The Chicago Cubs fell to the Cincinnati Reds in yesterday’s series finale by a score of 7-2 thanks to a number of things that went wrong: Jake Arrieta didn’t bring his “A” game (surrendering four walks and throwing 96 pitches in four innings of work), errors by Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, as well as just some good old fashioned bad luck. But the most remarkable aspect of yesterday’s loss was the Red’s base running. They were six for six in stolen base attempts; one by Billy Hamilton (51) and Kristopher Negron (3), and two a piece for Todd Frazier (18, 19) and Zack Cozart (5, 6). Clearly they didn’t read last week’s article about the lost art of stealing bases.
Most people think that it is the fault of the catcher (John Baker in this scenario) for allowing a track meet to take place out on the base paths but, in reality the pitcher is at fault for most of stolen bases at any level. Todd Frazier’s stolen base in second inning is a perfect example of “stealing a base off the pitcher”. In this particular instance, Frazier had already taken two hard strides towards second base before Jake Arrieta had even thrown the ball and wound up at second base without a throw. John Baker had no chance to throw him out. The key to this stolen base was Jake Arrieta’s rhythm. All pitchers throw with a rhythm and good base runners know how to time it, or guess when the pitcher will deliver the ball. Additionally, it becomes easier to pick up on the rhythm of a pitcher who is struggling (like Arrieta was) because they focus more on the hitter and less on the base runners and become more predictable in their timing. The Reds’ also picked the right pitches to run on. You may have noticed that Kristopher Negron’s stolen base in the second inning was a particularly close play, but a successful steal nonetheless. This one was the fault of John Baker. On this play, Negron got a poor jump and he doesn’t run well enough to outrun a throw to second; however, he was safe because the pitch that he ran on was a curveball, low in the zone, and when he slid into second base he did so on the outside half of the bag with his body as far from Starlin Castro as it could be. Jake Arrieta did his part on this stolen base by disrupting Negron’s read but John Baker simply got beat because of his pitch call and a less than perfect throw down to second base. The Reds’ also displayed that, sometimes, they are simply too fast to catch. As we discussed last week, being a good base stealer does not mean that you have to be fast; however, it definitely helps. That was the Case with Billy Hamilton’s steal in the bottom of the first inning. Simply put, the kid can fly.
The Cubs may still have lost the game even if the Reds’ hadn’t been stealing bases at will, but the fact that they did contributed to their victory by distracting the attention of the Cubs’ defenders (and pitchers), and putting guys in scoring position. The old strategy of “get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in” is a whole lot easier to execute when guys get themselves over by stealing a bag and the Reds’ took advantage.
Perhaps the Cubs can take a page out of Cincinnati’s book and use the stolen base to scratch out an extra run or two this weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are still without Yadier Molina. Their Current Catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, has thrown out just 9% of would-be-base-stealers in 2014.
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