Pirates vow to improve steals, base running

The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen is tagged out by the Astros' Jed Lowrie in the fourth inning at PNC Park May 11, 2012.
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen is tagged out by the Astros' Jed Lowrie in the fourth inning at PNC Park May 11, 2012.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 10:32 p.m.

Since he took over two years ago, manager Clint Hurdle has maintained one of the best ways to utilize the Pirates' speed is through stolen bases. And it's not enough merely to swipe more bags; the success rate must be higher, too.

In 2009, the Pirates' 74 percent stolen-base success rate was second-best in the National League. That number has tumbled in each of the past three seasons.

This year, the Pirates' 58 percent rate was by far the worst in the majors in a season when base stealers generally flourished. The big league average success rate of 75 percent was the highest since 2007.

“We backtracked (this) year,” Hurdle admitted. “It's the mentality, first and foremost. They call it a stolen base for a reason. You're taking something that's not yours, and you've got to have that mentality.”

Perhaps the Pirates lost some of their base stealer's mentality because they acquired more of a slugger's approach at the plate. They hit 170 home runs in 2012, 63 more than a year before and their highest total since going deep 171 times in 1999. The team's .395 slugging percentage last season was its best since 2008.

“Once guys are hitting the ball, they don't feel the necessity maybe looking for those (steal) opportunities, or sometimes you hit the ball right before a guy on base was planning on running,” Hurdle said.

The two catalysts of the running game should be the leadoff hitter — whoever ends up in that role — and Andrew McCutchen.

Last week during the winter meetings, Hurdle said he has “some thoughts” about who will be atop the lineup in 2013, but refused to identify any candidates. Pirates leadoff hitters had a .291 on-base percentage and a 59.5 steal success percentage last season, both well below the NL averages.

McCutchen was an MVP candidate in 2012, as he set career highs in nearly every offensive category. The exception was steals.

McCutchen stole 33 bases and had a 77 percent success rate in 2010, his first full season in the majors. Last year, he swiped 20 bags and a 63 percent success rate.

“One of the things he's going to try to bring with him next year is the base running and stolen base facets of his game,” Hurdle said. “What I like about him is that he demands so much of himself. It's not about awards. It's about him finding a way to get a little bit better and to help us win the game we're playing that day.

“That mentality plays well in the clubhouse. He's a guy whose actions usually speak much louder than his words, and guys have a tendency to pick up and want to follow and want to keep up with him.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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