In 1987 Vince Coleman stole 109 bases to cap off three consecutive seasons of at least 100 steals. Since then, not a single player has stolen 100, and only one has swiped 90 – Ricky Henderson in 1988. Contrary to what analyst, Harold Reynolds, argued in his blog, the game has slowed down. The combination of power and baseball intelligence is encouraging teams to be more cautious and selective on the base paths.
In the last 20 years the Major Leagues have seen a steady drop in stolen base attempts (per team) each year, and today teams are stealing almost half as often as two decades ago. Being more selective, stolen base success rates have improved 5% over that time. In addition to steals, another old school, small-ball stat has seen a decline as well: sac bunt attempts. Understanding the importance of preserving outs in the home run era, team are sacrificing less today than 20 years ago. In the late 80s, an average team squared up to sacrifice almost 90 times a season, but today that figure is south of 80. It’s not that managers are inexperienced or less savvy today, as Reynolds argues, but they realize that outs for bases is just not a good deal.
Stealing and sacrificing are generally pre-meditated stats, meaning they are often called by the manager. Their decline illustrates the movement toward slowing the game down and playing less-risky ball. While this may break the hearts of old school guys like Reynolds, with the recent home run surge it is not worth risking outs for bases so often.