With the Milwaukee Brewers comfortably in first place in the National League Central division and sitting top ten in the league in runs scored, fans have welcomed the return of a visually pleasing offense. That has included the return of a run game on the base paths.
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain missed a chance to bring Milwaukee’s stolen base total to an even 70 in last night’s game against the Phillies. After singling in the bottom of the third, he would end up getting picked off of first for the first out in the inning.
Instead, the Brewers would have to settle for sticking at 69 thefts by the time the game was over. Going into Wednesday, that was good enough to put them in a tie for ninth in all of MLB, tied with the Blue Jays and Tigers, not to mention fourth best in the NL.
That total represents a return to normalcy for the Brewers offense. After four straight seasons finishing in the top ten in MLB in steals, Milwaukee was much less aggressive in the base paths in 2020, finishing second to last with just 15 steals in 60 games. Their 69 steals in 2021 have come in 140 games, a much better ratio.
So what could be responsible for the return of stolen bases to the Brewers offensive repertoire in 2021?
This last offseason, we examined the curious case of the missing stolen bases for the Brewers in 2020. In doing so, we came across a few trends that may have at least somewhat explained the drop in steals.
As we mentioned previously, you have to get on base to be able to steal another one, and the Brewers’ on base percentage dropped 16 points down to .313 from 2019 to 2020. Well, while the offense has been noticeably improved in 2021, the team’s OBP has risen back up to just .320. That’s better, but not quite back up to pre-2020 levels.
We also looked at their stolen base attempt rate (attempted steals divided by the sum of hits, walks, and hit-by-pitches), which dropped from 6.1% in 2019 to 3.8% in 2020. At 89 steal attempts compared to 1679 hits, walks, and HBPs, Milwaukee’s attempt rate is back up to 5.3%.
Last year, we considered that the drop in attempt rate may have been due to a lack of availability in quality base stealers. Much like the stolen bases themselves, that also seems like an issue that has rectified itself in 2021.
The biggest boost to the team’s run game has been the return of Cain. The Brewers really missed his speed after he opted out of the 2020 season a few games after it started and he currently leads the team as the only player with double digit steals with 11.
Christian Yelich looking more like his old self has helped as well. After battling injuries and a midseason semi-slump, the team’s next best stolen base threat along with Cain has looked much better as of late and has eight steals of his own.
You also have an offseason addition in leadoff hitter Kolten Wong as well as a 2021 surprise in utility man Jace Peterson. Those two have nine steals apiece. Meanwhile, Avisail Garcia has tapped into his speed a bit more in 2021 and has seven stolen bases on the season.
Seven other players have steals for the Brewers in 2021, bringing the total number of players with a stolen base to 12. Last season, just eight Milwaukee players tallied a steal for the team.
Stolen bases are one of the many exciting elements that a fan can experience during a baseball game. It’s nice that Brewers fans get to experience it more often again this season.