George Springer is a tremendous young player. In his first full season at age 26, Springer put up 4.5 fWAR and has already accumulated 10 fWAR in his career. He's an explosive athlete, and while parts of his game are yet to manifest, he's got the tools to cover all five facets of the sport.
Springer has always been regarded as one of the better athletes in the sport, and one way in which his truly superb athleticism showed itself was through stolen bases. He stole 92 bases across four minor league seasons at an impressive 85 percent clip. That continued once he reached the majors as Springer stole 21 bases in 27 attempts over his first two partial seasons in the league.
Then, 2016 happened. Springer was successful in only nine out of 19 attempts, good for a meager 47 percent success rate, a full 30 percentage points below his initial two years in the league. What happened? Is this an omen of things to come? Let's find out.
It's (probably) not a fatigue thing
For the first time in his young career, Springer had good injury fortune. In 2015, a wrist injury sapped a large chunk of his season, and he appeared in only 102 big league contests.
This year, Springer played in every single game, nary once catching the injury bug while racking up a staggering 744 plate appearances. It'd be easy to wonder if the wear and tear of the long big league season affected his stolen base productivity, but that doesn't look to be the case.
If it were fatigue, we'd likely see his stolen base success fall later in the year. That's clearly not the case and much like the rest of Springer's game, he was consistent throughout the season. Small samples in each month also make this a relatively hard assertion to make.
It's not a speed thing
George Springer with a top speed of 20.2 MPH on his steal. Carlos Perez had an amazing pop time of 1.81 second, 80.9 MPH on the throw.— Daren Willman (@darenw) June 22, 2016
Nah, he's still really fast.
It's probably not a handedness thing
Springer did attempt to swipe more bags against lefties this year than he has at any point in his career, and he was thrown out at a higher clip than he's ever seen. That held true against righties too, and his struggles aren't the result of pitcher handedness.
|Total attempts||Caught stealing|
It's very possible it's just a blip
There's not much out there on the year to year correlation of basestealing, but there are numerous anecdotes to suggest Springer's 2016 failures aren't a great predictor of his future stolen base success. Here are a few:
-Springer himself, who was a fantastic bag swiper in the minors and in the majors before this season.
-D.J. LeMahieu went just 10/20 in stolen bases in 2014. The following year he went 23/26, good for an 88 percent success rate.
-Craig Biggio was a shade under 50 percent in success rate in 1993, succeeding on just 15 of his 32 attempts. The following year, he led the league in stolen bags with 39, getting caught just four times.
-In his age 26 season, Omar Vizquel went just 12/26 in stolen base attempts. In spite of that rough season, he ended his career with 404 stolen bases at a decent 70 percent success rate.
And many more.
George Springer is already a very good player with tools galore. In his first full season, he didn't quite harness the value his legs can provide, making baserunning mistakes that kept his UBR below average as well as getting caught on the basepaths at a much higher rate than his tools and career would suggest we should expect. That may just be a blip, meaning next year's version of Springer could make the jump from very good to great.
For fun, an assortment of the worst base stealing seasons of all time
By our modern day standards, Springer's 47 percent success ratio at swiping bags is an absolute disaster. Oh, how baseball has changed. For the seasons in which we have stolen base percentage data available (since 1951), there have been 129 campaigns worse than Springer's 2016. Here are the worst three.
-Pete Runnels went 0/10 on stolen bases in 1952 and was thrown out the first 15 attempts of his big league career. That's the longest I can find for any modern day player, but it didn't prevent him from garnering MVP votes in that campaign, one in which he was worth 2 bWAR.
-Eddie Yost went 1/11 in 1957 but in true Yost fashion never stopped trying.
-Jose Vizcaino went 1/11 on stolen bases in 1994. He'd never be a high percentage stealer, but over the next two years he'd swipe 23/33 bags, making his 1/11 even more eye opening.
Tim Eckert-Fong is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score.