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April 28, 2019

Why are the Phillies attempting stolen bases at MLB's lowest rate?

Phillies MLB
Phillies-Andrew-McCutchen-042919_USAT Steve Mitchell /USA Today Sports

Andrew McCutchen was once known for his base-stealing.

The Phillies haven't stolen a base since April 15.

Perhaps it is just the new style of baseball — getting guys on and then trying to plate them with homers. Or perhaps it is due to some pretty awful injury luck. 

But for whatever reason, 28 games into the regular season Philadelphia has been kind of a sitting duck on the base paths.

The average MLB team has around 13 stolen bases right now. The Phils have nabbed five total, second fewest in the majors (behind the Reds' four). They attempt 0.29 stolen bases per game, the lowest number of any team in 2019.

In Sunday's 5-1 win over the Marlins, the team did not attempt a stolen base despite having 11 base runners,

Last year they stole 69 bases, toward the middle-bottom of the pack. Currently on pace for just 30 all season, it would make sense to blame injuries to Roman Quinn, Odubel and Jean Segura (Segura had the Phils last stolen base two weeks ago). But the team has players who can run.

  2018 SBCareer SB This year
 Cesar Hernandez19 73
 Andrew McCutchen14 185
Bryce Harper 13 761
Jean Segura201721

*Roman Quinn (on IL) has 185 career steals in minors, Odubel Herrera had 20 in 2015

As a whole, there is a slight downward trend in stolen bases throughout Major League Baseball. In 2012, all 30 teams combined for 3,229 steals. In 2014 it was 2,764, and by last season the number was down to 2,379. Even still, the Phillies have speed and have created plenty of baserunning chances.

The team's apparent lack of aggressiveness on the base paths is even more troubling when one considers the incredible quantity of opportunities the Phillies have had this season. They have stranded the most runners on base of any team this season in 215. How many of those runners could have scored if they were able to move to scoring position?

On Base %WalksStrandedSac fliesSac bunts
.338 (9th)120 (3rd)215 (1st)5 (25th)6 (7th)


The stats above paint a picture of a team that can't hold its own on the base paths but that isn't exactly case. While they have not generated many steals, they have committed just four "outs on base" mistakes — defined by baseball reference as a running mistake that results in an out. It's the second lowest total in baseball this year. They have also taken 33 bases total this year on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks and defensive indifference, a top 5 number in MLB.

Just Sunday, the Phils' mature and attentive line up was able to score not once but twice on wild pitches from Miami.

It's hard to draw much of a conclusion from the above analysis based on a month of baseball games but there is a clear risk-adverse mentality Gabe Kapler is taking with his multitude of base runners this season. If you don't try and steal a base you can't get caught. And with just 63 percent success with steal thus far, it's a sensible decision.

Perhaps the Phillies intend to do their damage with the bat, paired with smart decisions and a very limited number of bag-taking attempts.

Or perhaps Segura, Herrera and Harper will find their sea legs and make this all for naught. It's a long season.


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