Sox base thieves on the verge of breaking a shameful streak

Following a team in mid-September that’s out of the race is not the most pleasant thing to do. With the White Sox not having any September call-ups of note, one of the greater sources of suspense is following along for statistical milestones. Some of those jump out from scanning a stat sheet—Jose Abreu’s hunt for 100 RBI, a .300 batting average, and/or 30 home runs, or Todd Frazier’s run at 40 home runs—but what might not be so apparent is the number of stolen base-related statistical oddities in play for the last couple weeks of the season.

The first one is the simplest: any of Adam Eaton, Frazier, Tyler Saladino, and Tim Anderson might lead the team, with the standings currently sitting at 12, 11, 11, and 10, respectively. As I wrote about in June, if Frazier leads the team in swipes this year, he’ll be the first player to lead the team in both home runs and steals since Jorge Orta in 1976, and if he finishes with 38 or more home runs, no player in franchise history will have had a season with more steals and more homers. He’d also be the first third baseman to lead the White Sox in steals since Don Buford in 1967 (The White Sox haven’t had too many players like Frazier in their history).

With the team leader likely to land in the area of 15 steals, that would also be a low-water mark for recent White Sox history, as the last White Sox team without a player with 15 steals was in 1970. Last year’s squad, led by Eaton’s 18, tied with the 2003 Sox, paced by Carlos Lee, for the previous diminutive superlative in the Reinsdorf Era.

Of course, raw stolen bases relate more to excitement than they do to team quality, since they don’t adjust for pickoffs and caught stealing. Using BP’s stolen base runs stat, the White Sox are sitting at about 1.2 runs above average, buoyed by Anderson (+1.1) and Frazier (+0.9) and brought down by the outfield quadrumvirate of Eaton, Austin Jackson, J.B. Shuck, and Avisail Garcia, each in the -0.2 to -0.4 range. (FanGraphs, which measures base-stealing differently—it penalizes players for not attempting steals at all if they’re on base—has the Sox below average overall, though still led by Anderson and Frazier.)

Astonishingly, this would be the first White Sox season above water by BP’s SBR since 2003; the thirteen consecutive seasons below average is the longest such streak in baseball history. (The streak is the same with FanGraphs’ metric, though with a year at exactly average in 2013.) In the grand scheme of things, that’s not very meaningful; in this era and in this park, the White Sox probably get more out of power bats than out of speedsters, and their roster construction has reflected that.

Regardless, at the tail end of a season that has seemed like a rehash of White Sox cliches—excellent pitching brought down by a handful of black holes in the lineup—it’s nice to see them break out of one long-term holding pattern. If that presages Anderson’s role in ending some other current ongoing ignominies, like the decade-plus stretch without a successful drafted position player or the eight-year playoff drought, then maybe there’s hope for a more exciting 2017.


Numbers via Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and the Lahman database. Code can be found here.


Lead Image Credit: Jordan Johnson // USA Today Sports Images


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