September 7, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Rod Barajas (26) reacts after an error allowed a run to score by the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 12-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Pittsburgh Pirates and the stolen base problem


The stolen base has become a big issue for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the past couple of seasons, but things hit an all-time low Tuesday night when the Milwaukee Brewers took off at will, swiping seven (yes seven) bags in a 6-0 Brewers win at PNC Park.

The Bucs inability to throw anyone out, even ghost runners in practice has become an epidemic and a problem that has to be addressed throughout the organization.

Sept 2, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Michael McKenry (55) reacts after 2 runs are scored on a single byMilwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez (not pictured) in the fourth inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

Is it the catchers’ fault? Is it the pitchers’ fault?

Who cares? It needs to be fixed regardless.

I decided to go back five years and look at how the Pirates have fared gunning out potential base stealers.

2008:  104 SB, 46 CS, .693 SB% (23rd in MLB)

2009: 107 SB, 43 CS, .714 SB% (15th in MLB)

2010: 116 SB, 32 CS, .784 SB% (5th in MLB)

2011: 123 SB, 40 CS, .755 SB% (10th in MLB)

2012: 137 SB, 14 CS, .907 SB% (1st in MLB)

As you can see, the past three years the Bucs have been among the top ten easiest teams to steal on in baseball and if you look under Clint Hurdle’s two seasons as Pirates’ manager, they have allowed 260 steals and only thrown out 54 runners, which means they have thrown out barely 17 percent of the runners attempting to steal, easily the worst mark in baseball over that time.

Last season, it was the catchers that had to go and as much as I didn’t like Ryan Doumit, was he really the problem? I’m sure this team could have used his bat a little bit this year.

The problem is the way the stolen base is valued in the organization and slowing down the running game has to move higher up on the priority list beginning next season.

Tom Smith of Rum Bunter took a look at how minor league catcher Tony Sanchez is throwing out runners at a 24 percent clip throughout his minor league career (88 CS, 273 SB).

To compare Sanchez to Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry this season, Barajas has thrown out only six of 90 potential base stealers (seven percent) and McKenry has thrown out only eight of 61, good for only 13 percent.

Does that mean Sanchez will automatically be better when he arrives to Pittsburgh?

That’s not a guarantee.

Barajas has thrown out 29 percent of runners in his career and is coming off a year in which he threw out 20 of 80  in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform. He had a bad 2010 season in Toronto, but has a solid career when it comes to controlling the running game and has had eight MLB seasons in which he’s thrown out 33 percent or more.

“The Fort,” doesn’t have the resume of Barajas, but McKenry threw out 13 of 39 runners last season (25 percent) before slipping to 13 percent this season.

Smith also looked at the minor-league performances of Barajas and McKenry and the veteran gunned down 38 percent of minor league base stealers while McKenry shot down 36 percent.

Compared to Sanchez’s 24 percent, you have to be weary of whether or not he is the future answer to the problem.

But personally I have a problem with the Pirates strategy, especially as it relates to last night. How many pitch outs did we see? Why did the Pirates pitchers ignore Ryan Braun at first base and allow him to steal three bags easily?

That’s not only a combination of both the pitchers and the catchers, but an organizational problem as well. Those things are often called from the dugout, so some of the blame must be put on Hurdle and his staff as well.

The difference between Sanchez and the current pair of catchers is that Sanchez has a good arm and neither Barajas nor McKenry do right now. That may help some, but I’m not counting on much.

The stolen base is a problem when the Bucs are on the bases as well. It’s next to embarrassing for the Pirates to have stolen only 63 bases but have been gunned down 48 times.

Opposing teams steal bases on the Bucs at a 91 percent clip, the Pirates steal bases on their own at barely a 56 percent clip.

That’s embarrassing and MUST be addressed.

The stolen base is a weapon and the only shocking part of all of this is why teams haven’t run at will more often on the Pirates. The Bucs make it easy for teams to beat them on the base paths and that can’t happen at this level.

I don’t know if a new catcher is necessarily the answer, but something must be done before next season to address the stolen base. A major league team should not be this bad at running the bases and controlling the running game.

To say it’s an embarrassment would be putting it kindly.

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Tags: Michael McKenry Pittsburgh Pirates Rod Barajas

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