Games » Texas RangersApr22
Base running for dummies
This was one of those games so affected by weather it feels like you hardly saw a baseball game. They were going to play in a wind tunnel, but figured Arlington, Texas, would do just as well. Routine fly balls turned into home runs left and right, but mainly to right. So let’s talk about something else: base running for dummies.
In the 8th inning, down 11-6 Jeff Francoeur stole second base. Down by that many runs, that late in the game, teams usually get conservative. The idea is that you’re running out of outs, 4 more runs need to score before a run is meaningful, why risk an out in that situation?
Because confusion kills aggressiveness.
Let me explain what I mean (you don’t have to agree with this philosophy, but the reasoning is interesting). There are a whole bunch of base-running rules: don’t make the first or third out at third, if you’re on second with nobody down go back to tag if a fly ball is hit to the outfield, if there’s one down go halfway, try for triples when there’s one down and the ball is to the track in right, try for doubles when there’s two down, try scoring from second when there’s two down, but be aware of who’s on deck and how he’s hitting … and the list goes on. Confused yet?
The Royals are throwing all those rules out the window. Doug Sisson calls it “base running for dummies” and it’s got one rule: if you think you can make it, go.
Everybody’s got the green light. When they get to first, they get two times: the time it takes the pitcher to deliver a fastball to the plate and the time it takes the pitcher to deliver a breaking ball to the plate. Ned Yost can give a “must go” sign if he wants the runner in motion on a particular pitch or a “shutdown” sign if he doesn’t. Other than that, the runner’s on his own, and I mean really on his own. The Royals coaches do not try to help the runners by yelling “back” (by the way, this philosophy is right out of the Ron Polk Playbook, the bible of college baseball).
Sis says by the time a coach yells back it’s too late to do any good. And runners can get lazy and lose focus when they think someone else is responsible for paying attention to the pitcher. The runner on second gets no help with the positioning of the middle infielders. The Royals don’t care where the middle infielders are. The runners just focus on the pitcher and make sure they can get back if he turns to throw.
I was taught that you make a 12-foot arc before you reach the bag and then hit the inside corner with you inside foot. Doug said they don’t talk about 12-foot arcs and inside feet. The Royals have been told to get from base to base in as short a distance as possible, use the inside corner of the bag to push off on your way to the next bag and don’t worry about what foot you used. Don’t worry about how many outs there, don’t stand there trying to figure out what to do next, just be aggressive and you’ll get a pat on the back. Sis says if it turns out to be a really bad mistake you now have a “teachable moment,” but once runners get told why they might want to do something else next time, they still get a pat on the back.
(Right about here Doug made an interesting point: the one place a team can show energy is on the bases. They can’t do it at the plate, on the mound or in the field, but they can show energy on the base paths. Think about that: when a team sits around waiting for someone to hit a home run, playing station-to-station baseball for fear that someone will make an out, it’s boring. When a base stealer gets on, it’s exciting, and Sisson wants to steal successfully 85 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean they won’t try a steal that’s a 50-50 proposition (I think Billy Butler’s proved that) but as a team they’re shooting for 85 percent. What other move in baseball works 85 percent of the time?
The Royals want to build a reputation. They want to be known as an aggressive base-running team because that will get them more fastballs at the plate, put the pitcher into a slide step more often, pinch the middle infielders, make the outfielders rush throws and worry the pitcher half to death. They feel that the positives will far outweigh the negatives. So the Royals are making it simple and putting the gas to the floor.
Base running for dummies may be the smartest thing they’ve done in a long time.
As long as we’re talking base running
I asked Chris Getz where his feet are when he’s taking a throw from the catcher on an attempted stolen base. Interesting answer: if it’s Matt Treanor throwing, Chris straddles the bag, if it’s Brayan Pena he comes out in front. The reason?
Matt’s throws are straight, Brayan’s throws tail into the runner. If the throw tails towards the runner (and it’s kinda rare for them to go the other way; there’s a Physics 101 lesson here we’ll skip for now), Getzie needs to be able to go to his left to catch the ball and attempt the tag. He can’t go back, he’ll collide with the runner, he can only go sideways.
Pena made two throws in this game, both tailed and Chris moved with the throws and made the tags. Now sometimes there are middle infielders who come out in front of the bag because they fear contact and don’t want to mix it with the runner, but after the last few games in which Chris stood in and took a hit to turn a double play, then took a ball off the same shin the next night, then immediately went down and broke up a double play while limping, THEN stole a base and had the middle infielder come down with his spikes in the middle of Chris’s back. I think we can rest assured that Chris Getz is tough. He only looks like a 9-year-old who just got out of bed.