(KRON) — Oakland A’s rookie center fielder Esteury Ruiz has been a bright spot in a dark season for the team’s fan base.
Ruiz has shown off elite speed and solid contact skills manning the leadoff spot in 2023. He had 26 stolen bases after Wednesday night’s game, putting him on pace for an accomplishment that has not been achieved in 35 years.
Billy Hamilton (different from the current speedster with the same name) set the rookie record for stolen bases in 1889 when he swiped 111 bags for the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association. The team folded the next season, and Hamilton was shipped to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he played the next six seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
In 1985, St. Louis Cardinals rookie Vince Coleman came within one stolen base of tying Hamilton’s record. Since that season, Kenny Lofton has the most steals for a rookie with 66 in 1992.
The speedy center fielder stole his 26th base of the season in Wednesday night’s loss to the Seattle Mariners. Through 51 games, that puts him on pace for 83 steals in a 162-game season.
If Ruiz keeps up this pace, he will join Coleman as the only rookie to steal more than 80 bases since 1889. Even if he steals 70 bases, he will be just the fourth rookie to do so in the last 100 years.
The most recent 80-steal seasons happened in 1988 by Rickey Henderson (then a New York Yankee) and Coleman. The stolen base has become far rarer in recent seasons — no player has stolen more than 46 bases since 2017. Ruiz has a chance to reach that number by the end of July.
Ruiz’s success has been, in part, due to an effort by MLB to increase the amount of action on the basepaths. Before the 2023 season, the league increased the size of the bases and limited the amount of pick-offs pitchers can throw, and it has resulted in more steals.
Even so, Ruiz has been head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the league. Behind his league-leading 26 steals, Ronald Acuna Jr. has 21, Wander Franco has 17, and no other player has more than 14.
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According to baseball analytics website Baseball Savant, Ruiz covers 29.7 feet per second while sprinting, which is better than all but seven MLB players. Perhaps just as impressive is Ruiz’s efficiency — he has been caught stealing just three times.
He pairs his blazing speed with impressive contact skills — he is hitting .280 thus far. He also has another trick in his bag to reach base, as his 11 hit-by-pitches lead MLB.
The A’s acquired Ruiz last offseason in the trade that brought catcher Sean Murphy to Atlanta. Atlanta sent catcher William Contreras to Milwaukee, who sent Ruiz to Oakland. The A’s also got four other players from Atlanta.
Murphy was immediately given $73 million to stay in Atlanta for the next six seasons. He has been tearing it up for the Braves, but A’s fans can rest assured that they received an effective and exciting player in return.