Of the three World Series the Red Sox have won this century, the 2013 title is by far the hardest to comprehend. This was a band of misfits carefully assembled following the disastrous Bobby Valentine-led season in 2012. This team wasn’t supposed to win it all, but good guys Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino proved to be more than placeholders disguised as sparkplugs for a reeling organization, injuries to multiple closers gave high-fiving Koji Uehara a chance and John Lackey came off Tommy John surgery healthy, in shape and motivated — something that didn’t seem possible earlier in his Boston career.
However, the Red Sox’s championship wasn’t won with luck. The statistics show they deserved this title just as much as the previous two. They finished first in the majors in true average (2.87) and fifth in deserved run average (3.60), and David Ortiz had a World Series performance for the ages. But the Red Sox didn’t exceed expectations on pitching and hitting alone. That team could also run the bases. The 2013 Red Sox led the majors in stolen base percentage (86.62 percent) and placed fourth in steals (123). They also finished first in stolen base runs (5.63) and had two of baseball’s top 25 in individual SBR that year in Jacoby Ellsbury, who finished first with a 4.26 SBR, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who finished 21st at 0.96.
After a pair of middling years stealing bases, the Red Sox are once again among the best base-stealing teams in the big leagues, and it’s contributed significantly to their offensive success. The Sox are near the top of the game in multiple stolen base categories, including first in stolen base percentage (88.37 percent), third in SBR (2.52) and sixth in steals (38). Four of their players are in the top 30 in SBR, including Betts’ sixth-ranked 0.94 mark. Both Betts and Xander Bogaerts have shown 20-steal potential, while Hanley Ramirez (not a typo) is on pace to finish in double figures in steals as well.
After a pair of middling years stealing bases, the Red Sox are once again among the best base-stealing teams in the big leagues.
The 2016 Red Sox are a far better base-stealing team than a year ago. Bogaerts was the team’s second-leading base stealer with 10 in 2015. He already has seven this year. As a group, the Sox are on pace to shatter the 71 bases stolen by the 2015 squad. It’s safe to say stolen bases are a big reason why the Red Sox have scored the most runs in baseball this season.
The difference between last year and this year is evident, but this year’s team also has some differences to the 2013 squad in terms of stolen bases.
The 2013 team’s success on the bases came primarily from Ellsbury, who stole 52 that season. Shane Victorino added 21 steals and Dustin Pedroia had 17. The rest was a mix of two- to -four-steal guys along with Stephen Drew’s six. The 2016 team doesn’t have the same Ellsbury-like presence (although Betts could be close), but it has numerous threats from top to bottom that make this lineup just as dangerous on the basepaths as in the batter’s box.
Betts isn’t a leadoff hitter just because he can belt five home runs in seven plate appearances. He’s also a nightmare for pitchers on the bases. He’s a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen-base attempts this season, and the Red Sox are driving in runs thanks to his efforts. He not only has the sixth-best SBR, he also leads the majors in baserunning runs (4.8). Betts will more often than not score from first on a double and from second on a single.
He’s also good for plays like this:
Betts’ success this season, however, is not surprising. He had seven steals in 52 games in 2014. His 21 steals last year put him in a tie for 24th in baseball.
Oh, and he did this:
Brett Cowett put it best in his column earlier this season. Bogaerts may not have been an elite base stealer last season, but he’s always shown elite baserunning ability, as evidenced by his 4.8 BRR that was good for 13th in the majors. This season, the stolen bases are coming with it, as he’s only one steal behind Betts for the team lead. The key for Bogaerts, as Cowett writes, isn’t premier speed, but instincts and intelligence on the bases.
The video below is a perfect example of Bogaerts’ awareness on the bases. Bogaerts took advantage of the shift with David Ortiz at the plate and basically jogged to third despite a right-handed Michael Pineda facing that way. Sure, the Yankees were probably willing to concede the base with two outs, but Bogaerts still had the awareness to make the play and put himself in a better position to score.
It’s easy to forget that stolen bases were once an integral part of Ramirez’s game, especially after last season when he had a career-low six steals and was caught three times. This year he looks more like the 10- to 14-steal player he was from 2012-14. Ramirez was heavier, disinterested and an overall disaster in 2015. Ramirez has changed in many ways this season, including how he impacts the game with his legs. His four steals are good for third on the Red Sox and puts him in a tie for third among all first basemen. His 0.35 SBR puts him 39th in the majors. The reason for his success is simple: Ramirez broke into the big leagues with elite base-stealing ability. Those instincts and skills have always been there. Now, slimmed down and more determined, he’s using those abilities and making the most of them.
What stood out to me about the video above is the jump Ramirez got on the play. He had a decent lead, not a great one. But he was off for second as soon as Astros pitcher Chris Devenski’s front leg started to move. At that point catcher Jason Castro was forced to rush a wild throw and Ramirez made it to second easily. He may have had a chance to advance to third had Carlos Gomez not been in position in center.
In this video Ramirez simply caught Yankees pitcher Johnny Barbato napping and made a great effort to get two bases out of the errant throw.
Travis Shaw, Jackie Bradley Jr. and the rest
Shaw and Bradley are tied for fourth on the team with three steals this season, while Shaw’s 0.50 SBR ties him for 22nd in the majors. Behind them, the Red Sox have four players with a pair of steals this season in Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, Chris Young and Josh Rutledge. All four players have had double-digit steal seasons before, while Pedroia and Young both have multiple seasons with over 20 steals to their name.
The Red Sox have had some surprising success on the bases this season, but it’s far from a fluke. They have one of the best baserunners in baseball in Betts, while Bogaerts is emerging as a legitimate threat and many others have histories of success stealing bases. Baserunning is a part of an offense that can’t be overlooked, especially when you consider six of the top 10 BRR teams made the postseason last year, as did six of the top 10 SBR teams. The defending champion Royals were one of those six teams. The point is, the Red Sox are stealing bases at a championship level, and turning those steals into runs. That’s just another reason to feel good about the 2016 Red Sox offensively.
Photo by Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports Images