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Statistically Speaking: Pirates could run wild on Cubs

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Reds' Devin Mesoraco collides with Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the third inning Wednesday, June, 18, 2014, at PNC Park. Mesoraco was called safe on the play after a review.

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By David Golebiewski
Thursday, June 19, 2014, 9:36 p.m.

The Pirates look to gain ground in the NL Central standings against the Cubs, who are creeping closer to the fourth-place Bucs and sport the better run differential (-9 compared to -18 for the Pirates). The Pirates could separate themselves by targeting one of Chicago's well-known weaknesses: holding opposing base runners.

Teams are challenging Cubs backstops often, attempting to steal a base in 6.9 percent of all possible chances. That's sixth highest in the majors, behind only the Pirates, Giants, Tigers, Padres and Marlins. While the Bucs have managed to gun out runners at a clip (23 percent) that's close to the big league average (26 percent), the North Siders have been almost defenseless against would-be base thieves.

Chicago's backstops have thrown out an MLB-low 9 percent of potential base stealers, with John Baker (4 percent) holding the worst caught stealing rate among catchers logging 200-plus innings.

Baker has been getting regular playing time in place of the injured Welington Castillo, who has the fifth-worst caught stealing rate (14 percent). Triple-A fill-in Eli Whiteside is 0 for 4 throwing out runners.

The Cubs' stolen base follies have cost them an MLB-worst five runs compared to an average team, according to Fangraphs.

Team Stolen Base Runs

Cubs -5

Twins -5

Athletics -3

Padres -2

Blue Jays -2

Catchers don't bear sole responsibility for stolen bases, however. Friday's starter Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel (Sunday) have career caught-stealing rates around 20 percent while playing for multiple clubs, suggesting they could be quicker to the plate or pay closer attention to runners.

The Pirates haven't been particularly aggressive on the bases so far, attempting a steal in a league-average 5.6 percent of possible chances, but their “dream outfield” should get the green light against Jackson and Hammel. Andrew McCutchen is 9 for 9 in steals, and Starling Marte (77 percent success rate) and Gregory Polanco (75 percent at Triple-A) also are putting their sprinter's speed to good use.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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