The Minnesota Twins did plenty of things well in 2019, winning the AL Central and setting the all-time record for home runs, but one thing they didn’t do was steal many bases. With Byron Buxton hurt for much of the season and the ball flying out of the park like never before, the Twins were Minnesota Nice on the base paths, swiping a league-low 28 bags.
The Twins ran sparingly, and when they did try to take a base, they were incredibly inefficient. Minnesota baserunners attempted only 49 steals, but were caught 21 times, for a league-worst 57% success rate. Given their lack of success and propensity for hitting long-balls, it isn’t surprising that the Twins stayed put.
The Twins didn’t run much in 2018 either, taking just 47 bags, putting them in 27th place. They were more efficient (63%) but still not where you want to be (above 70%) and the team lead was shared by Eddie Rosario and Brian Dozier with just eight steals.
With the Twins running less than ever and smacking bombas like never before is there any reason to care about the stolen base in today’s game? And is there any chance that Minnesota will see an uptake in steals for 2020?
Starting with the first question, the stolen base does seem to be an area where teams can still grab an advantage in the modern game. While the Twins have been extremely inefficient stealing bases, baseball as a whole is more efficient than ever.
In fact, 13 of the last 14 seasons rank as the most efficient since 1920. With more information available than ever before, it’s easier to target which combinations of pitchers and catchers are prime to steal on, greatly increasing the chances of success.
There is also a good chance that the juiced ball of 2019 will be less juicy in 2020. The ball was a big story in 2019 and it was widely speculated that the ball was altered for the postseason to lessen home runs. MLB is set to investigate the ball this offseason and it seems all but certain to be less home run friendly in 2020. With fewer balls leaving the park and increased base-stealing efficiency, the stolen base could play a bigger role going forward.
As far as the potential for Minnesota swiping more bags next year, there will be no bigger factor then the health of Byron Buxton. Buxton ranks third in the league with a sprint speed of 30.3 feet/second and his elite speed helps him to be an extremely efficient base stealer. For his career he has stolen 60 bases and been caught only eight times (88.24% success rate). Buxton stole a career-high 29 bags in 140 games in 2017 (he was only caught once!) and he should be encouraged to run with greater frequency.
After Buxton, things look quite a bit bleaker in the base-stealing department. Polanco is the next fastest runner with a 28.2 ft/sec sprint speed, but he is not a particularly adept base stealer. He stole just four bases in 2019, although he did have 13 steals back in 2017. Lamonte Wade Jr., Max Kepler, and Jake Cave all have above-average speed, but they combined for only one stolen base this year and Kepler was thrown out five times. Top-prospect Royce Lewis has elite speed, but he will likely spend most if not all of 2020 in the minor leagues.
Given that Minnesota will most likely run out pretty much the same set of position players in 2020, if they are going to steal more they will have to be smart about it. With the overall lack of flashy base runners, the Twins will have to pick their spots carefully if they hope to become more proficient on the base paths. A healthy Byron Buxton could go a long way towards making that happen.
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