Mets were elite base stealers last season and can be even better in 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Baseball’s most efficient base-stealers, the Mets, figure to continue their larcenous ways this season, and Francisco Lindor thinks one teammate could nab 50 bags this season, assuming that player is healthy.

“I think [Starling] Marte can go back to doing what he did – 50 bases, I think he stole one year,” said Lindor -- Marte actually has two seasons where he hit his career-best of 47 steals on his resume.

But the point is, “That’s in him,” Lindor said. “He looks really good. He looks strong. It looks like the body is doing what the mind is telling it to do.”

If Marte is that kind of thief, the Mets could again have a big season of base stealing. It sounds like it will be an offensive priority of sorts and it really should be, considering how good they were at it last year, even while Marte battled injuries.

Last year, the Mets led the major leagues with an 88.7 percent success rate, the highest in club history. They stole 118 bags in 133 tries, obliterating their old percentage record of 82.3 percent, set in 2004. Over a stretch from May 11 to June 29, the Mets swiped 35 consecutive bases, a club record.

It’s not just Marte who can have success stealing now – Lindor was 31-of-35 (88.6 percent) last year and Jeff McNeil was a perfect 10-for-10. Newcomers Harrison Bader (18-of-21 last season) and Tyrone Taylor (9-for-9) could add bags, too.

“We have a little more dynamic team this year,” Lindor said. “In the outfield, every outfielder [Brandon] Nimmo, Bader, Marte, Tyrone – they can all run. The catchers, they won’t be running. But McNeil can steal bases. He picked his spots last year and he’s a very smart player. He knows when to run and not run.”

New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) beats the tag of Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Geraldo Perdomo (2) to steal second base during the fourth inning at Chase Field

Baseball’s new rules – the pitch clock and the limit on the number of times a pitcher can make pickoff throws – have injected new life onto the base paths and teams are taking advantage. Pity the poor catchers – Gabriel Moreno of the Diamondbacks led the National League by throwing out 38.6 percent of base stealers, the first time since at least 1900 that the top catcher was under 40 percent.

“It’s definitely a weapon,” Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said. “We got guys that can run the bases and we got guys who have a pretty good feel of how to steal bases. And with the new rules nowadays, the game wants action. So I think this is something that we’ll be aggressive when the situation presents itself.

“I’m having those conversations with the guys. A lot of them are going to have the green light. This is an area of the game where we can take advantage.”

When told that Lindor had suggested that he could swipe 50, Marte laughed. But Marte, who was 20-for-24 last year and led MLB in steals in 2021 with 47, stole 47 in 2016 and 41 in 2013, didn’t dismiss the idea.

“Yeah, if I’m healthy, God willing, I think I’ll be able to do it,” Marte said through an interpreter. “But I think the most important thing is being able to get on base and if I’m able to get on base, I think I’ll see those steals.”

When he’s healthy enough to steal and can run, “That’s a part of the game I really enjoy,” Marte said. “Me stealing bases is when I’m happiest.”

Last year, six players in MLB stole 40 or more bases, led by the 73 snagged by Luisangel Acuña’s big brother, Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. That’s the most players with 40-plus steals in the majors since 2013 when there were eight. With another year with the new rules, perhaps we’ll see more in ‘24.

Maybe one or two will be Mets. Marte could do it, maybe Lindor, who reached his career high last year. It remains to be seen if the Mets can challenge the team record for total steals – 200 in 2007 when José Reyes led with 78 and David Wright had 34.

But, if last season is any guide, they could be efficient again – at least as long as they pick the proper times to steal, Lindor said.

“There are certain times you run,” he said. “Just because there’s rules to incentivize us stealing bases doesn’t mean we need to steal. It’s not just to get a bag. It’s to try to score or put ourselves in a better position because let’s say a guy like Pete [Alonso] is up – I got a better chance of scoring from first than with a guy like McNeil, because McNeil is more singles. You know McNeil is going to hit a lot of doubles, but Pete can drive the ball a lot more.

“It’s just understanding situations and when you can run… [Stealing] is a weapon for everybody. Everybody’s gotta be using it. Otherwise, I feel like there’s going to be a lot of games that teams are going to lose if they don’t create runs in that sense.”