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Cardinals aim to steal more bases this year, again

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The Cardinals are once again aiming to steal more bases in 2015.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While not as popular as a player reporting to camp in the best shape of his life (BSOHL), or a pitcher working on a new pitch, a team wanting to be more aggressive on the basepaths is nonetheless a very popular spring trope. Last season, Peter Bourjos made news with a desire to steal 40 bases in 2014. Bourjos ended up with just nine stolen bases after losing his starting job to Jon Jay, but nine stolen bases was good enough for second on the team. When Bourjos declared his intention to steal 40 bases, I made a graph showing how many players it took for the Cardinals to reach 40 stolen bases since 1998. Here is that chart again.

40 SB

Last season the number was four as Kolten Wong (20), Peter Bourjos (9), Jon Jay (6), and Matt Carpenter (5) combined for forty stolen bases. Last month, Ben broke down the Cardinals' difficulty stealing bases in 2014.

The Cardinals stole 57 bases collectively in 2014 and were thrown out attempting to steal on 32 occasions, which equals a SB% of just 64%. The Cards posted the third-lowest stolen-base total in the majors last season, well below the league-average for a team of 92. Their 64% success race tied with the Rockies for the second worst in MLB, behind only the Cubs (62%).

The Cardinals were not very good stealing bases last year, but that has not dampened enthusiasm for the coming year. Mike Matheny spoke about the Cardinals' strategy for Rick Hummel's article in the Post-Dispatch:

We're going to continue to be aggressive with it, even though it may not appear (so) by the statistics. We want all these guys looking for that opportunity to run, and we're not holding them back a lot of times.

That sounds mildly optimistic about the Cardinals as a running threat this season, but he continues:

"Good pitching and good catching can shut down the running game. We give (the players) the green light but if they just don't feel comfortable with their jumps, they're not going to go.

The article notes the success of Kolten Wong and Jason Heyward last season, and mentions Bourjos' ability to steal in prior seasons. With the arrival of Heyward and a full season from Wong, it is difficult to imagine the Cardinals will be worse than last year's 57 steals. However, getting significantly more steals from Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter needs more than just confidence at the beginning of March.

Projection systems like ZiPS tend not to use spring statements in their calculations. The projections based on what they have done in the past do show some optimism regarding the Cardinals' abilities this season. The numbers below, from FanGraphs, show the ZiPS projections for the Cardinals on the bases this season. The standard ZiPS disclaimer applies:

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2014.

Name PA SB CS
Kolten Wong 552 21 5
Aledmys Diaz"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Aledmys Diaz 567 15 6
Jason Heyward 597 14 4
Jon Jay 530 10 5
Peter Bourjos 311 9 2
Randal Grichuk"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Randal Grichuk 593 8 7
Thomas Pham"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Thomas Pham 284 8 2
Greg Garcia"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Greg Garcia 479 8 4
Ty Kelly"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Ty Kelly 555 7 3
Pete Kozma"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Pete Kozma 490 7 4
Yadier Molina"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Yadier Molina 508 5 2
Xavier Scruggs"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Xavier Scruggs 535 5 4
Cody Stanley"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Cody Stanley 385 5 1
Matt Holliday"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Matt Holliday 584 4 2
Matt Carpenter 630 4 3
Mark Reynolds"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Mark Reynolds 479 3 2
Matt Adams"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Matt Adams 501 2 1
Jhonny Peralta"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%;">Jhonny Peralta 543 2 2
Dean Anna"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom; border-right: 1px solid #eaede3; border-bottom: 1px solid #eaede3; border-left: 1px solid #eaede3; font-size: 90%; white-space: nowrap;">Dean Anna 424 2 3

From the Hummel piece, Wong has set his sights on 30 steals this season. Wong's goal seems a bit more realistic than Bourjos' last season. Wong did not get a full season of playing time with only 433 plate appearances, and he played through injuries during the season. A .292 on-base percentage further limited his chances. With just four caught stealing and an 83.3% success rate, Wong could be a bit more aggressive. Base Running (BsR) takes steals and taking the extra base into account. Wong's 5.7 mark (0 is average) was good for seventh in the National League in 2014, and shows good instincts on the bases.

Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk, spring sensation Tommy Pham and a host of utility infielder candidates will likely not get the playing time necessary to be major contributors on the bases. Jay's ten steals seems a bit high given his numbers last season. The top four expected contributors on that list total 54 steals, which should make beating last year's total realistic. Also good news is that those four players project to steal with a 77% success rate.

Steals have been de-emphasized by the Cardinals in recent years, for good reason. The risk is not often worth the reward, especially given the personnel the Cardinals have had at their disposal. A more aggressive approach for Wong is appropriate. Certainly Bourjos can swipe a bag if he gets on base. Heyward showed with his steal of third the other day that he could do some damage on the basepaths. The Cardinals are not likely to run their way to the top of Leaderboards, but there is no harm in once again working on that aspect of the game in March.