When you think of the great base stealers in baseball today, who comes to mind?
Dee Gordon has led the MLB in stolen bases three times in the last five years, and Billy Hamilton has been the runner up four times in that same span. These two are speed demons, no doubt, but both of their steals totals dipped significantly in 2018. Other than that, there are no true base thieves left.
In an age of analytics and uppercuts, the stolen base is becoming obsolete. Home runs per game (1.34) is at an all-time high, while hits per game (8.46) is at its lowest point since 1971. Players are offering their contact skills to the baseball gods as sacrificial lambs in exchange for a power boost. These two factors have contributed to the decline of the stolen base, as 90 feet isn’t as valuable as it once was.
And yet, there is hope. A beacon of light in an otherwise dark time. His name is Adalberto Mondesi.
Mondesi finds himself in an interesting situation as a member of the Kansas City Royals, who are 19–40 at the time of writing. It’s only two months into the season and they might as well be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
That hasn’t stopped them from pacing the MLB in stolen bases (55).
In fact, it’s not uncommon for struggling teams to post high SB totals. Since 2013 (including the 2019 Royals), teams who top the stolen bases column find themselves an average of 18 games back in their respective divisions. When a team is floundering, a player takes more risks in an attempt to improve his individual worth. With game results rendered irrelevant, the only consequence of a failed steal attempt is an out. For fast players on failing teams, there’s no reason to stay at first.
The 23-year-old Royals infielder has applied this mentality to his game, and he’s been overwhelmingly successful. With 21 steals, Mondesi leads the MLB and is becoming one of the most feared baserunners in the game. What’s even more impressive is that Mondesi has only been caught 3 times, which converts to an 87.5 percent success rate. Mondesi is taking free 90s virtually risk-free. Speed is his game, and he’s good at it.
Oh, and he isn’t just a one trick pony, either. He’s batting .285, has hit more triples (8) than home runs (6), and his OPS is above league average, despite modest power numbers. If he can improve his BB/K ratio (career 35/213), he will see a huge jump in his OBP, which will give him more opportunities to steal.
If Mondesi keeps his current pace, he’ll swipe over 60 bags this season. As he improves his game at the plate, that number will continue to rise. If he stays true to the nature of his game, he can become one of the premier top-of-the-lineup hitters in the MLB, in addition to the heavyweight stolen base champion of the world.
Adalberto Mondesi has not only emerged as an artist, but a savior. The future of base stealing lies in his hands, and it’s up to him to uphold the legacies of Henderson, Raines, and Brock, whether he wants to or not.
Follow me on Twitter @Ben13Porter