Despite on-base prowess, Josh Bell’s steal-less streak approaching 5 years

Although Bell has been a huge addition to the Marlins lineup, his inactivity on the basepaths plays a role in suppressing his overall value.

Since being acquired on August 1, Josh Bell has been quick to positively impact the Miami Marlins in a multitude of ways.

Most obviously, he’s been doing it as a power-hitter. Bell leads the Marlins in slugging percentage this month and matched a record for most home runs through 18 games played with the franchise. No Miami player had ever gone deep from both sides of the plate in the same contest until he did. Bell’s immense raw power has always been apparent—he just needed to lift the ball more frequently to fully capitalize on that. Since joining the Fish, Bell has reduced his groundball rate to 40.7%, the third-lowest of any individual month of his MLB career, per Baseball Savant.

Even outside of his homers, Bell is consistently getting on base. He’s done so in each of his first 20 Marlins games (.376 OBP). Ryan Mountcastle of the Orioles and Ozzie Albies of the Braves (who’s on the injured list) are the only MLB players with longer active streaks.

There have already been moments where the 261-pound Bell has pleasantly surprised me as a baserunner, hustling out of the box for a double and taking extra bases on his teammates’ hits (he has gone first-to-home on doubles three separate times). Overall, though, Bell’s legs are a liability, and he recognizes that.

On September 27, 2018, with the Pittsburgh Pirates trying to manufacture their first run of the game, Bell drew a one-out walk against Jon Lester in the top of the third inning. The next batter, Francisco Cervelli, worked the count full and Bell took off on Lester’s 3-2 pitch. Cervelli struck out swinging and catcher Willson Contreras attempted to throw out Bell, but Contreras dropped the ball on the exchange. Safe at second.

Four teams, five years and more than 900 stolen base opportunities later, that remains Josh Bell’s most recent steal.

Bell has been caught stealing three times since then, once in 2019, once in 2022 and once earlier this season. On April 2, in his fourth game as a Cleveland Guardian, Bell got a good jump against Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales. Even better, Gonzales had chosen to throw a slow breaking ball. Taking those factors into account along with Bell’s speed and the pitch’s location, Baseball Savant estimated that he had only a 13% chance of being caught.

Mariners backstop Cal Raleigh defied those odds:

“I thought I had some fresh legs,” Bell told Fish On First’s Isaac Azout. “I was like, ‘Challenge it!’” The Guardians did not oblige.

Bell is 4-for-17 on stolen base attempts during his MLB career, the lowest success rate among active players with at least 10 attempts. His Sprint Speed has gradually declined during that period. He’s at 25.9 ft/sec in 2023, which puts him in the 18th percentile among MLB qualifiers.

“Once you get thrown out a couple of times, you get the red light pretty quickly in this game,” Bell said. “So I’ll leave the stolen bases to the real base threats.”

Still, it is notable that Bell has zero stolen bases over the last five seasons considering his availability and the frequency of his opportunities. He has played 617 games since 2019; only four other major leaguers have played even half as many contests—Daniel Vogelbach, Omar Narváez, Eloy Jiménez and teammate Jacob Stallings—without compiling any steals. That drought has endured despite MLB’s recent rule changes intended to make stealing much easier (league-wide success rate has risen to 79.9%).

Bell is due $16.5 million in 2024 unless he exercises the opt-out clause in his contract to pursue a larger deal. His post-trade excellence and the dearth of standout hitters in the upcoming free agent class have at least made it a conversation, though the likeliest outcome is still that he sticks around. The 31-year-old rates as only slightly better than a replacement-level player this season (0.3 fWAR/0.7 bWAR). Inactivity on the basepaths plays a role in suppressing his overall value.

Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

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