8/14/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Today's basestealers swipe bags with smarts
Current players run less often but succeed more frequently than predecessors
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Under manager Whitey Herzog, the Cardinals of the 1980s were known as the "Runnin' Redbirds." They opened the season flying around the basepaths and never stopped. The 1985 Cards, featuring Vince Coleman, attempted a remarkable 410 steals and were successful 76.6 percent of the time.
Three years earlier, the incomparable Rickey Henderson set the single season record with 130 steals in 172 attempts, a 76-percent success rate. The Man of Steal's record 1,406 career thefts came in 1,741 tries, a success rate of 80.8 percent.
Nobody runs anymore quite like Rickey or his peers Coleman, Tim Raines and Willie Wilson. But base thieves are more successful, on a percentage basis, than ever. In fact, the seven most efficient basestealers in history with at least 80 career attempts are active players.
At the top of the list is the Angels' Mike Trout. See? The kid is almost perfect. The American League leader as a rookie with 49 steals in 54 attempts (90.7 percent), he's 12-for-12 this season and is 98-for-110 in his career. Trout's dip in steals is consistent with the club's muscular approach, underscored by his 27 home runs and .570 slugging mark, second in the AL.
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, the National League's answer to Trout, is 17-for-18 in steals and slugging .536.
The Brewers (192) and Royals (185) led the Majors in steal attempts last year -- a far cry from the sizzling '80s. The Dodgers (144) and Reds (139) are the current leaders, owing largely to the mercurial Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, respectively.
It stands to reason that as the volume of steals decreases in the modern game, the success rates will rise. Sliding and diving into bases at full speed can take a heavy toll on the body over the course of a season.
Here are the all-time steal percentage leaders (at least 80 attempts):
1. Trout, 89.09
2. Chase Utley, 88.16
3. Alexi Casilla, 87.91
4. Jayson Werth, 87.5
5. Craig Gentry, 87.06
6. Carlos Beltran, 86.63
7. Jarrod Dyson, 86.61
8. Jack Perconte, 85.714
9. Kazuo Matsui, 85.0
10. Eric Byrnes, 84.87
Beltran, now gracing the Yankees, has remained amazingly consistent through 17 seasons and 311 steals. The most surprising name on the list is Perconte, a journeyman second baseman who began his career with the 1980 Dodgers and was a regular for two seasons in Seattle, stealing 29 and 31 in consecutive seasons.
After the top seven, four other active players are in the top 20: Nate McLouth (12th, 84.71); Jacoby Ellsbury (15th, 84.21); Alcides Escobar (17th, 84.03) and Jason Kipnis (18th, 83.67).
Active steals leaders Ichiro Suzuki (482, 81.70 percent) and Carl Crawford (462, 81.76) rank 31st and 30th all-time, respectively, in success rate.
Raines, who comes in at No. 14, was successful at an 84.7-percent rate, leading to his 808 lifetime steals -- the best success rate ever for a player with 500 or more steals. Wilson, 20th overall, is second in this high-volume category with an 83.3-percent success rate on 668 steals. Third on the 500-plus steals list is Davey Lopes, who succeeded at 83 percent and had 557 steals.
The supremely-talented Eric Davis, who blended speed with power as few men ever have, is No. 16 on the list with a success rate of 84.1 percent on 349 steals.
Lopes, the Dodgers' first-base coach, has become known as the modern-day baserunning guru, transforming players into enlightened base thieves everywhere he goes.
Lopes took charge of the Phillies' running game from 2007-10, and the likes of Utley, Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino gave the team the best stolen-base percentage in baseball during his time as coach. Rollins, with 449 career steals after swiping a pair on Wednesday night against the Angels, hasn't forgotten Lopes' impact.
"He meant a lot to us," said Rollins, the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player. "He definitely showed me a lot of things and made me a better player.
"When Davey got here in 2007, he asked me what my [stolen-base] percentage was. I told him it was 79 or 80. He said, 'We've got to get you up to at least 82. That's four more opportunities to score a run.'
"I thought about it and realized that those four runs could make the difference in games -- and a pennant race. Four runs, four wins, in a tight race could get you in the playoffs."
Rollins improved dramatically in 2007 with Lopes' guidance, scoring a league-best 139 runs while lifting his steals rate to 87 percent.
Lopes' latest project, Gordon, is leading the Majors in steals with 51 and has a 79.7-percent success rate.
"Davey's unbelievable for players, having him around," Rollins said. "You know that when a guy has done exactly what you do, it gives him credibility."
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.