One bright spot in 2012 so far has been an increased proclivity for base-stealing. This is in large part due to Starlin Castro’s emergence as a premier base-stealer and the recent addition of Tony Campana to the major league roster. Together those two have combined for 11 steals while being caught just one time. Adding that dynamic to the team affords the Cubs an ability to create something out of nothing offensively; elite speed is not something that the Cubs have had on the bases in quite some time.
Currently (and yes it’s early), the Cubs are on pace for 111 stolen bases. That would mark only the second time since 1997 that they recorded as many as 100 SBs in a season – the other time being 2006 when Juan Pierre led the way with 58 steals (121 total for the team). Castro is on pace for 60 SBs, while Campana’s pace is more difficult to project. He should see more time both in the field and at the plate in 2012 than he did in 2011. In five games of incredibly limited duty (only 16 PAs), he’s already swiped 4 bags. When Campana has an base open in front of him he’s likely to try and steal it; Castro should have far more opportunities on the basepaths, but Campana’s career success rate is an otherworldly 93%. Let’s settle on a conservative 35 SBs for Campana (he stole 24 last year in limited duty).
Even if Castro slows his pace, it’s reasonable to think they’ll both swipe at least 35 bases (assuming they can stay healthy, and Campana gets enough playing time). That would mark the first time since 1985 that Cub teammates each had at least 35 steals in a season. That year, Ryne Sandberg piled up 54 steals, Davey Lopes had 47, and Bob Dernier chipped in with 31 as the team compiled a ridiculous 182 stolen bases.
The 2012 success rate of 68% isn’t great – but that’s not the fault of Castro and Campana. Besides those two players only Baker and Soriano have successfully stolen a base. LaHair, Stewart, Byrd, Soriano, and DeJesus have all been caught stealing. LaHair’s was especially terrible, being caught with one out in the 7th inning of a game he’d just tied with a single. There aren’t many instances where I’d want ANY of those other guys running.
The franchise record for steals in a season is held by Bill Lange with 84 steals in 1896 for the old Chicago Colts. The Cubs list their record holder as Frank Chance, who stole 67 bases in 1903; no Cub has stolen 60 bases in a season since Chance. The Cubs have only had two players steal as many as 30 bases in a season since Eric Young left the club following the 2001 campaign (Patterson in 2004 with 32, Pierre in 2006 with 58). With 50 SBs, either player would become only the 7th Cub since 1901 to record that many in a single season.
If Castro can keep up his pace and Campana can get enough playing time, there still exists the possibility that both could steal 50 bases this year (Campana would probably need close 300 PAs for that, or to pinch-run almost daily – but with Byrd gone that is possible). It’s been 20 years since any team had two guys who each stole 50+ bases for them in a season. Marquis Grissom (76 SBs) and Delino DeShields (56 SBs) did it for the Montreal Expos in 1991. It’s only happened 7 times since 1917 – the A’s did it with three players in 1976 (Bill North, 75; Bert Campaneris, 54; Don Baylor, 52) and the Padres matched that in 1980 (Gene Richard, 61; Ozzie Smith, 57; Jerry Mumphrey, 52). So it’s very unlikely, but possible; and the Cubs have the right tandem in place to make a run at it.
New Dynamic For The Cubs
Especially in a down year, I like the increased aggressiveness on the basepaths. Anything that we can do to put pressure on opposing pitchers, catchers, and even infielders should help out at the plate. Both Castro and Campana seem to have perpetual green lights on the bases, and both have already taken a base from the Cardinals 4-time gold glove winning catcher Yadier Molina (who boasts a career CS% of 44%, which often deters runners from even attempting to steal). There’s no reason we can’t spend most of the year allowing those two to swipe bases at will, it’s a very welcome sight.