By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
OAKLAND, Calif.: When the Indians added Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn to the roster last winter, fans figured the season would feature a festival of base stealing.
That’s because two of the more prolific base stealers in baseball were joining a team that already included talented runners Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and even Asdrubal Cabrera, who twice stole 17 bases in a season.
But setting stolen base records was not the intention of manager Terry Francona, who understands that base stealing has its proper place but can be overdone.
So the Tribe ranks fifth in the American League with 88 steals but has the fourth-highest success rate at 77 percent.
Individually, Kipnis ranks 10th in the league with 22 steals (79 percent success rate), Bourn is tied for 13th with 17 (65 percent), Stubbs is tied for 22nd with 14 (93 percent), and Brantley is tied for 25th with 12 (80 percent).
“I don’t want our guys to be hesitant,” Francona said of his base stealing strategy. “Sometimes they’re going to get thrown out. But we’ve done a very good job running.”
Speed can create more chances to score when runners go from first to third or second to the plate on a single or first to the plate on a double.
The Indians have advanced more than one base on a single or double 42 percent of the time (when conditions make it possible), which ranks fifth in the league, and they are tied for first with the Angels in going from first to third on a single.
“We don’t want our guys running into outs,” Francona said. “Besides the steals, I think we’ve forced pitchers into making mistakes.”
Speed also helps when a player tries to bunt for a hit. The Indians have 17 bunt hits; Kipnis leads with four (in five attempts). Brantley and Stubbs each have three, as does Carlos Santana.
Since when is Santana a burner? He’s not, but when teams play an extreme shift on him, nobody is covering third, and he has taken advantage by bunting three times for singles.
There are no statistics to quantify how many hits or runs have been taken away from opposing teams because of the speed of Brantley, Bourn and Stubbs in the outfield.
“It’s difficult to measure the effect of speed in the outfield,” Francona said. “But it would be hard to say that it hasn’t made an impact.”