The Atlanta Braves historically (I say with an ignorant confidence because I didn’t look all that far back) have not been known for their speed on the base paths. In fact, since 1990, the Braves stolen base leader is a likely easily identifiable option in Rafael Furcal. Furcal accumulated 189 stolen bases in his 3649 trips to the plate as a Brave. It puts him just 3 over Otis Nixon’s 186, in a much more impressive 1670 turns at the dish.
Beyond that obvious pair, at 3rd and 4th respectively are the bash brothers, Chipper and Andruw Jones with 150 and 138. Both were known for multiple talents, but neither was known for speed. Sure, in their youth, they stole a decent amount of bases, with Andruw topping out at 27 in 1998 and Chipper with 25 in his MVP 1999 season. But in that era, seemingly everyone stole a handful of bases. Andruw was 21st in the majors in stolen bases in 1998, and Chipper was 35th in 1999.
It’s worrisome that in almost three full decades, the Braves have not had another player surpass Andruw Jones’ 138. It’s troubling when you realize that number 5 is Ron Gant with 125. It’s a big deal when Deion Sanders is 6th with 50 less that Gant, coming in at 75.
Now whether this is a big deal or not in game, I’m not here to say. Stealing bases is an easy way to run into an unnecessary out or change the momentum of a game. But in the modern era, the Braves have not really even bothered trying all that hard.
Check this list of Braves leaders in stolen bases since 2010:
Michael Bourn – 68
Jason Heyward – 63
Ender Inciarte – 55 (17 of them this season, but more on that in a bit)
Jordan Schafer(!) – 52
Melvin Upton Jr. – 32
Freddie Freeman(!) – 29
Martin Prado – 26
Cameron Maybin – 23 (in just 1 season)
Jace Peterson (??) – 20 (was thrown out 15 times in that span)
Andrelton Simmons – 16
Granted, the team did go through a rebuild, but I am shocked that Schafer, Upton, and Simmons got on base enough to come on any teams top 10 list in stolen bases.
The Braves come in at 26th out of 30 in stolen bases since 2010, back by almost 400 from the first place Royals. In BsR, Fangraphs’ baserunning component of WAR, only Inciarte, Bourn, and Heyward accumulated a tally of 10 or more in their time with the club. For reference, in a single season, 2 is what is considered above average, with 6 being great. So in the past 7+ seasons, the Braves have only had 3 players who have graded well enough to be considered above average to good base runners and not a one-off fluke.
But something has changed this year. Eric Young has come to Atlanta. One of the most overlooked moves of the offseason was the addition of Young as a first base coach after former Braves players and first base coaches Terry Pendelton and Eddie Perez were both removed from the coaching staff.
Here’s an interview from last month on his baserunning philosophies.
"We need to be in attack mode each and every day and try to put as much pressure on a team as possible."
— @Braves first base coach Eric Young Sr. on the team's aggressive approach on the base paths. #Braves | #ChopOn pic.twitter.com/JRFQAgMkbD
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) April 22, 2018
EY’s work has shown, as the Braves are 9th in BsR this season (they were 3rd yesterday) and 3rd in stolen bases, thanks mostly to those 17 bases Inciarte has swiped so far, which lead the majors. In fact, he alone could be the reason for this drastic change. He’s 17 for 20 in stolen base attempts. Two of those failed attempts were of third base and the other was of home plate. All three had to go to replay review.
The Braves have not collectively stolen more than 100 bases since 2012, where they stole 101 thanks to a full season of Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward, as well as a surprising 17 SB outburst by Martin Prado. Since 1990, the Braves are 23rd overall in stolen base totals. In that same span, they are 19th in caught stealing. BsR also has the Braves as 23rd overall in that time span. TP and Eddie were longtime fan favorites and official members of the Bobby Cox Club, but there were not a lot of results to be had in their tenures.
It’s easy to see the difference Eric Young has made, even this early on in the season. The Braves are the biggest threat they have been in many years in many ways, but especially on the base paths. Who knows if Ender’s aggressive approach will continue to yield insane results, considering he had been very average (73%) at swiping them before this year. But it seems that lots of progress is being made in an area where the Braves have historically not shown up, and it is just another reason why the Braves have the best record in the National League right now.