By: Holly Horning
How bad were the Tigers in baserunning last year? Bad. I mean, reeeeally bad.
(This is where you ask “How bad were they?”)
It’s not enough to mention that they ranked dead last in baserunning. The Tigers were a -107 net runs gained by baserunning. The next closest team was the Dodgers with -71. The better teams had +110 and up to +142.
(Warning! Graphic stats.)
To translate these stats even further, consider:
– They made 60 outs on the bases last year.
– 25 of those outs were made at home.
– They were picked off 19 times.
– The differential between runs created and runs scored was -76.
– They went from 1st to 3rd only 73 times out of 321 chances.
– They went from 2nd to home 100 times out of 183 chances.
– They went from 1st to home 29 times out of 75 chances.
– Only the Dodgers and Orioles took fewer bases last year.
– Ian Kinsler, one of the better baserunners (+212 in his career) was picked off 8 times and thrown out 6 more times.
But is baserunning all about speed? If it was, then we could understand why the Tigers don’t perform as well as other teams given some of their big, powerful players who naturally run more slowly than the lean-and-mean ones.
Baserunning is a bigger and complex topic that also adds strategy and the mental game to the physical skills. It includes developing and honing instincts, integrating it with situational hitting, taking solid risks, playing mental games with the pitcher and taking leads. Additionally, it also means training runners to read the ball and fielders better and look for opportunities to take advantage of them.
Where the stats really get interesting is with the multiple rankings of MLB’s worst baserunners. There are rarely any Tigers who make the top 10-15 lists of slowest or worst baserunners. In just two of over a dozen compilations, is Victor Martinez mentioned. No one else. (For the record, Prince Fielder is one who makes every list.)
But Miggy is not a member of any of these lists. Time to kill the hypothesis that the Tigers’ bad base-running is due to the Miggy-Martinez batting sequence.
The stats don’t show this to be true. But what they do show is that the Tigers penchant for bad base-running is not the result of a couple slow runners. It is the result of a team-wide problem.
Only 1 regular starter last year (Kinsler) avoided producing negative runs. You may not be surprised that Castellanos is bad on the basepaths, but did you know that McCann and Iggy are worse than Miggy and VMart?
The descent into baserunning oblivion started in earnest 5 years ago and has only picked up speed. (Pun not intended.) While Brad was lauded for making this a topic to address when he first came on board, he did not realize until after the season started that the team did not have anywhere near the skill set needed.
While this lack of foresight can be attributed to a guy with no managerial experience, Jim Leyland also failed to address it in his tenure as well. Could be he was waiting for those 3-run homers instead.
So what do the Tigers need to address as they seek to improve their running game?
– An emphasis on fundamentals and hopefully what is now part of the new Tigers’ Way manual.
– Evaluating how effective Omar, the official baserunning coach, really is.
– Working with Dave Clarke on his method for handling runners from 2nd base to home.
– How to integrate running with small ball and situational hitting.
– How to motivate players to buy in and be receptive to learning and practicing unfamiliar strategies.
– Penalizing players who ignore coaches and run through the signs.
– Keeping players from daydreaming on the bases and getting picked off.
– Targeting rookies/sophomores, characteristically the worst baserunners, for more practice.
With the signing of Maybin and Upton, the Tigers at least can add 2 players who have career positive net runs gained.
The strategy of hiring outside baserunning coaches over the past 2 years has not made a difference. Let’s hope Kirk Gibson has a better way of reaching the players.