Robbie Grossman could become No. 7 by the end of the season.
It’s been 12 years since a Detroit Tigers player reached at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season. The franchise’s exclusive club formed in 1984, when Gibson slugged 27 home runs and stole 29 bases — leading the Tigers to a World Series championship. A new member hasn’t joined since Granderson in 2007 and 2009.
Has Grossman thought about any of this?
He didn’t hesitate, replying: “100%.”
“Three weeks left, right?” he continued. “We’ll see. Hopefully, God willing.”
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In his ninth MLB season and first for the Tigers, Grossman is hitting .241 with 20 doubles, 23 home runs, 65 RBIs, 87 walks and 138 strikeouts over 140 games. He has a .357 on-base percentage and 17 stolen bases.
Grossman has to steal three bases over the last 17 games to reach the milestones.
“I’m definitely aware of that,” said rookie Akil Baddoo, who has 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases across 110 games. “I’m hoping he gets to 20/20. It just shows how much work he puts in on and off the field and how prepared he is each and every day. It’s a good thing to see.”
Gibson finished his Tigers career with four 20/20 seasons, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987. As for the other five players: Trammell did so in 1986 and 1987; Curtis in 1995; Easley in 1997; Sheffield in 2007; and Granderson in 2007 and 2009. (No player in franchise history has accomplished 30 homers and 30 stolen bases.)
“I don’t want to talk about it until I do it,” Grossman said. “But when you’re mentioned with those names, it’s very humbling.”
Preparation is key
To understand why Grossman is so close to joining the 20/20 club, take note of his power surge.
After all, that’s where the chase began. He crushed his 20th home run Aug. 31 against the Oakland Athletics at Comerica Park, a product of his adaptation to baseball’s new-age obsession with slug while keeping his old-school plate discipline. (There have been 193 20-homer campaigns in franchise history, with 70 players reaching the mark.)
“Hitting singles is great, and you want to get your average up as high as you can,” Grossman said after hitting his 20th long ball. “But the point of this game is to drive the ball, slug and get on base. I felt like I had the on-base thing down. I just wanted to extend my career. I had to figure out how to use my legs when I hit, drive the ball and put some loft in my swing. That’s what led to me doing what I did.”
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The other part of the equation — stolen bases — doesn’t make sense when perusing the analytics. Grossman runs 27.7 feet per second, slower than Derek Hill (30.4), Victor Reyes (28.9), Baddoo (28.8), Willi Castro (28.7), Zack Short (28.4), Niko Goodrum (28.4), Daz Cameron (28.3) and Eric Haase (27.9).
Baddoo has 14 stolen bases, followed by Goodrum (12), Castro (7), Hill (6), Reyes (4), Cameron (4), Short (2) and Haase (2). The metrics aren’t in Grossman’s favor, but he leads the pack with 17 stolen bases.
“When you’re a good base-stealer, you don’t necessarily need really good speed,” Baddoo said. “It’s knowing when to go, what pitchers to run on and the pitchers’ tendencies. That’s something that Robbie Grossman always has. He studies the game in and out. It’s homework and preparation that allows him to steal a lot of bases and know when to run.”
That’s why the eye test is also important when evaluating performance.
It’s obvious Grossman’s preparation gives him an advantage. His on-base percentage — thanks to 86 walks, the third-most in MLB — offers him ample opportunities to steal bases, so when he gets to first base, he relies on his homework.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Grossman said. “Last year, in the shortened season, I stole eight (in 51 games). I finally figured out it goes into doing more homework on this stuff and learning how to do it. There’s an art to stealing bases. There’s something to be said about when he’s going to throw the breaking ball and who’s catching. So much goes into it.”
To reach 17 stolen bases, Grossman swiped four bases in April (26 games), four in May (26 games), one in June (25 games), three in July (25 games), three in August (26 games) and two through 12 games in September.
The Tigers’ season finale is Oct. 3 in Chicago against the White Sox.
“Better base-runner than he is fast,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “It does illustrate that the art of stealing the base is simply not speed. It’s not always how fast you are. You could be the fastest guy and not have instincts and not steal bases.”
Grossman will continue relying on his preparation in pursuit of three steals over the next 17 games. If he gets the job done, he will unlock the door to an elite club with some of the greatest players to wear the Old English D.
“That’s what the good teams do better than anyone else,” Grossman said. “They know their opponent better than their opponent knows themselves, that kind of thing. You’re seeing that more and more from the teams that are successful.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.