The base off-season has officially begun and that means it is time to start looking forward to the 2012 season and projecting player performance. One of the most difficult categories to project any significant change in is stolen bases. Steals are as much of a result of speed and base stealing ability as it is opportunity and the mere willingness to run. I decided to sort all qualified hitters by Spd Score, which was originally created by Bill James and includes stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen base attempts, percentage of triples, and runs scored percentage. Although I am not a big fan of the metric since runs scored percentage is too team dependent to be included in the statistic, Spd Score is pretty much the best speed metric available by default. I compared the top Spd Score hitters to their stolen base totals to determine who may see a spike next year.
Shane Victorino | 7.8 Spd, 19 SBs
Victorino apparently decided he wanted to become a power hitter by hitting nearly 42% of his balls in the air and neglecting to steal bases like he used to. However, his speed has not gone anywhere as he actually posted the highest Spd of his career. That number was boosted by his 16 triple, also a career best. His walk rate has been ticking up the last couple of years, which is obviously a great sign for future stolen base opportunities. Next year, you must assume regression in his fly ball rate, which will lead to fewer home runs and more chances to run. His stolen base success rate has always been excellent and even though he will be 31 next season, he seems like a pretty safe bet to see his stolen base total jump back above 20. With Ryan Howard slated to miss several months, the Phillies might decide to run more than ever, meaning Victorino could even threaten the 30 steal plateau once again.
Peter Bourjos | 7.4 Spd, 22 SBs
Bourjos shook off a poor debut in 2010 when he hit just .204 by displaying a nice power/speed combination during his first full season with the Angels. Though the power and speed were not a surprise, it was a bit surprising that he did not use his speed to steal more bases. Bourjos stole as many as 50 bases during a minor league season and even posted a ridiculous 9.2 Spd that year. One of his problems is that he does not help his cause by despising the base on balls. His low walk rates have stayed with him since his minor league days, and with mediocre contact rates limiting his batting average upside, his on base percentage is going to linger right around the league average. That said, he has shown better contact ability in the minors and even in 2010, so an improvement in 2012 is likely. He should also see additional at-bats, as he finished with just 502 this year, though hitting at the bottom of the order had an impact. All in all, Bourjos has the speed and history of base stealing prowess to expect a bump in steals next year, and it wouldn’t surprise if that bump was rather significant.
Dexter Fowler | 6.5 Spd, 12 SBs
Fowler has been rather disappointing so far during his short career as his growth has stalled and he has performed at essentially the same level in his first three seasons. After stealing 27 bases in 2009, he stole just 13 in 2010 and 12 this past season. One obvious reason for his lack of running is that he just hasn’t been very good at stealing bases, succeeding just about 60% of the time these last two seasons. He clearly has the speed as Spd tells us, along with his 29 triples since 2010. He even walks at a nice clip, ensuring his OBP is well above league average, despite strikeout rates that have capped his batting average potential. Successful base stealing is something that I feel could be learned. Fowler has all the ingredients needed to post gaudy stolen base totals and if all that is holding him back is mastering the art of the theft, then that’s the type of player worth gambling on.