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Efficient Mets should attempt more steals

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This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

During a routine hitters meeting at Citi Field this week, outfielder Tommy Pham suggested that the Mets can do a better job stealing bases. The timing of Pham’s comment may have seemed odd, considering the Mets were in the midst of a record stolen-base streak that’s since increased to 35 in a row without anyone getting caught.

Pham’s point was that given their success, the Mets should be running even more often than they are.

“It’s all about not getting caught though,” Pham said. “You don’t want to just be running into outs. It’s all about stolen-base efficiency.”

That night, Alonso stole his 13th career base. He’s been caught just once and is the poster child for the type of thing Pham believes is possible. Alonso ranks 397th out of 473 qualified players in Statcast’s sprint speed metric. (The Mets, in fact, have no players in the top 120.) Yet Alonso’s studiousness, along with his willingness to run when pitchers give him the chance, has helped his team score more runs than it otherwise would.

In that fashion, the Mets — for years, a largely unathletic, unaggressive team on the bases — have become Major League Baseball’s most efficient basestealers. Entering Thursday’s play, they ranked 10th in MLB with 60 steals but first with a success rate of 90.91 percent. Last year, they stole 62 bags all season, doing so at a below-average clip of 73.81 percent.

Stolen-base efficiency has, of course, increased across the league given new regulations to help runners. Players say the larger bases don’t make nearly as much difference as the rule limiting pitchers to two pickoff throws. Knowing a pitcher can’t throw over three times frees would-be stealers to be more aggressive — so much so that Showalter has talked to his catchers about not feeling down when they struggle to catch anyone.

But the existence of the new rules doesn’t explain why the Mets have been better than other teams at exploiting them.

Pham points to first-base coach Wayne Kirby, who offers accurate scouting reports both before games and in real time. Of equal influence is Pham’s former coach with the Cardinals, Willie McGee, who encouraged him to “know your times” — a suggestion that Pham has shared with new teammates.

The idea is to memorize his run time from first to second base, which is about a tenth of a second slower than it was in his prime; the delivery times of each pitcher he might see that night; the pop times of catchers; and the length of his lead (which is influenced by the quality of a pitcher’s pickoff move). If those numbers all line up well, Pham can be confident of stealing a base without significant risk of getting caught.

“Obviously when you put in all that work, all that communication,” outfielder Starling Marte said through an interpreter, “you end up getting the results you want.”

Marte, a premium basestealer in his prime, leads the Mets with 21 bags. He’s been caught just three times. Pham and Francisco Lindor both have nine stolen bases and have been thrown out once. (Lindor was the last Met to be caught stealing, way back on May 10.) Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that stolen bases are only worth the risk if a player’s success rate rises above 75-80 percent. The fact that most Mets sit far above that mark suggests there’s indeed room for them to be even more aggressive.

“I still think we should be stealing more,” Pham said. “When that opportunity comes, we need to take it.”

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