Through the first three months of the 2013 season, Nate McLouth was running the bases like a man possessed. 8 stolen bases in April. 9 stolen bases in May. Another 7 steals in June. Heading into July, he had already eclipsed his full season career high! Then it all came to a screeching halt. During the month of July, McLouth stole 1 base in 2 attempts. That’s insane. How do we go from a guy who looks like he will easily steal over 40 bags to a guy that we’re praying will get to 30 steals for the season. His average was just as good in July as it was in the previous months, so it’s not like he didn’t have any opportunities. So what gives? Why do some guys just suddenly stop stealing? If you think it’s that he was running a little over his head given his previous steals totals, you’d be right. If you think that it’s more an issue of opposing teams handling him differently, you’re also right. It’s both.
Any good base stealer knows about how long it will take them to get from base to base. They also know about how long it takes the pitcher to get the ball to the plate and how long it will take the catcher to get the ball to second. If those two numbers work out in the runner’s favor, it’s a green light and off he goes. If those two numbers don’t work out, no matter how hard he tries, he won’t make it. With a guy like McLouth, who never really had big time stolen base numbers before (remember his previous career high was 23) his ability to steal a base might totally change if pitchers start getting the ball to home more quickly, swinging the math back in their favor. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and pitchers can adjust to baserunners just like they can adjust to batters.
This seems to be what has happened to McLouth. I recently read an interview with Buck Showalter from July 20th by Britanny Ghiroli of MLB.com. It was brought up that McLouth hadn’t been running as much. Apparently McLouth had told Buck that the stolen bases just “are not there” referring to the quicker times to the plate by pitchers adjusting to his thievery. Buck, being the good manager that he is (sorry for not being totally objective) would rather McLouth not run into outs and recognizes that the pitchers’ adjustments to him on the base paths also result in better pitches to hit for the guys at the dish.
The point of all this is that McLouth had a great first half as far as steals go, but if you are waiting for him to suddenly turn it back on, it may not happen unless pitchers start to fall asleep on him again. He just doesn’t have the wheels to outrun a quick time to the plate like some other guys. This is a time when steals are scarce and fantasy championships are being determined by just a few points (in one of my leagues there are only two steals separating 2nd through 5th places in the category). Even with two great match-ups this week against the Padres and Giants, I don’t know if we are going to see the steals flurry from him that we saw in the first three months of the year. It’s bad news for McLouth’s fantasy owners who might be expecting him to turn on the afterburners again. It’s good news for the Orioles, though, who have a player who knows that running into an out is bad for his baseball team.
I hope this post was helpful and I want to thank commenter ‘Tip’, whose great question on Saturday’s post sparked my curiosity on the subject. I thought it was worth exploring. Here is the link to that small but important conversation with Buck Showalter.
Rajai Davis will see a big increase in playing time yet again as Melky Cabrera heads to the DL with a bad knee. Getting the start yesterday Rajai stole 3 bags against the Halos, who continue to allow massive amounts of stolen bases. During Melky’s previous DL stint which started on June 28th, Rajai started all but three games and stole 8 bases in that time. I’d look for more of the same. He’ll get the Mariners and Athletics this week who are both in the middle of the pack for stolen bases allowed. If Melky’s injury turns out to be more serious, Davis could lead a lot of teams to fantasy baseball championships this year.
Cameron Maybin – Obviously this has been a terrible year for Maybin, who started off the season hitting under .200 while nursing a wrist injury that landed him on the DL. Then in June he tears his PCL after just 4 games and has been out ever since. Well, Maybin is out on an extended rehab assignment and is inching his way closer to a return. The knee injury was a serious one, and it’s yet to be seen if he will test it on the base paths, but he has always had the natural abilities to steal. He did steal 4 bags in those 4 games while he was back with the Padres. To win a championship, sometimes you have to take a gamble and stash a guy like this while everyone else is asleep at the wheel.
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