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For Pirates, steal a problem

Christopher Horner
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review The Brewers' Aramis Ramirez celebrates his two-run home run with Corey Hart in front of Pirates catcher Rod Barajas during the fifth inning Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, at PNC Park.

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Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 8:20 p.m.

The Pirates may enter the MLB record books this season, but they won't have to beg or borrow to get there. It's more about stealing.

The Pirates are on pace to break the record for worst percentage of throwing out base-stealers since the statistic started being tracked in 1948.

Opposing teams have succeeded on 90.4 percent of their stolen-base attempts, with the Pirates throwing out only 15 of 153 runners. Rod Barajas has caught only 6 of 93 runners (6.5 percent). Michael McKenry is only slightly better at 9 of 64 (14.1 percent).

The 2007 Padres set the current mark, allowing 90.4 percent of opposing base-stealers (20 of 219) to advance safely.

“I don't know how to explain it,” said Barajas, who went 0 for 6 throwing out base-stealers in Tuesday's loss to the visiting Brewers. “I don't feel like mechanically things are wrong. It's one of those seasons where it's just not working out. I'm not throwing guys out. If it was just me, I could say, ‘You know what, I stink.' It's been a thing that hasn't gone right this year.”

The Pirates aren't the only team having issues throwing out base-stealers. Some of the worst throw-out rates in the post-World War II era are dotting this year's Major League Baseball stats.

The Nationals, who had the best record in baseball entering Friday's games, have allowed 84 percent of base-stealers to advance safely, which would rank as the seventh-highest in the past 64 years. The Twins are at 83 percent, followed by the A.L. West-leading Rangers at 82 percent.

From 1948-2005, only three teams — the '88 Astros, the '97 Expos and the '03 Phillies — allowed a stolen-base success rate of 82 percent or higher. In the past seven seasons, including this year, there have been 13 teams that couldn't throw out at least 19 percent of base-stealers, including the four worst teams in preventing base-path thievery in the past 64 years.

The league success average this season for base-stealers is 74 percent.

Coincidentally, the Pirates also are last in the majors in stolen base percentage, being caught 58 percent of the time (66 of 114).

Despite the Pirates' recent skid, there is no correlation between throwing out base-stealers and winning or losing.

The 2010 Yankees won 95 games, even with a top-five worst 85 percent success rate by opposing base-stealers. The '09 Red Sox, who also won 95 games, allowed an 87 percent steal rate. The '07 Padres, who have the modern-day record, won 89 games.

“Is (allowing stolen bases) the reason why we're not winning? Absolutely not,” Barajas said. “The first half we weren't throwing anybody out, either, and you didn't hear anybody complaining.”

Barajas' ability to throw out runners has slipped in recent years. He threw out 34 percent of would-be base-stealers from 2001-09. In the past three years, he's down to 15 percent.

He said an important aspect is for pitchers to stay focused on the batter instead of the runner at first.

“In the first half, that's the way it was,” Barajas said. “It wasn't a huge deal, but I think it's kind of blown up. Now it's in the back of people's mind, ‘We have to keep the running game at bay,' and our focus isn't where needs to be.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said his pitching staff needs to improve “holding the ball and changing up the rhythm when you're on the mound.” That is one of the keys to prevent stolen bases.

“That becomes sometimes problematic for some guys because it may not be their strength,” Hurdle said. “But we all know that … mixing it up is the biggest complication for every good baserunner.”

John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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