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The Yankees could set a franchise record for stolen bases this year

The new look Yankees could buck a franchise trend and make some noise on the base paths this year.

Tom Szczerbowski

Throughout history the trademarks of Yankee baseball have been great hitting, slick fielding, and the almighty home run. The stolen base has been something of an afterthought. With a revamped roster that includes speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, that might change in 2014. After a disappointing season that saw them in the bottom half of the league in runs scored, it's clear that Joe Girardi will give Ellsbury and company the green light more often this year as a way to spark the offense. Just how much base-stealing potential does this team have, though? Can they really master the art of thievery better than Yankee teams of the past? Let's start by taking a look at the top ten Yankee teams with regards to stolen bases. (Data courtesy of Baseball Reference. Live ball era only because the dead ball era stolen base environment was much, much different and does not include caught stealing data.)

Stolen Bases - Top 10 Yankee Teams - Live Ball Era
Year Stolen Bases SB Attempts SB %
1976 163 228 71%
2001 161 214 75%
1985 155 208 75%
1998 153 216 71%
2011 147 193 76%
1988 146 185 79%
2006 139 174 80%
1986 139 187 74%
1931 138 206 67%
1989 137 197 70%

In general, the Yankees at their best have stolen around one base per game with a success rate that didn't hurt the offense. It should be no surprise that four of these teams included Hall of Famer and stolen base king Rickey Henderson. In his brief tenure with the Yankees he put up some astonishing numbers. For instance, in 1988 he stole a whopping 93 bases and was successful 88% of the time. It was really a one man show.

However, the two most prolific base-stealing seasons in Yankees history were certainly team efforts. In 1976, Mickey Rivers led the AL champs with 43 stolen bases, Willie Randolph and Roy White each swiped more than 30, and Thurman Munson, Sandy Alomar Sr., and Graig Nettles each stole more than 10. From top to bottom they could run on you. The 2001 squad also won the AL pennant and included a handful of players that could hurt you on the base paths. A young Alfonso Soriano led the way with 43 steals while Chuck Knoblauch followed closely behind with 38. In the efficiency department, Derek Jeter stole 27 out of 30 while Paul O'Neill came out of nowhere at age 38 in his final season to steal 22 out of 25. Bernie Williams chipped in with another 11 steals to round out the lineup.

Jacoby Ellsbury is a great base runner, but he's no Rickey Henderson, so if the 2014 Yankees make noise stealing bases, it will be a team effort in the fashion of the 1976 and 2001 teams. Leading the way will be Ellsbury and his partner in crime Brett Gardner. The second tier thieves will be the aging but still speedy Brian Roberts and Ichiro Suzuki, who Joe Girardi has proven will still have a significant role on this team (he has appeared in seven of ten games through Friday). That quartet has combined to steal ten bases in eleven attempts through the first ten games of the season, which is right on pace with the best base-stealing teams in franchise history. It's still very early, but these guys appear determined to be menaces when getting on base. Furthermore, there are three other regulars on the roster who are capable of stealing if the mood strikes them. Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano each have well over 250 stolen bases in their career and have put up double-digit steal seasons in the not so distant past.

This squad also has the potential to be more efficient than each of the top ten teams listed above. Check out the career success rates of the core four speedsters:

Name Stolen Bases SB Attempts SB %
Jacoby Ellsbury 245 292 84%
Brett Gardner 163 201 81%
Brian Roberts 280 349 80%
Ichiro Suzuki 473 579 82%

In the case of Roberts and Ichiro, they seem to be getting even better at picking their spots despite their advanced age. Through his injury-riddled seasons from 2010 to 2013, Roberts has a 81% success rate which is better than his career number and Ichiro stole 20 bases at an 83% clip just a year ago. This team should have no problem stealing at an 80% success rate or better.

Obviously, health will be the biggest issue here. In order to steal bases, a player needs to be healthy and everybody mentioned above has had recent injury problems. With a little luck though, they can inject life into the offense and even make Robin Hood proud.