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Man of Steel turns Man of Steal

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A spirited Jose Abreu hits camp with smiles, scruff and ... speed?

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox
Run Jose Run: Abreu attempts a steal of home last year vs. Detroit ... nah you know that didn’t happen, he just scored a run on this airborne slide.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the rebuild takes some of its first firm footing this spring in Glendale, surprises still abound.

Like Jose Abreu arriving in camp, his ruddy cheeks now fully follicled, announcing ... he’s been watching Rickey Henderson on YouTube?

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu told the Glendale gaggle. “I will at least try ... I can do it. I really believe I can, and I like [to] challenge myself.”

Abreu has six career stolen bases, and three times caught stealing.

For four seasons, Abreu has been all-everything for the White Sox. What’s more, after the incredible splash of his Rookie of the Year 2014 campaign, the slugger has settled in as the heart of the Chicago White Sox and a fan favorite.

Abreu is durable, averaging 154 games and 665 plate appearances per season. He owns a career OPS of .883 and OPS+ of 142. His 16.9 career rWAR has far, far outpaced his contract. Presuming he staves off any significant offensive decline—and his “bounce-back” 2017 season (from a career-low .820 OPS in 2016) is a promising sign—Abreu should go down in White Sox history as an all-time great value.

And now, to up his baserunning runs element of WAR, Abreu plans to sneak in a few steals this season.

Now, let’s be clear: There is absolutely no precedent for a hulking slugger to suddenly, at age 31, start swiping bases. And when you winnow the results down to just first baseman/DHs, not exactly the bastion of the burners, results get really sparse.

Only 1,909 players in baseball history has stolen as many as 10 bases at age 31 or older, according to Baseball-Reference, and 186 of them have been 1B/DHs. The last player to do so was Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds in 2015, when he swiped 11.

San Francisco Giants v Cincinnati Reds
Red Legs: Votto is the last age 31-plus player to swipe at least 10 bags.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tick the total up to 15 SBs, and only 1,108 players at least as old as Abreu have accomplished the feat. As 1B/DHs, the list is just 98, the latest being Bobby Abreu of the Los Angeles Angels of Coastal California (21 swipes) and Johnny Damon of the Tampa Bay Rays (19), in 2011.

How about 20 SBs as a greybeard? The total players in baseball history who have stolen at least 20 bases at age 30-plus is just 671, with 48 of those being 1B/DHs. Bobby Abreu (with those 21 steals in 2011, at age 37) was the last to tick that box.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics - Game One
Fine Tuned: What was more impressive from a 37-year-old Bobby Abreu, swiping 21 bases or getting caught, as here, just five times?
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Someone from the gaggle lobbed a 16-inch softball at Abreu, about future membership in the 30-30 club, to which Abreu, staying in character until the director yelled cut, smiled and said, “Who knows? I mean, if you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them. The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. Fill your mind with good things, and good things are going to happen.’’

Tom Tango’s Marcel the Monkey projection system at B-R anticipates two steals for Abreu in 2018, and one time caught stealing.

Soul-crushing as the cold numbers may be for the sunny unofficial captain, only nine players (five not having the last name Bonds) in baseball history have had a 30-30 season at Abreu’s age or older. Just one of them, Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros, in 1999 (30 steals, 42 homers), accomplished the task as a 1B/DH.