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The Cubs Don't Steal Bases. Does That Matter?

The 2013 version of the Cubs is pretty slow-footed. How would you fix this... if you even think it needs fixing?

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Here's a statistic from the 2013 Cubs that has flown somewhat under the radar.

Unless Starlin Castro steals two bases in the last three games of the season, the team leader in stolen bases for 2013 will be... Alfonso Soriano, who hasn't been a Cub for more than two months. Soriano stole 10 bases for the Cubs this year (one steal would put Castro and Soriano in a tie).

The last time a player led the Cubs with that low a stolen-base total was... 1968, when Adolfo Phillips and Don Kessinger led the club with nine each, and the team overall stole just 41 bases (and were caught 30 times, which is a terrible percentage). I recall the Cubs teams of my youth as being slow, station-to-station runners, rarely going from first to third on a single.

Cubs teams of recent vintage have been slow like this, too, with a handful of exceptions. Since 1990, only eight Cubs have stolen 30 or more bases in a season, just two of those in the last 10 seasons (Juan Pierre, 54 in 2006, and Tony Campana, 30 in 2012). The 54 stolen by Pierre in 2006 helped that team have the only club total over 100 since 1997 (121, and second to Pierre that year was Ryan Theriot, who had 13).

The question this poses is, "Does this matter?" The Cubs team total of 63 steals this year (with 32 caught, another poor percentage) ranks 24th in the major leagues, and three teams headed to the playoffs (Braves, Cardinals, Tigers) have fewer. The major-league team average is 88, way down from the base-stealing frenzies of decades ago.

Still, it's a useful skill to have. More important, probably, is on-base percentage; the Cubs .302 team OBP is the team's lowest in a non-strike year since 1968, and that year was an aberration. The Cubs had a .298 team OBP in 1968, but that was just about league-average (.299 was the MLB average that year). 1956 was the last year before that when a Cubs team had an OBP as low as .302.

So it's getting men on base that's the issue. The Cubs haven't had a problem with getting runners in scoring position via hits, as they rank fifth in MLB in extra-base hits (through Wednesday). We all know their issues with hitting with RISP, near the bottom all season long, one of the biggest reasons they're playing five games below their Pythagorean win projection.

Thus, the question: do the Cubs need to steal more bases? If so, how can they accomplish that? One way would be to sign a free-agent base stealer. Probably the biggest such name is Jacoby Ellsbury. I've said before that I think Ellsbury will be overpaid by someone and that though he steals a lot of bases, his career numbers apart from his freakish 2011 season are pretty average. I wouldn't be in favor of bringing him on board; I suspect the current front office might, given their familiarity with him.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.