The Oakland A’s arrived in town yesterday for a four game series against the Cleveland Indians. Why is this significant?
Because it marks the return of World Series hero Rajai Davis, who hit the game tying home run in game seven of the Fall Classic.
Davis brought the added weapon of the stolen base to the Indians, leading the American League with 43, as the Tribe led the junior circuit as a team with 143 steals.
Along with Mike Napoli, Davis was credited with making Cleveland a very aggressive team on the base paths, and the Indians seemed to go from first to third quite a bit.
In fact, the Tribe led the AL in extra bases taken last year with a 45% percentage. This statistic is based on taking more than one base on a single or taking more than two bases on a double.
Terry Francona’s team also led the league in stolen base percentage, succeeding on 81% of their steal tries.
This year, it’s a completely different story.
Cleveland ranks 11th in the American League in stolen bases, and is 12th in stolen base percentage.
They’ve also dropping to 11th in extra bases taken.
Granted Davis was a huge part of the Tribe’s speed game, but he’s wasn’t the only player running. Jose Ramirez stole 22 bags, Francisco Lindor had 19 and his keystone combination partner, Jason Kipnis had 15.
Abraham Almonte added 8 more.
This year, Michael Brantley leads the Indians with five, which for a full season, doesn’t even project to 20.
Ramirez has three, Lindor and Kipnis each have two. This year’s team just isn’t as aggressive on the bases.
Davis’ replacement is Austin Jackson, who hasn’t stolen 20 bases in a season since 2014, and he has never been the base stealer that Davis is.
Napoli was replaced by Edwin Encarnacion, who has been the better hitter over his career, but doesn’t have the aggressiveness on the basepaths of his predecessor.
So, this aspect of the game has to come from other players. You would think it would come from Lindor, a team leader in every sense of the word, but he’s turned into an extra base machine, ranking third in the AL behind Mike Trout and Corey Dickerson of Tampa Bay.
He’s not stopping at first base very often, but his on base percentage is down almost 20 points from a year ago.
Ramirez would be the other candidate, but his on base percentage is down 25 points from a year ago. Perhaps he will steal more when he starts drawing some walks again.
Maybe rookie Bradley Zimmer can be a force in this area. Zimmer stole over 40 bases in each of his last two minor league seasons, so he has the kind of speed the Indians need. However, he will have to learn the pitchers’ moves or he will just rely on raw speed to advance.
There are other reasons why the Tribe offense is sputtering, mostly a considerable drop in the team’s on base percentage and a terrible batting average with runners in scoring position.
But don’t overlook the aggressive base running we saw in 2016. That was a big part of the Indians’ attack a year ago. They need to get back to that mindset this season to help get the offense going again.