GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Drew Stubbs threw out the number as if it were no more difficult to accomplish than finding an abandoned steel mill in Youngstown.
“I don’t see why we can’t steal 200 bases as a team this year,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of doing, Michael Bourn knows what he’s capable of doing. Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, all those guys know what they can do. Speed is one of the weapons this team has, and we’re going to use it.”
Stubbs’ expectation might turn out to be true, but last year, no major-league team stole 160 bases. The Brewers led everyone with 158 (with an 80 percent success rate), the Padres were second with 154 (77 percent) and the Miami Marlins were third with 149 (78 percent).
It might be interesting to note that three of these teams belong to the American League Central, making them lodge brothers of the Tribe.
The last time a team stole 200 or more bases was 2007, when the New York Mets totaled 200. The last time an American League team equaled or exceeded 200 steals was 1992, when the pre-National League Brewers swiped 256 bags, an extraordinary number. Pat Listach was their leader with 54, Darryl Hamilton had 41 and Paul Molitor 31.
Do the Indians have enough base-stealing threats — the four mentioned by Stubbs plus Asdrubal Cabrera — to break the 200 barrier? The odds are they don’t unless they get contributions from players other than the Big Five.
Moreover, it might not be productive or desirable to steal 200 bases because the club might run itself out of too many innings. The Tribe does not lack for players who can jack the ball over the fence: Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Lonnie Chisenhall, Cabrera and Stubbs.
In fact, Stubbs admits to at times wondering if he should concentrate on being strictly a contact hitter because of his speed or being an RBI guy because of his size and strength.
“I definitely have struggled with that at times,” he said. “I led off a lot at Cincinnati. Obviously in that role you try to get on base and score runs. But when you get down in the lineup, you want to drive the ball and do a little more damage. I think the key for me is to have a line-drive approach, still drive the ball and use small ball when it’s necessary.”
Manager Terry Francona doesn’t think Stubbs should be conflicted about what kind of hitter he should be.
“I think he gets caught being on time (swinging early or late),” he said. “For a while, he had a big leg kick, but he’s toned that down. I think sometimes he’s surprised at how much time he has (before he swings). When he figures it out, it’s going to work for him.”
Last year, Stubbs batted only .213 with 13 doubles, 14 home runs, 40 RBIs and 30 steals. The previous season, he batted .243 with 22 doubles, 15 homers, 44 RBIs and 40 steals.
“Speed is one of the assets of my game,” he said. “You can’t teach it. You have it or you don’t. You can lose it, but it’s something that separates me from a lot of players, and I try to make the most of it.”
One thing that negates speed — whether it’s stealing bases or taking the extra base — is an inability to reach base in the first place.
In that regard, Stubbs has something of problem because he strikes out a lot. He doesn’t want to, but he fears that he can’t cut down on his whiffs significantly without becoming tentative at the plate.
In 2011, Stubbs struck out 205 times to lead the NL.
“Obviously, it’s something I can improve on,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. But it will always be a part of my game. It always has been. I don’t want to take away from my strengths just to address it.
“All of a sudden you look up and you’ve cut down on your strikeouts, but you’ve given away X-number of RBIs and home runs. So there has to be a balance.”
Balance is what the Indians are counting on: more positives than negatives but with reasonable expectations.
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