Swipe Me Down: A Look at the Mariners Speedsters that will Steal your Heart

In terms of aesthetic cache, stolen bases are perhaps the most exciting play in baseball. Especially if it’s in a high-leverage situation:

That’s Jerrod Dyson. He is fast, and very few players in Major League Baseball are faster. He is good at stealing the bags. He is on the Seattle Mariners roster. How many bases will he snatch in 2017?

Here are Dyson’s plate appearances from 2012-2016: 330, 239, 290, 225, 337

That is an average of 284.2 plate appearances per season. He has never appeared in more than 120 games in a regular season. Mariners manager Scott Servais said he welcomes the “edge” that Dyson brings. Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto gushed about Dyson’s defense and base-stealing ability after making the trade. Dyson has the starting left field job. He does have a hefty career platoon split (90 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitching, 65 wRC+ vs. left-handed pitching), so it is preferable that he not play a full 162 games, but this could be the first season where he has a chance to have a starting spot from Opening Day. If he does get a full season of plate appearances, his 50th percentile PECOTA projection of 60 stolen bases in 572 plate appearances does not look nearly as crazy. He is that fast. If Dyson plays even gets 450 plate appearances, he has a legitimate chance to steal more bases than any Mariner since Ichiro in 2009, when Ichiro stole 43. Ichiro also stole 56 in his rookie season, which is the number of steals the molasses-footed 2016 Mariners stole as a team. Ichiro was good.

The fun thing about Dyson’s potential stolen base total this year is that he is not the only speedy guy on the roster. Jean Segura stole 33 bases last season in Arizona and Leonys Martín led the Mariners last season with 24 steals. The Mariners have a chance to meet a wonderfully arbitrary minimum of three players with more than 20 steals on one roster.If you apply this wonderfully arbitrary minimum of three players with more than 20+ stolen bases in a single season on the same team from 1977-2016. In terms of team success, possessing three guys with 20+ stolen bases does not guarantee a successful season. If you apply the wonderfully arbitrary minimum to teams from 2000-2016, those 52 teams had an average winning percentage of .517, which would equate to about 83-84 wins in a 162 game season. The Mariners have had six seasons where they have met this threshold in their history, but only three from 2000-2016:

2010: Ichiro 42, Chone Figgins 42, Franklin Gutierrez 25

2001: Ichiro 56, Mark Mclemore 39, Mike Cameron 34

2000: Rickey Henderson 31, Mark Mclemore 30, Mike Cameron 24

1999: Brian Hunter 44, Ken Griffey, Jr. 24, Alex Rodriguez 21

1987: Harold Reynolds 60, Phil Bradley 40, John Moses 23, Donel Nixon 21

1986: Harold Reynolds 30, John Moses 23, Phil Bradley 21

The funniest thing about the 52 team sample is that the Mariners have the team with the most wins (2001) in the sample and the fewest wins in the sample (2010). The Mariners did everything well in 2001. I was in third grade, so I remember it in a vague way. The 2001 team was the first full season that I remember as a Mariners fan.The Mariners did everything terribly in 2010, so I remember that season in a different vague way. The 2010 team was the most disappointing season as a Mariners fan, both from a single season standpoint and for the ensuing haphazard Jack Zduriencik team-building from 2011-2015 that followed the 2010 abomination. The fact the Mariners have three guys with good chances for 20+ stolen bases this season does not help us learn if this team will actually be any good.

Of course, the thing about the arbitrary minimum of teams with three guys with 20+ stolen bases in the same season is that it eliminates the context of the rest of the roster. This 2017 Mariners roster is far more diversified than the 2010 team, or even the 2016 team. Even if Dyson underperforms for any reason, there are replacements who ~should~ be competent. I am a fan of Guillermo Heredia, and Ben Gamel is competent in the field at the very least. He makes contact at the plate and has a bit of speed as well. Tyler O’Neill could potentially continue mashing Minor League pitching into a pulp and make his way up by the end of the season. Add this to the fact that Mariners offense was the second best in the MLB on a mashing basis last season, and looks to bring the thunder in 2017 with the additions of Danny Valencia/Dan Vogelbach and Mitch Haniger to accompany the Robinson Cano-Nelson Cruz-Kyle Seager lineup core, and the Mariners are not relying on Dyson/Segura/Martín to dash their way to runs for a weak hitting team. These three guys will be wreaking havoc and making teams uncomfortable alongside the big bats in the lineup.

Teams with three guys with 20 or more steals may not necessarily be correlated with playoff runs, but Dyson/Segura/Martín gives Mariners fans a triumvirate that can be a problem on the bases for opposing teams for the first time in several years. A triumvirate that will be entertaining in a manner that Mariners fans have not been accustomed to in the last 16 seasons. Whether it ends in disappointment like 2010 or ends as the most successful season in team history like 2017 remains to be seen.* But pitchers will want zero problems with this year’s speedy triumvirate, big fella.

*newsflash: it probably will not end at either extreme

Thanks to the Baseball Reference Play Index for always being a great resource to find fun facts with wonderfully arbitrary minimums and endpoints. 

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