Checking out the Brewers’ team dashboard from 2016, and — HOLY HELL THEY STOLE A TON OF BASES. That’s 181, to be exact. Forty-two more than anyone else in the league. The seventh-most since 1996. The craziest thing about the Brew-Crew’s stolen-base total is that they didn’t even steal as many as they could. A huge chunk of the stolen bases came from break-out star Jonathan Villar, but an even bigger chunk came from three young up-and-comers in Hernan Perez, Orlando Arcia, and Keon Broxton. These three combined for fewer than 1000 plate appearances and all are expected to be starters at the outset of the 2017 season. The Milwaukee Brewers are going to challenge the 1996 Rockies’ number of 201 stolen bases for most team stolen bases in two decades.
Sensationalist title aside, it will take a little luck for the Brewers to break the 201 mark. Jonathan Villar alone will have a hard time repeating his 62-steal output, but right now I’m going to figure out just how the Brewers can make this work.
Firstly, they’re going to need health. Have a catastrophic injury to Villar and their chances of breaking the record go out the window. Same can pretty much be said about Broxton or Perez. Injuries are never fun so I’m going to put them aside just for this exercise in the name of entertainment. In a miracle by the Brewers training staff, all of their speedsters have a clean bill of health on the season and with that play in 150+ games. Same goes for solid stolen-base contributors in Ryan Braun and Scooter Gennett.
Jonathan Villar’s 2016 turns out not to be a fluke. He comes slightly back down to earth and steals only 50 bases in 2017, mostly attributed to his lower batting average/on-base percentage. Boom. Just like there we’re a quarter of the way there. As you can see, there’s no making it past 201 without Villar. In reality, I’d be pretty confident in betting the over of 50 steals for Villar.
Next is Hernan Perez. It’d be easy to extrapolate and and say in a full season, Perez would surpass 50 steals. The problem is it is hard to believe Perez will repeat his 2016 success. If Perez manages to stay in the lineup all season, he could easily make it past 40 steals, with 50 not out of the picture. Let’s play it safe and pencil Perez in for 40 steals. Okay, we made it to 90 after just two players.
Here’s where we can have a little fun. Brewers top prospect Keon Broxton is a strikeout machine. Even with those strikeouts, he made a big splash in his rookie 2016 season, hitting nine homers, stealing 23 bases, and sporting a .354 OBP in 254 plate appearances. Although Broxton has always been a big strikeout guy, there is reason to believe he might see some improvement. His K% of over 36% is bound to fall at least a few points. Age is also on his side. With a hypothetical decrease in whiffs, we can expect an increase in his already steady on-base percentage. I’m going out on a limb and predicting 50 steals for Broxton in a breakout sophomore campaign. That’s 140. A ton needs to go perfect for the team from Wisconsin but there is at least reason to believe these players can get 140 steals between the three of them.
The speed does not stop there. The Brewers’ top prospect, Orlando Arcia, stole 23 bases combined in Triple-A and the major leagues last year, his debut season. In Double-A in 2015, he stole 25 in 129 games. The young shortstop is expected to begin the season as Milwaukee’s starter. He should easily surpass the 20-steal mark assuming he holds onto the full-time job. With the running environment afforded to him in Milwaukee, I’d expect at least 25, with room for more. Twenty-five steals would have been the most on 19 different teams in 2016. Twenty-five might be the fourth-most on the 2017 Brewers alone.
From this point on the Brewers need to steal fewer than 40 bases to surpass the 201 mark. You don’t have to look far for those steals. Ryan Braun is getting older but he still stole 16 bases last year, and 24 in 2015. Scooter Gennett stole eight bases last year and reached double-digit stolen bases three times in his minor-league career. Kirk Niewenhuis stole eight bases in fewer than 400 plate appearances last year. Domino Santana is expected to see a full year of playing time barring injury, and has breached the double-digit mark in stolen bases in his minor-league career. And then there’s the occasional catcher steal or maybe even a steal from a pitcher or two. This is also not including any off-season deals the Brewers might pull off.
Adding all of this together, somehow it is even easier to see the Brewers blowing past the 1996 Rockies’ mark of 201 steals. Of course, with predictions like this a lot of things have to go right. They are largely dependent on a few speedsters, they have to avoid injuries, and the players still have to perform well enough to even have a chance to steal their bases. All in all, the 2017 Brewers have as much, if not more, of a shot of passing the 201 mark than anyone in the last 20 years.