Coming into the season, it was known that the Pirates would not possess an offensive juggernaut, and would need to play small ball to be successful. Along with an abundance of bunts, the Bucs were also expected to swipe plenty of bases with the speed of Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, and Andrew McCutchen at the top of the order. They have indeed enforced small ball thus far, but have really struggled at stealing. However, the offense isn’t the only area having troubles on the basepaths; the defense is really struggling throwing out runners.
On the offensive side, the Pirates have stolen 34 bases while being caught stealing 22 times, which equates to a 61% success rate. The 34 swiped bags is eighth-worst in the majors, but all seven teams below them (Yankees, Nationals, Tigers, Mets, Reds, Orioles, Red Sox) have been caught stealing considerably less. The 22 caught stealing is tied for second-highest with the Dodgers, while the D’Backs take the top spot with 24 CS. However, Los Angeles and Arizona both have stolen 39 bases, as opposed to the Pirates 34. Here are the Pirates stolen base leaders:
Here are the Pirates caught stealing leaders:
As you can see, the top three speedsters McCutchen, Presley, and Tabata have been involved in the most action, but they haven’t been too successful. Cutch is a respectable 10 for 14. Presley is barley over 50% at 5 for 9. Tabata has not been good at all at 6 for 13. Between the three of them, they are 21 for 36 which equates to a 58.33% success rate, which is way below expectation for your three fastest players. Clint Barmes and Yamaico Navarro (who is now with Triple-A Indianapolis) are both 0 for 2; Neil Walker is a perfect 5 for 5 in stolen base attempts.
On the defensive side, the Pirates have struggled mightily. The catchers have not been able to throw anyone out as of late, and have allowed 23 stolen bases in a row. Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry can’t be held totally accountable though, as part of it also has to do with the pitchers. Many factors play into a steal, including checking on the runner, time to the plate, and pitch location, all of which are determined by the pitcher. A.J. Burnett does not seem to hold runners well at all, which is odd considering he’s a knowledgeable veteran with tons of experience.
The Bucs have allowed 82 stolen bases, while throwing out just four runners. FOUR! The 82 steals is 13th highest in the league, but opponents haven’t stolen much on the Pirates… yet. The four caught stealing is the lowest in MLB. The Rays have only thrown out seven, but opponents have only stolen 68 against them, as opposed to the 82 on the Bucs. Opponents are 82 for 86 against the Pirates, which is an incredible success rate of 95%.
The poor ability to throw out runners could really start to hurt the Pirates. They are on a roll right now and can’t afford anything to slow them down. However, if teams want to figure out how to score against this solid staff, they are going to have to manufacture runs. The easiest way to do so is to steal bases, and the Pirates haven’t been able to stop the running game at all.
The Pirates face the Orioles this week. Luckily, the Orioles are just 22 for 57 in stolen base attempts (59% success rate). However, the face the Indians next weekend; the Tribe have swiped 48 bags this season and have only been thrown out 14 times (77% success rate). Hopefully the pitchers and catchers both can start to figure out their inability to throw out runners. If corrections aren’t made soon, the Pirates could have a big time weakness in the stolen base department, both offensively and defensively.