Modern marvels: Snead's speed stole the show
MiLB.com staff combed through decades of stats to uncover Minor League hitting and pitching leaders among players active for at least one season in the 21st century. "Modern marvels" presents their stories. We covered the hits leaders, the strikeout leaders, the home run leaders and the saves leaders in previous
MiLB.com staff combed through decades of stats to uncover Minor League hitting and pitching leaders among players active for at least one season in the 21st century. "Modern marvels" presents their stories. We covered the hits leaders, the strikeout leaders, the home run leaders and the saves leaders in previous editions.
As home run totals continue to rise around the league, the stolen base has become an afterthought. After all, why risk getting thrown out trying to run to second or third base when you can wait for the opportunity to jog all the way to home plate?
The last time Major League teams combined to steal 3,500 bases in a season was 1987, when the league totaled 3,648 swipes. The last campaign with at least 3,000 steals was more recent -- 3,229 steals in 2012, a marked increase over the totals from the first half-dozen seasons of the 21st century. Those years featured consistent totals in the low-to-mid 2,000s. After the 2012 spike, stolen bases cratered to 2,693 in 2013 and haven't sniffed 3,000 since.
Eleven players stole 40 or more bases back in 1987, with 19 checking in at 30-plus. Fast forward 32 years to 2019, when three players stole at least 40 bases and eight reached the 30-steal plateau in a season in which teams combined for 2,280 bags. That's a 32 percent decrease over 32 years. The percentage increase in home runs during that time frame? A similar 33.4 percent, from 5,078 long balls in 1987 to 6,776 in 2019.
But enough about how the game has changed. After all, we're here to celebrate the stolen base, not lament its decline. And with that comes former New York Mets outfielder Esix Snead, who holds a modern Minor League record with 507 stolen bases, standing as the only player who's played at least one season this century to top 500 swipes.
What might be most remarkable about Snead's totals is that he accomplished the feat in nine Minor League seasons. No other player in the top 10 made it there in fewer seasons than Snead, and more than half of them needed 12 or more campaigns to amass their numbers.
Snead raced off to a fast start in his first season after being drafted by the Cardinals in the 18th round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft, stealing 42 bases on 53 attempts in 58 games for the Class A Short Season New Jersey Cardinals. Perhaps even more impressively, of the 76 times he reached first base that season, he attempted a stolen base almost 70 percent of the time and succeeded over 55 percent of the time. Over half the time Snead singled or walked that season, it was as good as a double.
That was a consistent theme for Snead. He was a career .231 hitter who had 750 career hits, but just 152 extra-base hits and a .297 slugging percentage. His best season came in 2000 at Class A Advanced Potomac, where he batted .235/.340/.282 and walked a career-high 72 times. That allowed him to attempt a whopping 144 stolen bases, of which he successfully swiped 109 to break the Carolina League record Lenny Dykstra set in 1983.
Snead reached base 196 times that season with 18 extra-base hits, meaning he attempted a steal over 80 percent of the time he reached first and succeeded in turning a single (or walk) into a double on over 60 percent of his opportunities.
Waived by the Cardinals in 2001, Snead was claimed by the Mets and made his Major League debut the following season, batting .308/.357/.538 in 14 plate appearances. He stole four bases in seven attempts, several of which came as a pinch-runner, and he even homered -- something he did just 13 times in 926 career Minor League games.
That long ball came in the same game that he got his first Major League hit in on Sept. 21, 2002 against the Montreal Expos. That first career hit was a single, but the homer was a three-run walk-off shot at the expense of reliever Dan Smith in the 11th inning. Snead played in just one Major League game after the 2001-02 season, scoring a run as a pinch-runner for the Mets in 2004.
Snead's final pro season came at age 29 in 2006, when he batted .220/.320/.268 in 41 games for Triple-A Ottawa in the Baltimore Orioles organization before he was released in late May. He stole 15 bases in 19 attempts that year despite reaching base 48 times, and that season remains the lone campaign of Snead's career in which he failed to swipe 40 bags.
Here are some recent players who got within shouting distance of Snead's stolen-base total over the course of their respective careers:
Trenidad Hubbard (488 steals from 1986-2005): Hubbard's tale is one of longevity, which isn't usually the case for most speedsters -- he's the only player on this list to have played past age 36, and he turned 41 in May of his final season in 2005. He stole 40 bases in a season just once in his Minor League career, with Class A Advanced Osceola in 1988, but he swiped 30 bases seven times across the Triple-A and Double-A levels. At age 34, he joined the Dodgers and had an impressive two-year stretch in the Majors from 1998-1999, batting .304 with eight home runs and 13 steals over 335 plate appearances.
Wayne Lydon (427 steals from 1999-2008): One of two players on this list to have never played a Major League game, Lydon is also one of two who racked up three consecutive seasons with 60 stolen bases. He notched 87 for Class A Capital City in 2002, 75 for Class A Advanced St. Lucie in 2003 and 65 for Double-A Binghamton in 2004. Lydon never stole fewer than 26 bases in a season after his professional debut for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Mets in 1999, when he didn't record any.
Alex Requena (418 steals from 1999-2007): Requena is the other player on this list who didn't make The Show, but he's also one of just two with four 50-steal campaigns over the course of his career. The best of those came in 2000, when he stole 87 bases for Class A Columbus, and he also racked up 72 swipes in 2002 for Class A Advanced Kinston.
Chris Tripodi is a coordinator for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.