St. Louis Cardinals: Speed is On the Rise

Mar 23, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) dives into third base on a steal during a game against the Houston Astros at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 23, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) dives into third base on a steal during a game against the Houston Astros at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been quite a while since speed has been a factor for the St. Louis Cardinals. Will that continue to be the case in 2016?

Even casual St. Louis Cardinals fans know that speed hasn’t been a big factor for the Redbirds over the last several seasons. If you were to ask fans of any team about the Cardinals, they would likely site pitching as St. Louis’ main strength over the years. And they would be right.

Watching rookie Charlie Tilson flash some speed on the base paths this week in Spring Training got me thinking — just how long has it been since speed has played a significant role on a Cardinals’ team? Let’s dive in.

Last year was one of the better seasons in recent memory speed-wise for St. Louis, which still isn’t saying much. The addition of Jason Heyward brought more speed to the team. Heyward swiped 23 bases in 2015, which was a career high for the 26-year old. Kolten Wong stole 15 bases — a drop off from 20 stolen bases in 2014. Despite having two players with 15 or more stolen bases, the Cardinals only ranked 21st in stolen bases last year in the MLB.

In fact, since 2005 the Cardinals rank dead last in all of baseball in the stolen bases category. It has been a long, long time since speed has played a crucial role for this club.

The last time the Cardinals had two players with 20 or more stolen bases was way back in 2004. That season, Tony Womack swiped 26 bags and Reggie Sanders 21. It’s been more than a decade since the Cardinals have had a player steal 30 or more bases — Edgar Renteria led the team with 34 in 2003.

So, will 2016 continue to be another slow season on the bases for St. Louis? The outlook doesn’t look promising.

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In 2014, Wong led the team with those 20 stolen bases. Peter Bourjos finished second with nine steals and Jon Jay was third on the club with six. With Bourjos, Jay and, most importantly, Heyward all on different teams, the 2016 season looks to be another down year for the Cardinals on the base paths.

I don’t have to tell  you how speed can change the dynamics of a game. Stolen bases are an extremely valuable commodity, but it’s a commodity that the Cardinals just don’t have right now.

I expect Wong to lead the Cardinals in steals with Heyward gone. Hopefully, Wong will be a bit more aggressive on the base paths than he was last season and can get back to 20 or more steals in 2016. But who else can step up and steal some bases for this team?

The next logical pick is outfielder Tommy Pham. Pham had 20 stolen bases in 104 games with the Memphis Redbirds in 2014. He was caught stealing just two times that season in Triple-A. The case against Pham getting double digit stolen bases in 2016 could be playing time.

Pham won’t be starting everyday for the Cardinals. Still, he should get plenty of opportunities as the fourth outfielder on this club and likely one of the first players off the bench to get an at bat or even pinch run.

Randal Grichuk is another player who could have room for improvement on the base paths. Grichuk only stole four bases last season, but he has stolen more than 15 bases in the minors once in 2012. I don’t see Grichuk being extremely aggressive on the bases, though. The Cardinals need their center fielder to stay healthy and hit homers this season.

When Wong led the club in steals in 2014, the Cardinals finished 28th in the MLB with just 57 total steals. That very likely may be the case again in 2016.

But the future could be promising with a guy like Tilson. Tilson has flashed some great speed early on in spring training and already has five stolen bases in six attempts. The one time Tilson was caught stealing was on a perfect throw, too. Tilson is one of a few speedsters in the Cardinals’ farm system.

Last year, the 23-year old outfielder stole 46 bases in 134 games at Double-A Springfield. That kind of speed could help the Cardinals out one day soon, even in a pinch runner role. Tilson will have to continue working on his stolen base percentage. While he did steal 46 bases in Double-A, he was caught stealing 19 times.

Next: Cardinals Best/Worst Case 2016: Stephen Piscotty

Cardinals fans shouldn’t expect too much speed on the base paths for this club in 2016. But with young guys like Tilson making a strong impression, it may not be too long before the Cardinals have a tool that’s been sorely missed for more than a decade.