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Key Ingredients: Brewers and Baserunning

While it is generally a good idea to obey the Ten Commandments, the Brewers may be taking “thou shall not steal” a bit too far. The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article this week describing how base stealers have been much more successful in 2014 than in the past. Base thieves have been effective 75.2% of the time this season, the highest rate in major league history. Yet the Brewers have not benefitted from this trend. In fact, Milwaukee has the lowest stolen base percentage in the National League, at 63%. That rate would be the Brew Crew’s worst base stealing performance since 2000. The twelve times Milwaukee runners have been thrown out leads the majors. The Brewers have been ineffective base stealers this season, and have wisely grown less aggressive in attempting to run.

Many Brewers have struggled on the base paths, and they have attempted fewer steals as the season has progressed. Jean Segura, who had 44 steals last year, has already been caught four times in 2014. As a result, it seems that Ron Roenicke has grown more conservative in sending Segura; before last night’s attempt the shortstop had not even tried a steal since April 22. More discomfiting, however, is the fact that Jonathan Lucroy has already been thrown out three times this season. Nobody has ever confused Lucroy with Maury Wills. Lucroy’s effectiveness as a base stealer – he was surprisingly 9 for 10 in 2013 – comes from choosing the right moments to run. It seems that he may have been a bit too aggressive in early April. It was certainly unwise for a guy like Lucroy to have tried to run on Yadier Molina. However, Roenicke seems to have reined in his catcher, as Lucroy has not attempted to swipe any bags since April 23 against San Diego.

Similarly, despite some success, Carlos Gomez has also been less aggressive on the base paths. Gomez has been one of Milwaukee’s better base stealers throughout his tenure. Over the past two years, he has stolen 77 bases at an 85% clip. Out of last year’s 40-steal club, only Jacoby Ellsbury was caught less often than Gomez. Gomez has even been an exception to Milwaukee’s base-stealing problems in 2014, as he is 4 for 5. Still, Roenicke has been more hesitant to send him. Gomez has not attempted any thievery since April 25 against the Cubs.

None of this is to say that the Brewers are bad base runners overall. Much more goes into base running than just steals. There are no great statistics kept about which runners are the best at going from first to third on a single. It is hard to objectively tell which players are strategically smart base runners, or how raw speed translates into base-running ability. Therefore, it is tough to tell where Milwaukee stands in overall base-running rankings. Further, the Brewers do play in a division with Yadier Molina and Russell Martin, catchers that are exceptionally talented at nabbing base stealers. Going up against these strong defensive catchers means the Brewers have a harder time stealing bases than most teams.

However, the fact that Milwaukee has been caught so frequently remains concerning. Even with Ryan Braun on the Disabled List, the Brewers lineup is too potent to justify squandering outs on the base paths. Roenicke seems to have reached this conclusion, and has been more cautious in his approach. As noted, since mid-April Milwaukee’s manager has been much more hesitant to send runners such as Segura, Lucroy, and Gomez. It is admirable that Roenicke has been open-minded enough to change aspects of his strategy even when the team is playing well.