Last year the Yankees spent a small fortune to lure Jacoby Ellsbury to the Bronx in the hopes that he would jump-start a struggling offense. With two speedy, high on-base players in Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup, the plan was to manufacture runs via the stolen base. Ellsbury and Gardner did their part as they put up offensive numbers as good or better than their career averages. On the strength of their legs and with a little help from Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees stole 112 bases which was the third best mark in the American League. For all their efforts, though, the offense still sputtered.
Runners in scoring position are only as good as the batters trying to bring them home, and in 2014 those batters simply didn't do their job. Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran each put up what was arguably the worst full offensive season of their careers. The result was just 633 runs scored on the season, good for third from last in the American League and 17 runs less than 2013's disappointing squad.
To start off 2015, Ellsbury and Gardner continued to assault the base paths and the early results were better, if not great. This was mostly thanks to the significant improvements from Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira as well as the triumphant return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup. Offensively, the Yankees worked themselves up to a respectable level over the first couple months of the season and never looked back from there. They currently rank second in the American League in runs scored behind only the Toronto Blue Jays. Funny thing is, they've almost completely abandoned the stolen base on their way there.
Surely one of the reasons for the drop-off in stolen bases since the end of May is Ellsbury's knee injury which cost him more than a month of playing time. However, since his return to the lineup on July 8th he has yet to steal a base, failing in his lone attempt. Furthermore, Brett Gardner hasn't even attempted to steal since June 12th. Perhaps a better reason for the drop-off is that the Yankees don't need to steal bases right now. The lineup is churning out walks and home runs at a very high rate so there's little value in risking outs for extra bases that will come naturally anyway. Somewhere, Earl Weaver is smiling.
With their rate of stealing bases screeching to a halt in the second half, the Yankees are also on the cusp of being historically stagnant. As it stands now, only two Yankee teams over the past 40 years have stolen less bases per game than the 2015 version.
|Year||Stolen Bases per Game||Runs per Game|
If they continue to practice the patience they've displayed over the last two months, they'll surpass the 1995 team and inch very close towards the most stolen base averse Yankee team of the last 40 years. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The 1993 and 1995 teams are memorable for a being the result of a distinct change in direction for the franchise. They established a successful brand of baseball that would be built up to something special in subsequent years.
Leading up to those years the Yankees made some initially controversial moves that ultimately had lasting impacts on the team. They traded the flashy and speedy Roberto Kelly, who many thought to be their only real asset, for the steadier production of Paul O'Neill. They signed a seemingly past his prime Wade Boggs who was still very much an on-base machine. They took chances by giving starting jobs to inexperienced youngsters Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. Needless to say, it all worked.
Currently the Yankees are very much a veteran team, but they're also flush with talent ready to break into the major leagues at any moment. So it seems that they're re-establishing that patient brand of baseball that lead to so much success a generation ago. Strange as it sounds, maybe their reluctance to steal bases is a harbinger of great things to come.