The 2015 Detroit Tigers are poised to go places in a hurry.
Like from first to third base on a single, for instance.
The recent acquisition of fleet center fielder Anthony Gose from Toronto confirms the Tigers were paying attention to the Kansas City Royals’ business model this past season.
The Royals, of course, won the American League wild-card slot and advanced all the way to game seven of the World Series before losing to the San Francisco Giants by a single run. They were a tad light on heavy hitters but were rife with speedsters, such as outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Nori Aoki, plus shortstop Alcides Escobar and “designated burner” Terrance Gore.
In the regular season the Royals stole 153 bases, which was first in the major leagues and 15 more than the runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers.
And they weren’t getting thrown out.
Their stolen base success rate was a scintillating 81% (for comparison purposes, this was higher than Rickey Henderson‘s career success rate of 80.8%). They continued to run amok in the postseason as well, with 14 steals in 18 tries (78%).
Clearly, at least as it can be applied to the Kansas City Royals, speed kills.
By contrast, recent Detroit Tiger teams have been among the slowest (if not the slowest) in all of baseball.
The 2012 Tigers, for instance, stole only 59 bases, finishing 29th among the 30 major league teams.
Apparently this pedestrian performance did little to inspire the 2013 team, which slipped a notch to the basement with an improbably dismal 35 thefts.
Things took a turn for the better in 2014, though, as new personnel led the charge on the base paths. Base stealer extraordinaire Rajai Davis swiped 36, Ian Kinsler purloined 15, and Andrew Romine bagged an even dozen.
All told, the team leaped from dead last to a lofty seventh in the majors in 2014, with 106 steals in 147 attempts (72%).
Newcomer Gose should add significantly to those totals, particularly if progress with the bat allows him to stay on the field. In his brief three year major league career as a part-time player–which equates to a little over a full season– Gose has stolen 34 bases in 45 attempts (76%).
Aside from Gose, the return of shortstop José Iglesias should upgrade the team’s speed as well. Though not a pure base stealer, Iglesias has a combined major and minor league success rate of 74%, and (assuming he’s healthy) might get the green light frequently under the Ausmus regime.
Waiting in the wings as well are three minor leaguers who are on the verge of earning playing time at the major league level.
Lastly–and perhaps most surprisingly–catcher James McCann stole nine bases in eleven attempts (82%) at Toledo last year.
The Bottom Line
Of course team speed has implications far beyond mere stolen base totals. Faster base runners apply added pressure to a defense whether they steal bases or not.
And then, of course, there’s defense.
Greater foot speed expands a fielder’s range, allowing him to reach balls that would otherwise bounce through the infield or drop untouched in the pasture. Gose’s long suit, for instance, is his range in the outfield–an attribute that should serve him especially well among the vast corridors of Comerica Park.
So as the Detroit Tigers approach mid-decade, a quiet metamorphosis is under way. Make no mistake, there’s still estimable power in the middle of the lineup, as there has been for several years.
But as the team adds pieces, such as the Iglesias’s, the Kinsler’s, and the Gose’s, it gradually becomes faster afoot and less one-dimensional in nature.
Who knows, though the Detroit Tigers have a well-earned reputation of lethargy on the bases, maybe they’re finally ready to pull a fast one on the American League.