SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Basestealing, if done right, adds an unrivaled element to the game of baseball. The threat of swiping a bag at any moment shifts the tension from the offense to the defense.
Compared to the 1980s, when guys like Rickey Henderson were stealing 100-plus bags in a year, baseball in the past couple decades has seen a reduced impact from basestealers. Teams made the transition to a more power-focused style of play in the '90s, and they started to rely more on the long ball to score runs.
However, according to Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz, the game is finally shifting back toward the '80s style, where athleticism and speed can reign supreme once again.
Basestealers are a prized weapon, and to find one of the best in the business, look no further than Jarrod Dyson. The Royals outfielder is at the forefront of revitalizing the art of stealing a bag.
"Dice is one of those rare guys that we have who has that speed element," Kuntz said. "There's only a handful of guys like him who can steal on any pitch in any situation. He puts so much pressure on a defense, where everything has got to go perfect to [catch] him.
"He can go from a dead standstill and slide into second base in three [seconds] flat. Well, a big league average for a pitcher to the plate is 1.3 seconds, and the average for a catcher [throwing to second base] is two seconds flat. And that's the best of the best. If you combine those two, you get 3.3 seconds. And he's three flat, so he's actually outrunning the baseball."
With that speed, Dyson stole 34 bases last year on 40 attempts in just 87 games. That number was good enough for 12th in the big leagues, beating out the likes of Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, who each played 157 games.
Dyson credits most of his success to Kuntz, and said that speed is only half the battle when it comes to swiping a bag.
Kuntz spends much of his day on an iPad, meticulously breaking down film of pitchers in the league, looking for any "keys" -- body movements that might provide a clue as to whether the hurler is about to make a pitch or throw a pickoff to first base. If Kuntz finds something, he will relay that information to his players.
"That's why you have to give him a lot of the credit," Dyson said. "He goes home at night and breaks down every pitcher; hits play and rewind multiple times and tries to find a key when everything looks like it's in the same motion. It's pretty special."
According to Dyson, even the smallest twitch could be an indicator to take off, and it is both his and Kuntz's job to try to find that movement when watching film.
But there are times when a hint is not there.
"Sometimes I'm running with a key, and other times I'm just running because I know I can get the bag on the guy," said Dyson, who said he has the perpetual green light from manager Ned Yost. "It's 50-50. I'm going because I've got the speed to go, but a lot of it comes from reading pitchers' tendencies."
Oftentimes, Dyson is called upon in the late innings to pinch-run. In those situations, the steals specialist regularly proves his worth to Kansas City.
"If you have Billy Butler, who has a high on-base percentage late in the game and he gets a single, then you bring in [Dyson]," Kuntz explained. "After one pitch, he's at second; two pitches, third. That's a weapon."
But not a secret weapon. When Dyson comes off the bench late in the game, all the players on the field and the coaches in the other dugout take notice. Even so, Dyson still typically produces.
"Everybody knows I'm going," Dyson said, "and to still be able to take that bag is pretty special. When I get to second, you can see it in their eyes. They know that with one single I'm coming in [to score.] That's the fun part of the game, man."
So why exactly are quality basestealers like Dyson such a weapon?
"It's hard for the pitcher to lock in on me and the hitter at the same time," Dyson said. "One has got to give; either you're going to be quick to try and stop me and leave a pitch over the plate for the hitter, or you're just going to be worried about that hitter and give me the bag."
Both Kuntz and Dyson's expressions lit up when discussing the topic of basestealing. They enjoy the cat-and-mouse exchange that stealing produces within a game, and both know the benefit a good basestealer provides to an offense.
"If you can get in scoring position, and all you need is a single to score, that's pretty special," Dyson said.
Ross Dunham is a junior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less