On a cold and rainy October night in Baltimore, Orioles centerfielder Cedric Mullins stands at the plate with shortstop Jorge Mateo leading off first after hitting a bunt single against Blue Jays pitcher Jose Berrios. Suddenly, Mateo propels himself towards second base as Berrios releases a pitch to Mullins. Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk shoots up and throws down to second base but is not quick enough to throw out the speedy shortstop. With the stolen base, Mateo passed Mullins for the team, and American League, lead for stolen bases with his 35th.
With two games left on the schedule, Mateo and Mullins sit in the top two spots for stolen bases in the American League and one of the two will likely take the AL stolen base crown. They will be the first Orioles to earn this since Brian Roberts in 2007 when he stole 50 bases.
Stolen bases have become exceedingly rare over recent years in baseball because of the sabermetric revolution and the trend toward analytics not being favorable towards stolen base attempts. However, the Orioles have had more stolen base threats over recent years than they ever did during the Duquette/Showalter era and these threats have added a layer to the Orioles offense they did not have before Elias came to town. Other than Mateo and Mullins, Jonathan Villar had 40 stolen bases for the O’s in 2019, and Mullins had 30 last year.
The Orioles have also routinely had Mateo and Mullins batting next to one another with Jorge in the nine-hole and Cedric at leadoff. This gives teams something to worry about when one or both of them are on base with the heart of the order at the plate since both players are routinely stolen base threats. Both players are also efficient as neither gets caught stealing often. Mateo is 35 of 44 in stolen base attempts for a 79.5% success rate while Mullins is 34 of 44 for a 77.3% rate.
Mateo is a stolen base threat every time he reaches base. Unfortunately, he does not get on base as much as the Orioles would like with a .267 on-base percentage which is well below average. His speed combined with defensive ability at a premium position allows for him to be an everyday player despite lackluster offensive production.
Whether it be Jorge Mateo or Cedric Mullins, the Baltimore Orioles will almost certainly finish with the American League leader in stolen bases on their roster.
Of course, he is one of the O’s recent waiver wire success stories as he was picked up late last year after the Padres gave up on him. With his success finishing last season, he was a clear candidate to make the O’s opening day roster this year and he has not disappointed. What makes Mateo such a stolen base threat is his pure speed. At 30.1 feet per second, he ranks in the 99th percentile for sprint speed and is six-tenths of a second slower than the fastest runner in baseball, Corbin Carroll of the Diamondbacks. If Mateo had the on-base abilities of Mullins or the 2019 version of Villar, then he could easily have many more stolen bases and would likely lead the league ahead of Jon Berti of the Marlins.
For Mullins, the pure speed is not as apparent as for Mateo. He actually ranks fourth amongst active Orioles for sprint speed behind Mateo, Ryan McKenna, and Gunnar Henderson. However, Cedric’s on-base abilities combined with baserunning discipline allow him to be an effective stolen base threat. He has a .320 on-base percentage this year and routinely bats leadoff which helps his cause.
He also has more experience than Mateo and the other Orioles speedsters as he has mostly been the O’s everyday center fielder since the trade deadline in 2018. He averages 28 stolen bases per 162 games in his career and that average has gone up over his past two seasons where he has stolen 64 of his 74 career bases.
All this being said, the Orioles have shown a trend towards more competitive baserunning in Brandon Hyde’s managerial regime and the results look promising. With Mateo and Mullins as true stolen base threats, this adds a layer to the Orioles’ offense that many teams do not have nowadays.