Before the season Pedro Grifol promised aggressive base running from the White Sox.
“I envision our team taking advantage of 90 feet whenever it’s given to us,” Grifol told reporters in Spring Training. “Whether it’s on a ball in the dirt, a base hit to the outfield, sometimes you can’t force these things. But when they present themselves, you have to be ready to take it.
“What kind of baserunning team are we going to be? Opportunistic. You give it to us, we’re going to preach taking it. And as far as running hard down the line, that’s expectation.”
With the new rules that benefit base runners and larger bases meant to encourage athleticism on the base paths, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Yoan Moncada all seemed like players who would thrive.
Flash forward to September and that hasn’t been the case. MLB players have collectively stolen 3,000 bases for the first time since 2012. The White Sox have done little to contribute to that total. As of Monday, their 81 stolen bases rank 23rd in the MLB. They are on pace to finish in the bottom 10 in the MLB for the fourth consecutive season.
No player on the White Sox has reached 20 stolen bases with Luis Robert leading the team with 17. Anderson, Robert, and Moncada racked up stolen bases as prospects. Now their speed has taken a back seat. Not only has there baserunning been nonaggressive, but at times it has been straight-up sloppy.
Opponents have had no problem taking advantage of the new rules, especially when they play the White Sox. The Sox have allowed the most stolen bases in baseball. This is a department the White Sox have struggled with for the past several years. It is one of the many reasons their run differential sits at -159.
Stealing bases is something that Grifol acknowledged as a growing element in today’s game.
“We have to play that game,” Grifol said. “Every major-league team should play that game or has to play that game. You’ll probably see it now in the postseason. It’s a big deal nowadays. I’m looking forward to us playing a faster game moving forward.”
Stealing bases doesn’t immediately translate to victories. After all the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics each rank in the top five in stolen bases and own the worst two records in the MLB. But for a team that ranks 28th in scoring, you would think that Grifol would want to get his athletes moving on the basepaths to try and manufacture more runs.
However, Grifol has changed his tune from the beginning of the season and is not ready to commit to an aggressive approach next season.
“Do you keep them running like that and risk them only playing 80, 90 games?” Grifol told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Or do you slow down a little bit on the running game, and try to get them out for 135, 140,150 games? Personally, from experience and watching other players that I’ve been around, the more you keep these guys on the field, the better you have a chance to win a game. These guys are potential superstars.”
Keeping players healthy is important, especially given the White Sox injury history. But Potential superstars win games. The White Sox core doesn’t. Outside of Robert, they don’t hit many home runs either. The White Sox currently ranks 20th in home runs and 26th in slugging percentage.
If the White Sox continue to lack power they may want to reevaluate that strategy. It seems like a waste of athleticism to not be more aggressive on the basepaths, especially for a team that has struggled to score runs.