Sep 22, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Emilio Bonifacio (1) steals second before Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (10) can make the tag in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
It is an expression that we have all heard before and in the sport of baseball, it certainly applies. Whether it’s stealing bases, going from first-to-third, second-to-home or range on the field, there is an advantage to be had when you have speed. If you need evidence of that, look at the 2014 Kansas City Royals.
The sexiest thing in baseball is the home run ball. The American League champion Royals ranked dead last in that department hitting just 95 of them. But what they lacked in the power they made up in speed. The Royals led the majors with 153 stolen bases.
Sep 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Chicago White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton (1) is tagged out by Kansas City Royals second baseman Omar Infante (14) while trying to steal second base in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City won the game 4-3. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
That speed extended into the field where they built the reputation of possessing the best defensive outfield in baseball. No team’s outfield recorded more outs than the Royals and their .991 fielding percentage was second to only the AL East Champion Baltimore Orioles.
Speed is not a necessity to be a winner in the major leagues, but what it does do is make up for some of the other areas that are lacking. It was what made the Royals so dangerous last season and it took them all the way to the World Series.
When you hit 200-plus home runs in a season, speed isn’t quite as important. That was the case with the Orioles. Their 211 homers ranked first in the AL and 44 stolen bases ranked last. That power won 96 games, 12 more than any other team in the AL East.
Making a team into one of the best defensively or on the base paths is not a simple task for a general manager to do. Adding more speed however is the first step on the road to improvement, and after what we saw from the Chicago White Sox last season, improvement is definitely needed.
FanGraphs has a stat on their site called BsR which simply stands for base running. It is defined as:
"“FanGraphs all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average. BsR serves as the base running component of Wins Above Replacement (WAR).”"
While the White Sox sat in the middle of the pack in the AL in stolen bases (85 steals ranked 9th) but were dead last with a -10.5 BsR. Those AL championship winning Royals set the bar pretty high with a 11.5 BsR which of course ranked first in the AL. And just for perspective, the power hitting Orioles ranked 13th with a -5.9 BsR.
Of all the additions, Bonifacio is the only true asset in the base running department. Between his time with the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs last season, he posted a BsR of 4.9, which was higher than any player on the White Sox (Alexei Ramirez‘s had team best 4.3 BsR).
Cabrera and Beckham are two guys that aren’t slow but aren’t exactly speed demons either. The hope is that they can both be upgrades over Dayan Viciedo and Conor Gillaspie. The slow-footed Viciedo provided little to no benefit in the outfield and was glued to first base whenever he reached. Gillaspie graded out to be the team’s worst base runner not named Adam Dunn.
With Cabrera providing a bit more range in left field and Beckham along with Bonifacio being pinch-run options at the end of the games, the White Sox are in a much better position in the speed department.
Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez are a bit more unknown to many. Johnson once stole 84 bases in the minor leagues. His speed without question makes the White Sox a more dangerous team. Sanchez doesn’t have the same caliber of speed that Johnson has, but if called upon to be the everyday second baseman, provides more speed than what the White Sox have had in previous years. Their base running abilities are not widely known yet but when you have speed, that trait can be coached in the big leagues.
The White Sox are not built to be a 200 home run hitting team this season. They could however steal 100 bases. From top guys at the top like Adam Eaton and Cabrera to the near bottom of the order in Ramirez and Johnson or Sanchez, the White Sox could in fact reach 100 from those four alone.
Throw in Bonifacio and the sky is the limit. With these guys on base, the White Sox should score more runs in 2015.
Will it translate into this being a playoff team? Only time will tell.