Orioles on pace for stolen base 'record'

Orioles on pace for stolen base 'record'

BALTIMORE -- In the first inning of the Orioles' 15-8 loss to the Astros last Friday, No. 2 hitter Hyun Soo Kim stood at first base with no outs following a single. For some teams, the situation might stir thoughts of a stolen base, which would move the runner into scoring position and take away the defense's chance for a double play.

Kim never budged, but the O's didn't need him to. Two batters after Adam Jones' leadoff home run, Manny Machado smacked a 3-1 pitch from Houston's Collin McHugh over the center-field wall. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo followed with solo shots, making Baltimore the first team since 1900 to go deep four times before recording an out.

The homer binge helps explain why Kim wasn't running in that situation, and why that's hardly unusual for the Orioles, who could challenge the record for most home runs in a season, but are also on track for one of the lowest totals of steal attempts ever recorded. Buck Showalter manages a roster with little foot speed but a whole lot of thump, leading to a Major League-best 194 homers and a league-low 14 steals in 23 tries. The O's haven't even attempted a stolen base since Aug. 3 against Texas.

"The whole goal is to score runs," catcher Matt Wieters said. "With our lineup, one through nine, we feel like everybody can be in scoring position when they're at the plate."

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No other team has stolen fewer than 28 bases or attempted fewer than 45 this season. But with their understandably risk-averse strategy on the basepaths, the Orioles are on pace to finish with just 18 steals in 30 tries.

Since attempts became an official stat in both leagues in 1951, the record for the fewest in one season was 29 by the 1960 Kansas City A's, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That came during a 154-game schedule. The lowest totals over 162 games were 36 by the '64 Red Sox and 38 by the '72 Tigers. The highest was 464 by the '76 A's.

Although the Orioles didn't run much in 2015 (44-for-69) or '14 (44-for-64), Showalter isn't against trying to steal -- with the right players. Three years ago, Nate McLouth swiped 30 bags for Baltimore, and back in 1999, Tony Womack racked up 72 for Showalter's D-backs. But the O's skipper does view each out as "precious," and he doesn't want to waste any with reckless baserunning, even though he gives his players the green light.

"That is a function of the personnel," Showalter said of his club's lack of thefts. "I'm not really much into [having a 50-percent chance], giving away outs. Doesn't work.

Trumbo doesn't do singles

"It's all about scoring runs. People say, 'We're getting thrown out just because we're aggressive.' No, you're stupid. Not stupid, you're just -- I'm not giving away outs."

Fewest SB attempts by teams
Team Number Year
ARI 81 2008
ATL 79 2004
BAL 64 2014
BOS 34 1964
CHC 55 1970
CHW 76 1969
CIN 92 1971
CLE 45 1961
COL 77 2004
DET: 38 1972
HOU 69 1963
KC 86 2005
LAA 65 1961
LAD 93 2005
MIA 79 2014
MIL 102 2001
MIN 46 1963
NYM 49 1973
NYY 46 1961
OAK 53 2005
PHI 65 1964
PIT 53 1973
SD 53 2008
SF 52 2007
SEA 72 2013
STL 67 2013
TB 90 2014
TEX 77 2006
TOR 62 2003
WSH 80 2015

The Orioles can field seven players with double-digit homers, and six with 18 or more, including the MLB leader Trumbo (38). Yet the only O's with multiple steals are backup Ryan Flaherty (2-for-2) and rookie Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard (4-for-5), who has been out since July 21 with an injured ligament in his right thumb.

After posting a modest 71.4 percent success rate last year (20-for-28) and starting this year 0-for-3, Machado hasn't attempted a steal since May 10. Jones, who turned 31 on Aug. 1, has seen his attempts fall gradually as he has aged, from 23 in 2012 to one so far this season.

"It's just simply not our style," Trumbo said. "We're aware of it, but it doesn't bother anybody."

Just how likely are the Orioles to stay put? According to Baseball-Reference.com, the club entered Friday with 1,685 stolen-base opportunities, which are defined as plate appearances through which a runner is on first or second with the next base open. Baltimore had attempted a steal in 1.4 percent of those chances, compared with 11.2 percent for MLB steals leader Milwaukee or 32.2 percent for Rickey Henderson over his career.

To put that 1.4 percent in context, consider the following:

• 1.8 percent of starts last season resulted in a pitcher going nine innings.
• 1.6 percent of games last season went 13 or more innings.
• 1.2 percent of Ichiro Suzuki's career at-bats have ended in a home run.

That lack of attempts can be viewed two ways. On one hand, the O's might miss chances to advance runners. On the other hand, they might save themselves from running into outs, as their 28th-ranked success rate indicates.

Baltimore has not been caught stealing in 38 straight games through Monday, and its total of nine is the lowest by a team since the 1958 Milwaukee Braves (eight). Contrast that with this year's Mariners, who have tried to steal almost three times as often but have gone just 37-for-64. While the Orioles rank 15th in the Majors in FanGraphs' baserunning runs metric, Seattle sits second to last, with -16.8.

"I think we do a good job on this team of knowing who we are," Wieters said. "There's not really one person here who steals a lot of bases, so why are we going to try to put someone in some role they're uncomfortable with?"

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Washington metro area. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.