Stepping Up the Running Game
|Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters|
We all know chicks dig the long ball. Heck, who wouldn’t be impressed by somebody with the ability to hit a bomb into the upper deck at the Rogers Centre?
There’s another aspect of the game that’s equally impressive, but just doesn’t receive quite the attention it deserves. It’s something that’s been neglected by the Blue Jays these past few years … and that’s the running game.
Under new manager John Farrell, the free-swinging ways of the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays may be replaced by a more aggressive approach on the basepaths. Farrell has already indicated he wants to employ the running game more in 2011:
“My vision for this team is to be more aggressive on the basepaths, find other ways to score runs, rather than being so reliant and sitting back, waiting for the home run to make us an unpredictable offensive team.”
Among the countless statistics available at Baseball Reference, perhaps one of the most interesting related to baserunning is XBT % (extra bases taken percentage). This is defined as the percentage of times the runner advances more than one base on a single or two bases on a double when possible.
Obviously, not all situations are created equally and the window to go from first to third or second to home on certain plays will differ, but I think that aside from stolen bases, XBT is a pretty good indication of a player’s overall speed.
Not surprisingly, the 2010 Blue Jays ranked second last in the American League when it came to squeezing out those extra bases. With a team total of 36 percent, they came in just above the Kansas City Royals.
|J. P. Arencibia||0%||0||0||0|
Immediately, we can throw outliers out the window such as Mike McCoy and J.P. Arencibia because of their lack of on base opportunities. Those two aside, it’s pretty obvious who the hares and who the tortoises are on the team.
Perhaps most surprising of them all is Travis Snider’s lack of extra bases. I can’t recall exactly when, but it was during a Jays Talk last season that Mike Wilner said something to the effect that Travis Snider was faster than Fred Lewis.
If it’s a race to who can eat 30 hot dogs faster, then yes … Travis Snider is faster. However, if there is any truth in the numbers above, it indicates Lewis was in fact the better player at advancing bases than Snider.
Keep in mind that extra bases taken percentage all depends on the context and not every opportunity to advance is created equal. There are many factors at work such as which part of the park the ball is hit to, fielding position, and the outfielder not hitting the cutoff man.
Anyway, that point aside, I think we can all agree the Blue Jays need to get out of this stalemate philosophy that home runs rule all … and John Farrell will be instrumental in rolling out this new strategy in 2011.
There was a very telling quote from John Farrell during last week’s State of the Franchise meeting which confirmed his intentions on stepping up the running game:
I’d like us to become a much more aggressive team on the basepaths. That doesn’t mean we’re going to try to make Jose Molina a base stealer. But it does mean that there are opportunities where we can turn guys loose … to make us that much more unpredictable.
The inherent danger in developing a more aggressive running game is the possibility of creating more outs with runners on base. However, if the Blue Jays don’t create chances by forcing the play, then they’ll be just as predictable at the plate as they were in 2010.
If we’re looking for a benchmark which to measure the Blue Jays running game against, I think there’s no better comparison than arguably the fastest team in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2010, the Rays swiped extra bases 45 percent of the time compared to the Toronto Blue Jays 36 percent.
And it all starts from the bottom of the roster and goes up to the top. I realize you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but this applies from everyone to BengieJose Molina to Rajai Davis. If it takes extra baserunning drills in spring training, then so be it.
The Blue Jays played 52 one-run games in 2010, and lost 24 of them. Squeezing out those extra bases are paramount to scoring more runs and winning more ballgames in the ultra-competitive American League East.
The powerful yet pedestrian offensive style used by the Toronto Blue Jays just isn’t going to cut it any more. The rest of the division is becoming harder, better, faster, stronger.
The old adage dictates the Blue Jays need to walk before they can run. Well, I hope they’re ready to hustle this year because I have a feeling John Farrell isn’t going to settle for a leisurely jaunt around the basepaths any longer.