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The Cubs, Nico Hoerner and stolen bases

The Cubs have been good at stealing this year. Nico being caught Tuesday was unusual.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Nico Hoerner was caught trying to steal second base in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s Cubs loss to the White Sox:

As you can see, Nico didn’t get a real good jump on the play. That killed off any chance that the Cubs might have had to score a run in that inning, down by one.

It wasn’t an unreasonable chance to take. The Cubs had stolen two bases off Yasmani Grandal earlier in the game, one by Hoerner, the other by Jeimer Candelario. Grandal hasn’t been good at catching runners stealing the last two years, at 16 percent (the league average is 21 percent).

Hoerner’s steal in Tuesday’s game was his 30th of the year, the CS was his fifth. That’s an 86 percent success rate, well above the league rate of 79.8 percent. Nico is the first Cub to steal 30 bases in a season since the freak season Tony Campana put up in 2012, when he stole 30 bases in 33 attempts. Campana was a one-dimensional player — pretty much all he could do is run fast — but those steals were, at least, fun. So was his inside-the-park home run, which is always worth another look:

This year, stolen bases are way up across the league. Through Tuesday, MLB players had stolen 2,552 bases and been caught 648 times. That’s already exceeded the 2,486 bases stolen in 2022, with a quarter of the season remaining. The reasons are obvious: Pitchers are limited in the number of “disengagements” (read: “throws to first”) they can make per plate appearance, and the larger bases mean the distance between bases is now six inches less than it was a year ago. Doesn’t sound like much of a change, but consider how many close calls there generally are on SB attempts and it makes a difference. Last year’s SB success rate was 75.4 percent, so that’s up as well.

As a team, the Cubs have stolen 102 bases and been caught 23 times, a success rate of 81.6 percent, so they’ve been above league average in that category. The Cubs stole 111 bases all of last year; they’re on pace for 139, which would be the most for any Cubs team since 1990, when they stole 151.

The last Cubs player to steal more than 30 bases was Juan Pierre, who stole 58 in his lone Cubs season, 2006. That was the most for any Cub in over 100 years — an outfielder named Billy Maloney stole 59, leading the National League, in his lone Cubs season, 1905.

Here’s the entire list of Cubs to steal 50 or more bases in a season in the Modern Era (since 1900). It’s pretty short:

Rk Player SB Season Age Team Lg
1 Frank Chance 67 1903 26 CHC NL
2 Billy Maloney 59 1905 27 CHC NL
3 Juan Pierre 58 2006 28 CHC NL
4 Frank Chance 57 1906 29 CHC NL
5 Ryne Sandberg 54 1985 25 CHC NL
6 Eric Young Sr. 54 2000 33 CHC NL

Provided by View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 8/16/2023.

Cody Bellinger is second on the team with 17 steals, and surely would have more had he not missed a month with a knee injury. It’s possible, if the Cubs run more, that he could wind up with 30. In the last 100 seasons (since 1924), there have been just three in which two or more Cubs stole 30 or more bases:

1982: Bump Wills (35), Ryne Sandberg (32)
1984: Bob Dernier (45), Sandberg (32)
1985: Sandberg (54), Davey Lopes (47), Dernier (31)

Lopes, incidentally, did that at age 40. The 47 steals remains the MLB record for a player 40 years old or older.

The Cubs have done well, generally, stealing bases this year. Nico’s second attempt didn’t work out, but I’d like to see them keep doing this, as it can give the team more scoring opportunities.