The Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in Major League Baseball in terms of stolen base percentage this season. They have been caught stealing just three times, and their 91.9 percent success rate leads the second-place Cleveland Indians by a considerable margin.
Yet, the Phillies are tied for fifth in the major leagues in stolen bases with 34. Second baseman Jean Segura leads the team with five, and the injury-plagued Bryce Harper has just four. The San Diego Padres, who hold the second-best record in the National League, lead the way with 59 steals in 74 attempts.
Phillies lineup inconsistency has left them in the “middle of the pack” in most major offensive statistical categories — despite finishing tied for fifth in the MLB in runs scored in 2020. A general lack of continuity has prevented them from establishing any kind of team identity.
However, manager Joe Girardi has not fully tapped into his team’s most efficient statistical category by letting his players run more aggressively on the basepaths.
Stolen-base percentage: An unexpected Phillies strength
Eleven different Phillies have stolen at least one base in 2021. Outfielder Roman Quinn, who recently suffered a season-ending injury, is their only player to be caught stealing. Before their May 27th game against the Miami Marlins, Girardi attributed the team’s successful approach to the work of first base coach Paco Figueroa.
The Phillies finished third in the majors in stolen base percentage in 2019 and fifth in the shortened 2020 season. They owned the best percentage in four consecutive seasons from 2007-2010 — a span that is considered among the most successful in the organization’s 138-year history. Exciting players like Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Chase Utley led the charge.
The Phillies never finished higher than fourth in total steals during those four years. Their efficiently selective approach was guided by former first base coach Davey Lopes — who stole 557 bases during his playing career. The Phillies, during that era, often had the luxury of allowing their powerful lineup to hit without taking frequent risks on the basepaths.
The Phillies should employ an aggressive stolen base strategy
Due to analytical rationale, stolen base attempts have decreased across MLB in recent seasons. However, four of the last six World Series champions have finished toward the top of the majors in steals in their respective championship seasons — the 2019 Washington Nationals (third), 2018 Boston Red Sox (third), 2017 Houston Astros (eighth), and 2015 Kansas City Royals (fifth).
More frequent stolen base attempts could help infuse energy into the Phillies’ clubhouse and establish a sorely needed team identity. Harper is an aggressive player, specifically on the basepaths, and the team could benefit from an assertive leadership effort if he is healthy enough to steal. Segura stole 164 bases in six seasons before the Phillies acquired him in 2019. His attempts have decreased drastically in red pinstripes, but it might be worth increasing the opportunities of a veteran that has not played with the most desirable level of intensity.
Left fielder Andrew McCutchen, at 34 years old, even stole home on a creative pickoff play last month — one of the more exciting moments of the Phillies season. Journeyman outfielder Travis Jankowski also stole 30 bases with the Padres five years ago.
Girardi and the Phillies are at a point when they need to shake things up if they want to compete for a postseason spot. Although the organization’s philosophy of selective risks stealing bases has proved successful at times in the past, it is not wise for them to minimize the use of one of the team’s strongest elements in a time of desperation.
The Phillies need to run freely on the basepaths.