Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon entered Tuesday with a 14-bag lead on Jose Altuve and Billy Hamilton in stolen bases. That, combined with his 21 steals in May alone, gives him a huge leg up on everyone else in the league in that category.
But how long will it last?
One of the most impressive things about Gordon's steal total in May is that it happened in spite of the fact that, including pinch-running appearances, he reached base only 43 times during the month. For comparison, Rickey Henderson got on base 278 times in his 130-steal campaign in 1982. If Gordon stole bases at the same rate every month that he did in May, he would surpass Henderson in the steals-to-times-on-base ratio category over the course of a full season.
So, there's little doubt that Gordon is one of the best base-stealers in the league. But he's a wholly average defender at second base, and with a tough May at the plate has become a slightly below-average hitter this season after being well below average for his career entering 2014. That certainly plays into whether he'll end the year atop the steals leaderboard. Continued struggles to get on base will likely begin affecting his playing time at some point, although Alex Guerrero's ear injury at the hands of Miguel Olivo will contribute to a delay in that regard.
There is, of course, a chance that Gordon resumes hitting somewhere between his April and May production, but in the likelier event he doesn't (considering he has a .309 career on-base percentage), who would be the favorite to overtake him in steals?
Hamilton's exploits on the base paths are well known. The 23-year-old speedster collected 13 steals in 13 games in a big league cameo last season and has swiped 20 bags despite a paltry .290 OBP in 2014. Aside from a nine-day stretch in early May, the Cincinnati Reds have stuck with the light-hitting outfielder anyway, so if he's able to start reaching base via walks like he showed the ability to do in the minors, that low OBP could correct itself. But that's a risky proposition, particularly if the Reds continue to play losing baseball, which might force the team to begin searching for improvements.
Eric Young is a similar case. He's a bit further behind Gordon than Hamilton, but he's also the reigning National League stolen base champion. However, a .315 OBP isn't working in his favor even if his surprisingly great outfield defense is helping to mitigate the hitting problems. The New York Mets have recently used Young off the bench -- and definitely haven't used him out of the lead off spot -- as a result of his struggles to get on base, so even if Gordon's playing time wanes, it's hard to envision Young getting the opportunity to surpass him.
That leaves Altuve, who is the very definition of an everyday player. Even if he struggles to get on base -- as has been the issue for the other three guys -- he's good enough on defense to warrant a spot in the lineup regularly, especially when considering he plays for a team that has virtually no shot of contending this year. Fortunately for Altuve and the Houston Astros, that's not a concern because of his .360 OBP, which is aided by a league-leading 78 hits.
Barring injury, he's almost guaranteed to receive more playing time than Gordon, Hamilton and Young down the stretch, and that might be enough to get the diminutive infielder to the top of the list of base stealers in 2014.