Cleveland Indians Just Aren’t Stealing Bases This Season

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Heading into Tuesday night’s game, who leads the Cleveland Indians in stolen bases?

The answer might be surprising: Michael Brantley and former center fielder Michael Bourn are actually tied for the lead, with 13 each. Jason Kipnis has collected nine stolen bases of his own, while Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana have each picked up nine. No other player on the team has swiped more than three bags this season, leaving a pretty big question: Why aren’t the Cleveland Indians stealing bases?

This question was more relevant than ever on Monday, when the notoriously easy-to-run-on Jon Lester faced the team. Sure, Lester is a lefty, but he’s a lefty who can’t hold runners due to an inability to throw to first base. He has allowed 36 stolen bags this season, while only eight runners have been thrown out when he has been on the mound. Those aren’t exactly threatening numbers, even with veteran catcher David Ross behind the dish.

The fact that the Tribe wouldn’t steal on Lester brought to light the fact that they really don’t steal on anyone. The team is ranked 16th in the majors, which isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t good – especially with this lineup.

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It isn’t as though the Indians are stacked with home run hitters, and while Kipnis and Brantly both crack the Top-Five in average, the Indians aren’t exactly loaded with high-average hitters. There has to be speed somewhere in the lineup to make up for the other deficiencies, and there is.

Lindor swiped over 25 bags in each of his three full minor league seasons and had already stolen nine by the time he was called up in June. However, he’s stolen just three since his arrival in the big leagues. Ramirez is known for his speed, but it isn’t being utilized often, which makes him a far less valuable player. Kipnis is an even bigger mystery. He stole 30 or more bases in each of his first two full seasons, along with 22 last season, but he’s just 11-for-19 this season.

It’s not as though the Tribe is being thrown out often. They’ve only been caught stealing 23 times this season. (For comparison, Astros’ speedster Jose Altuve has been caught 11 times on his own.) There’s no reason for the Tribe not to take some risks given the kind of speed they have in the lineup, so why aren’t they doing it?

One possibility is a fear of injuries. Both Kipnis and Brantley have spent time on the disabled list over the last two seasons, and Terry Francona may not want to risk his star players. But why not Ramirez, or even Abraham Almonte, who has swiped plenty of bags throughout his career?

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No one knows the answer to that question except the Indians and their coaching staff, but the Tribe’s hesitancy is costing them. Monday’s game was a prime example. Good pitchers are not intimidated by runners who take leads at first, if they have done their research and know those runners aren’t likely to go anywhere. Lester is one of the easiest pitcher in the league to run on, and the Tribe didn’t even attempt to take advantage once.

The Cleveland Indians have hit into 108 double plays this season – the third most in the major leagues. Two of those came Monday against Lester, with runners on first who were more than capable of stealing second and eliminating the opportunity for Santana to ground into an inning-ending double play.

How many of those other double plays could have been avoided if Tribe runners tried to take the extra base, and what would it have meant for the Indians’ season?  It’s impossible to know, but it’s certain that Cleveland has wasted plenty of opportunities to put runners in scoring position rather than leaving them vulnerable to double plays.

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