kent and Rich Aurillia were the main position players on the roster.
Steals dipped below 100 per season from 2000 and 2007, hitting as low as 43 as a team in 2004. For two years in 2007 and 2008 the Giants had guys like Randy Wnn – a career 20 steals per season player – Fred Lewis, Rajai Davis and Ol’ Vroom himself Dave Roberts.
The reason these guys stole so many bases was because Barry Bonds, the home run king, was the only source of power for the Giants, at the age of 42. This left the roster open for young guns like Davis, Lewis and Eugenio Velez to start and run around the bases as much as possible.
Since those struggling seasons in ’07 and ’08, the Giants have yet to have serious steal threat in their lineup. Over the past three seasons, the Giants as a whole have averaged just 73 steals per season, well below the league average.
In 2009, Randy Winn led the team with 16 steals, second to him in that year was Emmanuel (now “Manny”) Burriss with 11. The next year, the Giants managed to win the world Series with a mediocre 55 steals (26 of which stolen by Andres Torres). After Torres, there was virtually no other on-base threat.
Guess who had the second most steals for the Giants in 2010. Go ahead, guess.
Yeah, it was Aubrey Huff, the 33-year-old first baseman with seven stolen bases. Huff!
After Torres was a speedy force for the Giants in 2010, even his steal numbers dropped to just 19 (still leading the team). Since the Giants ended their disappointing 2011 season, they have managed to trade away their top base stealer in Torres and an inconsistent pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez for a couple of guys who know their way around the base paths.
Angel Pagan, 29, was the speedy guy on the Mets before he was traded to the Giants earlier this off-season. In the past three seasons, Pagan has averaged 28 steals per year, automatically slotting him as the top base stealer for the Giants.
Melky Cabrera was the next speedy acquisition for the Giants this off-season as he stole a career high 20 bases last season with the Kansas City Royals. Although he has only averaged around 13 bases per 162 games in his career, his stealing potential was bolstered when he supposedly got into “the best shape of his life” last year.
The next addition of speed comes from the infielder Manny Burriss. After spending several seasons in the Giants minor leagues, Burris has seen little time in the majors. The 27-year-old has played in just 222 games for the Giants in a span of four years, but has averaged 26 stolen bases per 162 games during that time.
In the minors, Burriss has played in 338 games, racking up 147 stolen bases (a 70 steal average per 162 games).
He has speed, he plays second base and shortstop, and he is absolutely raking in spring training. As one of the top hitters and base runners for the Giants this spring, Burriss still hasn’t stacked up to the offensive production and blazing speed of Gregor Blanco.
Blanco has been the dark horse candidate to make the big league roster out of spring training. After signing a minor league contract and an invite to Scottsdale, Ariz., he began hitting and running like a mad man. In just 20 spring training games so far, Blanco is hitting .356 with a league-leading 11 steals. He also owns a pretty .424 on-base percentage, second on the team behind Burriss’s .431.
Also of note, Brandon Belt had 22 steals in 2010 for San Jose, Richmond and Fresno. He has the speed potential, but typically not Pagan or Burriss speed. Having a first baseman with power, the ability to field great defense and speed on the base paths may seem like a dream come true.
It is, and his name is Brandon Belt, Giants fans.
All in all, look forward to the Giants being a whole lot faster, leading to more runners in scoring position in 2012 as they have quietly accumulated a handful of solid base stealers.
I just hope Huff isn’t the second best on the team again, ever.