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Never fleet of foot, Orioles base running lagged behind league yet again in 2017

Of all the obvious ways the Orioles can improve in 2017 — the pitching staff and overall defense chief among them — there's another simple facet of the game they can improve that might make things a bit better in 2018.

Stealing bases has never been something the Orioles utilized in their recent big-ball era, but the amount of outs they've run into over the past few years has taken runs — and likely wins — off the board.

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That their league-low 32 stolen bases were 21 fewer than the next-nearest team is only part of the picture. The Orioles rated in the bottom half of the league in several base-running categories, both traditional and more advanced, and not all of it has to do with their lack of speed.

According to baseball-reference.com, the Orioles took extra bases on singles 37 percent of the time, which tied for 22nd in the majors. That includes taking an extra base 24.8 percent of the time on singles with a batter on first, and scoring from first on a double 43.5 percent of the time.

As a station-to-station team, it's only natural that these aren't higher. However, when the offense is as inconsistent as it was in 2017, staying conservative on the bases and waiting for the big blast could leave some opportunities for runs on the table.

FanGraphs boils base running down to three facets — extra bases taken, stolen bases and double plays. By Ultimate Base Running (UBR), which credits or debits base runners with the run expectancy from whether they take an extra base or not, the Orioles had a -6.9 rating this year, their worst since 2010. In the overall running metric, the Orioles were at -15, their worst since 2012 and third worst in the game.

There's a difference between not stealing bases — which is more understandable — and the Orioles' problems in other facets on the bases. It's unreasonable to send a player without the speed to avoid an out, but not everyone fits that mold. Manny Machado went from 20 steals to zero to nine in the past three seasons, and was criticized for running into outs on the bases early in 2017 with Chris Davis at the plate, though in hindsight maybe Machado's aggression was warranted in those circumstances. The likes of Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry had the speed to make an impact, but rarely had the opportunity.

Perhaps the recent arrival of Austin Hays, the pending arrival of Cedric Mullins and maybe the addition of a speedy bench infielder if Ryan Flaherty leaves in free agency could expand that facet of the game for the Orioles. But there's nothing they can do about the caliber of athletes on the roster, many of whom don't have footspeed as their greatest physical gift.

If they're homering at the prodigious rate of 2016, maybe they can afford to be conservative and keep as many men on base as possible next year. When things are as volatile at the plate as they were in 2017, perhaps there's room for the Orioles to be better on the bases than they have been.

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