Throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s the Atlanta Braves perched atop the National League East (and the old National West) was as common as the sequence of months on the calendar.
An organization known primarily for pitching, they are displaying something not recently seen in a Braves team and it is as important a part of their recent surge atop the division in 2012 as anything else discussed.
Good base-running. Lots and lots of it.
The Braves have made the playoffs just once since 2006; which is a stark contrast from 1991-2005 when they were written in with a permanent marker every season as division champions. One of the interesting things about the Braves is their ranking among the 30 teams in the majors in the department of stolen bases since that run ended:
- 2006- 27th out of 30
- 2007- 26th out of 30
- 2008- 27th out of 30
- 2009- 29th out of 30
- 2010- 27th out of 30 (playoff as a Wild Card)
- 2011- 27th out of 30 (Braves had 77 steals in 2011; Michael Bourn accounted for 22 of them)
Why is this important? Good base running isn’t just something practiced to go through the motions. The importance of steals, going first to third, hustling for doubles and good overall on-base instincts puts runners in scoring position more often and allows your offense to put pressure on the pitchers.
This season the Braves rank seventh in the majors in stolen bases and a surprising Jason Heyward is leading the team with eight himself. He was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding his recent success on the base paths saying he is benefiting from watching reigning stolen base champion Michael Bourn on the bases. Since 2006, of the 48 teams that have participated in the playoffs 32 of them ranked in the top-15 of all of baseball in steals. That isn’t to say that steals are a ticket to World Series glory, but it is shown to get you in the conversation (read: playoffs).
During the Braves run of 14-consecutive division titles they ranked in the top-15 of steals seven times, and twice finished 17th. Compare that to the rate they are going now and you can see why base running is a key element the braves can ill-afford to overlook again. Atlanta, who enters tonight’s series finale against the Pirates tied for first place at 14-8, are employing a more aggressive mindset on the bases and it is paying off in their scoring average (5.1 runs per game) as well as them getting ahead early in games (40 runs in the first three innings through 22-games).
Put yourself in a position to score more than the other guy. What a brilliant concept.