Bourjos and the Cardinals' history of 40-plus stolen bases

Theft! - USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos for his defense and speed, but the Cardinals have gone a long time without anyone stealing forty bases in a season. Recent history suggests a tough climb for Bourjos.

Peter Bourjos made news at the Winter Warmup when he indicated a desire to steal more than forty bases this season. As Rick Hummel noted in the linked article, the Cardinals have not had anyone steal more than forty bases in a season since Delino DeShields stole fifty-five in 1997. Since that time, the Cardinals have had trouble finding even two people who can steal forty total bases. The graph below illustrates how many Cardinals it took to reach forty stolen bases from 1998 through 2013.

With Albert Pujols and other excellent hitters anchoring the middle of the Cardinals lineup, a conservative base-stealing strategy may well have been the correct decision. Edgar Renteria came the closest to a forty steal season, posting two seasons above 30. After Renteria left the Cardinals, St. Louis' top three basestealers managed to accumulate 40 steals in only two of the past nine seasons. In four of the last eight seasons, it took the Cardinals at least six players to reach the 40-steal mark highlighted by this past season when it took nine players to hit the forty steal mark on their way to a National League-low forty-five steals.

As most fans fondly remember, the Cardinals did not always avoid testing the catcher. Baseball on the whole has gone through up and downswings on the basepaths. From the beginning of the twentieth century through 1929 there were 164 seasons where a player had at least forty steals. The Cardinals (Red Murray, Patsy Donovan, Cozy Dolan, and Frankie Frisch) had four of those seasons. In the '30s, '40s, and '50s there were only ten seasons total of forty-plus steals with the Cardinals contributing none of those. Beginning with Lou Brock, the Cardinals' basestealing increased. Below is a graph showing Cardinals' forty-plus seasons, the rest of the majors forty-plus seasons as well as the Cardinals' percentage of those seasons (stats from baseball-reference.com).

All thirteen of the forty-plus seasons in the 1960s and 1970s came from Lou Brock. In the 1980s and 1990s the Whiteyball teams spread the wealth with six seasons from Vince Coleman, three each from Lonnie Smith, Ozzie Smith, and Willie McGee as well as two from Ray Lankford and one each from Gregg Jeffries and Delino DeShields.

The Cardinals' drought of 40-plus basestealers is certainly a long one, but it is not the majors' longest. Going back just three years, half of all teams have had someone eclipse forty steals. Going back a little bit further, to 2006, eliminates another ten teams. The Kansas City Royals' last big season was 2003 with Carlos Beltran. Another former Cardinal, Roger Cedeno, holds the Tigers' last forty-steal season, and Omar Vizquel's 1999 served as the last big threat for the Indians. The only team with a longer drought than the Cardinals has the title by one year. In 1996, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants stole forty bases to go along with his forty-two homers.

Peter Bourjos can certainly aim high in the stolen base department with hopes of ending the Cardinals' drought, but reaching his goal would mean essentially equaling the entire Cardinals' total from 2013. Opportunities have typically been sparse the last few seasons for the Cardinals. Hitting near the bottom of the order and given the green light, Bourjos is the Cardinals' best shot at putting someone near the league leaders in steals in 2014.

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