To some, the stolen base is the most exciting play in baseball. It may not have the majestic power of a home run or the artistry of a strikeout, but a stolen base features speed, risk and a thrill that other parts of the game do not. While they may be losing popularity, especially at the professional level, stolen bases can still make a major impact on a game and be a way for a team that needs an offensive boost to find one.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are one such team. On Tuesday, they were defeated 12-0 by Louisville and they have the lowest batting average in the American Athletic Conference (.243). They are also the only team in the league that has yet to score 200 runs. We already looked at how new developments to the starting rotation have helped them overcome these flaws, but at some point, the Bearcats have to do something on offense. One way they have attempted to do that is by being aggressive on the base paths.
Take Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Eastern Kentucky for example. In that game, the Bearcats had as many steals as runs scored, with left fielder Joey Wiemer providing four on his own. Surprisingly, all five steals did not lead to runs but that isn’t the expectation. Instead, the belief is that getting base runners moving will help get them across the plate more frequently.
After their performance on Wednesday, the Bearcats are one of only two teams in the AAC with at least 70 steals as a team. They also lead the entire league on a per game basis (1.78). They aren’t just running recklessly either. Despite attempting the second-most steals in the conference (84), they have only been caught 13 times, which is the third-lowest mark among AAC teams. Even on Wednesday when they attempted five steals in a single game, they were not caught once.
While the reliance on the steal is a team-wide mandate, there are three players who have really stood out in leading the Bearcats. Outfielder Jeremy Johnson (17), second baseman Jace Mercer (17) and Wiemer (16) have all been frequent runners, with Johnson and Mercer tied for the second-most stolen bases in the AAC.
Mercer has some of the greatest impact because of where he bats in the lineup and how well he gets on base. As the Bearcats’ leadoff hitter, it would be enough that he has a .356 on-base percentage and leads the team in walks (28). When you take into account his success with stolen bases, the Bearcats know they can push the issue early and often. Wiemer and Johnson both bat further down the lineup, with Wiemer right in the heart of it and Johnson usually in the eighth or ninth spot. That means the Bearcats’ stolen base leaders are spread throughout the order, which can be a major benefit.
Outside of those three, the Bearcats don’t have many other players who have produced a high volume of stolen bases, but Eric Santiago (9-for-9), A.J. Bumpass (4-for-4), Joey Bellini (2-for-2) and Dondrae Bremner (2-for-2) have all shown some degree of willingness to take off and with that willingness, a great deal of success.
If the Bearcats are going to make a real statement in the final weeks of the regular season, they will have to do more than just steal a few bases. They still need to hit to drive in runs. However, by utilizing the skills they have on the base paths, their offense has already added a dynamic that can only serve to enhance any improvements they make in the batter’s box.