Somewhat lost in the euphoria of Thursday's stunning win and the four-game sweep of the Mets is that the top two base-stealing teams in the National League rumbled in Philadelphia this week--and the home nine clearly had the better of it. A day after Jose Reyes got picked off twice Wednesday night, Jayson Werth's two steals in the ninth inning Thursday helped decisively change the momentum of the game, and Tadahito Iguchi's steal of second put the winning run a base hit away. Similarly, Shane Victorino's eighth-inning steal and advance on a throwing error proved vital in Tuesday's comeback win. That's two games won in no small part on the speed and savvy of Phillies base runners.
Aside from the players themselves, the man who deserves the credit is first-base coach Davey Lopes. Mike Radano reports that Charlie Manuel acknowledged as much after the game: "We read pitchers and that's Davey Lopes' key. That's his thing... we go on time and moves."
Victorino and Michael Bourn are generally considered his star pupils, combining for 52 steals in 57 attempts this year after going a collective 12 for 18 in their big-league careers through 2006. But every Phillie with more than one stolen base attempt this season has been successful at least two-thirds of the time. That's unheard of, and explains why the team has the best SB percentage in the majors at 87 percent.
In fact, the Lopes-coached Phillies are on pace to achieve the best team SB success rate ever, at least so far as limited data allows. (Caught Stealing was not consistently recorded until 1951.) The best rate known of, per Baseball Prospectus, is 84.2 percent, recorded by the 1994 Baltimore Orioles. Who knew?
Victorino, Bourn and Jimmy Rollins have the natural speed to steal most of the time--but Carlos Ruiz is 4 for 5, Aaron Rowand is 6 for 8, Chase Utley is 7 for 8, Werth is 4 for 5 and Iguchi is 6 for 7. It's by leveraging small advantages, like having their non-burners steal with as much success percentage-wise as the track stars, that flawed teams can succeed.