May 28, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Matt Williams, from the moment he took over as manager of the Nationals, has preached an aggressive style of baserunning, encouraging his players to make a more concerted effort to take extra bases when given the opportunity.
Which isn’t to say he wants his players running at will on the bases, either.
In his words, Williams wants the Nationals to be “aggressive to second (base)” and “sure to third.” Take a chance when trying to steal second, but only take third if you’re 100 percent positive you’ll make it.
So far, the Nationals seem to have taken their rookie manager’s philosophy to heart. Though they’re not necessarily stealing a lot of bases, they’ve been quite successful when attempting it.
The Nats have been successful on 25-of-30 stolen base attempts to date. Those 25 steals rank 12th out of 15 NL clubs, and only the Cardinals and Marlins have attempted to steal fewer bases.
But their 83 percent success rate is tops among all NL teams, well above the league average success rate of 74 percent.
Among those who have been particularly good at stealing bases: Denard Span (7-for-7), Danny Espinosa (4-for-4), Jayson Werth and Nate McLouth (each 3-for-3). The only members of the roster who have been thrown out so far this season: Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper (twice apiece) and Anthony Rendon (once).
Perhaps recognizing how efficient they’ve been at it, the Nationals have been running more in recent days. They’ve stolen six bases in their last four games, thrown only once.
Perhaps they also recognize that injuries and overall offensive woes leave them little choice but to try to manufacture more runs.
“When you have your big bats out of the lineup, you don’t have very many 2-run homers,” Williams said. “It’s just a function of it. So we have to try to create an opportunity, whether that’s by stolen base or that’s by the bunt. Taking advantage of what’s on the field and being aware of it is key for us and is key for any team, especially in times that we’ve had. It’s especially important for us to take advantage of that opportunity.”
In addition to their improved numbers stealing bases, the Nationals have improved at stopping others from running against them. After throwing out a major-league-worst 17 percent of basestealers the last two seasons, the Nats have been baseball’s second-best team to date in throwing out 44 percent of would-be basestealers (15-of-34).
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