BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
The White Sox weren’t a good baserunning team last season — and that’s understating matters.
According to Sean Smith’s runs from baserunning calculation listed at Baseball-Reference.com, the Sox cost themselves 12 runs on the bases. That calculation takes into account not only stolen bases and caught stealings, but plays such as going from first to third on a single or getting thrown out on the bases.
Only the Orioles (minus-13) were worse in the American League, and the only other team in negative numbers was the Tigers (minus-3). The best team in the AL was the Royals (plus-7).
The difference between the Sox and Royals was 19 runs, and the last thing the South Siders want to do is give away runs relative to American League Central foes. That’s why Vince Coleman has been working with Sox baserunners this spring.
In Coleman’s career from 1985 to 1997, he compiled a plus-75 Rbaser. In his best seasons with the Cardinals, he was plus-17 in 1986 and plus-14 in 1987. At his peak, he was adding double or more the baserunning runs by himself as the entire AL-leading team of last season.
A big part of that was in stolen bases. Coleman had three seasons with 100 or more steals and 752 for his career against 177 caught stealings. That’s an 81 percent success rate, well above the
70 percent or so it takes for stolen bases to become a net positive.
Running was Coleman’s game, and he needed it to be. His career on-base percentage of .324 was low for a leadoff man, and he had little power. A .668 OPS led to an 83 OPS-plus, where 100 signifies a league-average hitter. He stayed in baseball by adding runs on the bases.
The game today isn’t played the way it was in Coleman’s prime. In his 100-plus-steal seasons (1985-87), players around baseball put up 22 seasons of 50 or more steals. In the last three seasons, there have been only four. The 1985-87 group had eight seasons of 70 or more steals. The top total in the last three seasons was 64 by the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon last season.
Still, the Sox don’t need Coleman to turn them into 1980s-style base-stealers. Some help in avoiding giving away runs would be a nice start. The 2014 Sox had 11 players with negative Rbaser numbers. The weakest was Adam Dunn at minus-4, and he’s gone now. So is Alejandro De Aza, who was at minus-2. But Tyler Flowers (minus-3) and Jose Abreu (minus-2) remain, and Leury Garcia — the Sox’ best baserunner at plus-3, according to the calculation — is fighting for a roster spot.
Among new acquisitions, Emilio Bonifacio was plus-1 last season, Melky Cabrera minus-1 and Adam LaRoche minus-2. So roster turnover alone isn’t going to put a dent in the difference between the Sox and Royals.
Newcomers and holdovers alike need to limit basepath giveaways, and the Sox hope Coleman can pass on a little acumen.