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How much more will the Nats run in 2014?

Mar 5, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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If you’ve glanced at any boxscores from the Nationals’ five Grapefruit League games to date, you’ve probably paid attention to members of the starting rotation, key lineup regulars and a few top relievers who have appeared so far.

Have you noticed, however, what the Nats have been doing on the bases down in Florida?

Here’s a hint: They’ve been running. A lot.

The Nationals already have eight stolen bases in these first five games, tied for third-most in the NL. And their success rate is a stout 88.9 percent (8-for-9).

Get ready to see a whole lot more of that moving forward. New manager Matt Williams wants his club to be able to manufacture runs, and a big part of that includes taking extra bases when the opportunity presents itself.

“That’s the kind of way we want to go about doing it,” he said last week. “There’ll be times when the ball is flying out of the ballpark, and it’s going to be fun to just sit there and hit. But we’re gonna have to play that way, too. That’s gratifying. Regardless of win or loss, that’s the way we gotta play.”

It’s not like the Nationals never ran under Davey Johnson. They stole 88 bases last season, sixth-most in the NL, and their 76 percent success rate ranked fourth.

And it’s not like their lineup isn’t filled with guys who can make things happen on the basepaths. Denard Span has averaged 22 steals in each of his four full big-league seasons. Ian Desmond has at least 21 stolen bases each of the last three years. Bryce Harper obviously has the ability to win games with his legs. Heck, even Adam LaRoche swiped a career-high four bags last season.

Throw in likely bench players Nate McLouth (30 steals last year with Baltimore) and Danny Espinosa (20 steals in 2012), and Williams should have no shortage of green light options this season.

The key: How and when the rookie manager decides to let his guys run free. Stolen bases are great … until a guy gets thrown out with a power hitter at the plate, negating a golden RBI opportunity.

This is where Williams’ choice of batting order could make a significant difference. We know Span is going to lead off. We don’t yet know who will bat behind him.

Should the Nationals double up on speed and use Desmond or Harper as their No. 2 hitter? Or would that potentially take the bat out of the hands of the big guys in the heart of the lineup: Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth?

Williams still has time to sort that all out, but no matter the order of his lineup, this much we do know: The 2014 Nationals are going to run more than their predecessors.

  1. ArVAFan - Mar 5, 2014 at 6:25 AM

    One of those Adam LaRoche steals was a double-steal with Ryan Zimmerman, who was pretending that his leg hurt after a HBP. I wonder if Williams has a sign for “pretend you’re hurt and then double-steal.”

  2. natsjackinfl - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    Actually, there is a short answer to that question.
    How much more will the Nats run?

    ALOT!

    • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:39 AM

      Desmond sure. Span has to be more efficient. Haven’t seen Bryce run much. McLouth will steal bases. Rendon should get a few.

      • janebeard - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:33 AM

        Bryce runs like his back is on fire. He’s tried to manufacture runs in some dumb ways but he’s learning. He’ll be smarter about it in the future.

  3. Doc - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:52 AM

    As long as individual players are keeping their steal percentage around 66-70% they should be probably take the opportunity to swipe a bag.

    Stealing takes a lot of focus for both the batter, as well as the runner. That’s where ‘stealing a base’ can become an over-rated distraction.

    Nice to see that Davey’s team steal % rate was right up there last year.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:09 AM

      When you factor in kickoffs with caught stealing, losing close to 40% vs 60% or even 35% vs 65% is a high price to pay.

      • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:10 AM

        Pickoffs* not kickoffs.

      • nats128 - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:19 AM

        Bernadina was at 84% when he was with the Nats on Steal % and Alfonso Soriano was at 71% in 2006. Ian Desmond is at 76%

        Those pesky pickoffs sometimes dont get factored in with the caught stealings if they were headed back to the base. Span had a better 2nd half on the basepaths last year while his 1st half had a bunch of flat footed pickoffs and teams were keying on him.

        If you were to remove pickoffs, caught stealings, and bad baserunning from OBP%, thats a legit stat. Cant score runs when you are sitting in the dugout.

        Im all for putting pressure on the other team but smart baserunning has to take precedence

  4. natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    Pickoffs not kickoffs.

  5. scnatsfan - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    Detwiler appears to have the build to kick off

    • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      Darn spellchecker got me!

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    Except for Ramos all of the starters are capable of stealing a base here or there. But they are situational runners, not “get on and go” types. Among the starters only Harper is likely to occasionally steal 30+ in a season. Conclusion: the illusion of aggressive base-running will wane as the season moves on.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 8:52 AM

      Ramos is faster than LaRoche I believe except last year when he had his motor governored.

  7. jd - Mar 5, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    I always look at the running game as a double edged sword. Studies have shown that the overall effect on scoring is negligible at best. There is nothing more deflating than running oneself out of an inning, especially when you have dangerous hitters at the plate. I believe in running when you have a high probability of success. 60% is awful, it means than in 60% of your tries you gained one base but in 40% of your tries you wiped your own runner off the bases and gave the other team an out. I think you need to be closer to 90% to be considered successful.

    • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:04 AM

      You were doing well until your last sentence. Very few achieve 90%. Read Nats128’s post at 8:19.

      You cause havoc on the basepaths and create over-throws and other errors and timing issues for the pitchers. José Reyes and Jimmy Rollins used to do that to Nats pitchers years ago.

      The Nats baserunners rarely challenged the other teams and by doing so relieved the pressure.

      That is the key and not every move shows up as a stat. Most of it is perceived by the pitcher and Matt Williams knows that as an infielder.

    • Doc - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Correctomundo, jd. I can’t correctly quote same, but the sabermetrics research seems to suggest that stealing has a very minor effect on scoring.

      I have also seen quoted many times that 66% success rate as the minimal rate for significant impact on scoring.

      To me the operative phrase is ‘situational stealing’ which implies a rate closer to 90%. Davey’s 88% stolen base last year was obviously competitive with the latter phrase.

      Good base running is probably more a viable skill than base stealing. Bernadina may have been a good base stealer, but many times was a goofy base runner.

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      That stat-heads will generally say that anything below 75% or so hurts the team in the long run – so, 3 successes for every 1 failure.

      • therealjohnc - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:32 AM

        FWIW, statheads do allow that in a low run scoring environment (which is the way the game is trending as PED usage is policed more effectively) that the SB% threshold between where base stealing helps or hurts a team is lowered a bit. Say closer to 70% success rate.

  8. micksback1 - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    you have to be a threat to steal bases, that is the bottom line

    • natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:36 AM

      That’s it. Get the pitcher out of rhythm and throwing over to 1st and throwing fastballs instead of off-speed.

      Mistakes are made far more often when you have a speedy baserunner on 1st.

  9. natinalsgo - Mar 5, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2006/10/net_stolen_base.php

    A very good article on the subject

  10. janebeard - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    This is very exciting to read. It’s always fun when Ian messes with the pitcher’s head. The single thing I liked most about Nyjer Morgan was that he’d always be a threat to steal. Same with Soriano. I like this assertiveness that Williams is getting into their bones. HOME opening day is a month from yesterday. Starting my count down now!

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 5, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      The thing to remember is that it can also interfere with the batter’s focus and rhythm.

  11. letswin3 - Mar 5, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    You must be joking. ALR couldn’t possibly have stolen 4 last season … he was only on base 3 times. Oh wait, he’s so fast that he was probably sent in as a pinch runner, so maybe he did get 4. Or maybe the 3 times he reached included at least one when he stole both 2nd and 3rd. Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m generally incapable of forgetting his pathetic 2013 season. I am, however, excited to see that the new skipper will be looking to be aggressive on the base paths. And if ALR can again find his swing, and hit near his career average, I’ll be both happy and willing to retract the tough line I’ve taken re his hitting last season and consider it an aberration. But if he’s posting sickly numbers after say May 20th, bench him, recognize the failure and move on ( with Moore, Zim, Marrero or a player through trade) …….. why play someone only because they have an eight digit contract?

  12. Joe Seamhead - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    I don’t think that Marrero is still with the Nats.
    Regarding stealing bases:Speed kills you twice. Good base runners combined with exceptional speed, often upsets not just the pitcher, but the entire defense. Rickey Henderson was, of course, the epitome of a disruptive force.
    One can only imagine how many errors were made when Rickey was running the bases. Heck, Rickey had the pitchers so afraid of him getting on base that threw him a lot of fastballs because they were afraid of walking him, which resulted in him crushing more lead off homers than anybody in history.

  13. MicheleS - Mar 5, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    Where is the LIKE button on this!!! I am loving all the movement on the base paths. it may not be like this in the season, but it will be in the minds of the other team that the Nats will be more aggressive.

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