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Nats becoming more efficient on basepaths

May 28, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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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).

  1. ArVAFan - May 28, 2014 at 6:30 AM

    Good news in the a.m.:

    Braves lost.

    and (from Kilgore):

    >>> Jayson Werth received credit for a hit that previously been ruled an error. MLB changed the scoring of Ruben Tejada’s error May 18 into a single for Werth. The change raised Werth’s average from .276 to .281 before he even saw a pitch Tuesday night.

    Since he didn’t see any pitching Tuesday night, I guess he’ll take that.

    Hoping to get the game in tonight, but frankly the weather predictions look just as bad as they did yesterday. I think I’ll bring a bigger umbrella. On the bright side, the weekend weather looks awesome (crossing fingers).

  2. 3on2out - May 28, 2014 at 6:34 AM

    You got to give the pitchers credit. They have improved at paying more attention; varying their timing; throwing over more often; and shortening their delivery.

    • ehay2k - May 28, 2014 at 7:15 AM

      And stepping off. That alone will slow runners.

  3. scnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    Funny, when I look at the numbers I read it as the Nats are more cautious then other teams, not more efficient. If aggressive is being 12 out of 15 then what is passive?

    • Eric - May 28, 2014 at 8:12 AM

      It’s definitely more efficient to succeed more than you fail, no question there, imo.

      Whether or not they’re more aggressive depends on how often they’ve attempted steals in seasons past.

      Ceetainly they’re less aggressive than other teams in the league, but they’re also giving away fewer outs. Question is, is it luck or selectivity leading to better efficiency? Or, maybe both, but how much of each?

      • Candide - May 28, 2014 at 8:50 AM

        Ceetainly they’re less aggressive than other teams in the league, but they’re also giving away fewer outs

        Outs are the currency of baseball. You get 27 outs per game, and when you’ve spent them all, you can’t buy any more runs

        So a CS is the equivalent of losing 1/27 of the outs you have to spend. Get caught stealing 54 times in a season and you’ve spent two games’ worth of outs for zero return.

        So the question is, given the situation, is it worth it to risk that 1/27 of a game for the extra base? I think FP was observing the other day, when McLouth stole his base late in the game, that some base-stealers get high numbers stealing in low-leverage situations; he claimed that McLouth’s stolen bases tend to come in more clutch situations. I don’t know if he has the stats to back that up.

      • scnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 9:02 AM

        Good points, hard to know where the line is with running. You saw the Nats run wild in ST and take extra bases; you wonder if the hand injuries sliding have given them second thought to be more aggressive. Just as there is being too aggressive, there is being too passive too, and I wonder on a team struggling to score runs of running a little more wouldn’t be a good thing – but I’m not paid to make that decision.

      • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 9:24 AM

        scnatsfan

        As Mark pts out in the story, they have been running more lately, during their scoring doldrums. And when you consider how few baserunners they’re getting in the first place, it’s even more impressive.

    • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 8:32 AM

      Mark has it right – “efficient” – a higher success rate.

      The WaPo story says more “aggressive,” which is not correct. The Nats are more successful but not really running more – thru May 31, 2013, they were 25 for 38.

      • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 8:39 AM

        PS – Gotta think that a lot of this greater “efficiency” is addition by subtraction – in this case, the absence of Harper, who is not the most astute baserunner.

  4. Candide - May 28, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    I did some research on the Nats SB history.. Here’s what they’ve done since the franchise came to DC:

    Year SB CS SB %
    2014 25 4 0.862
    2013 88 28 0.759
    2012 105 35 0.750
    2011 106 38 0.736
    2010 110 41 0.728
    2009 73 40 0.646
    2008 81 43 0.653
    2007 69 23 0.750
    2006 123 62 0.665
    2005 45 45 0.500

    The 2014 numbers project to a full season of 79 stolen bases and 13 caught-stealings. The CS numbers are a dramatic improvement from past years. Of course, some of those years were when Elijiah Dukes was getting picked off once a week or so.

    Lord, did Frank Robinson really tolerate a 50% caught-stealing rate?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 28, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      Not all Pickoffs are included in the CS stat I believe. I think like Ryan Zimmerman going back to 2nd was just a pickoff and wouldn’t be in the CS stat.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 28, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        Yep, according to BaseballReference.com Ryan Zimmerman has 0 CS and 1 PO.

        As they note in Baserunning & Misc. Stats* that a PCS is Pickoff Caught Stealing: Runner picked off a base and or while attempting to steal. Is included in CS and PO numbers.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 28, 2014 at 9:25 AM

        Bryce Harper has the only PCS for the Nats so it shows up in both CS and PO.

      • tcostant - May 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM

        On a pick off, if you go to the NEXT base and are thrown out then is a CS. So if a guy is on first and he is picked off and heads to second base and is throw out there, then it’s a caught stealing. If your out at the same base (like the one Zimm got hurt on), then it is not a CS.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 28, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        tcostant, I didn’t make up the definitions and again read the BaseballRef definition . I’m not sure if there is official MLB scoring for it. As they note in Baserunning & Misc. Stats* that a PCS is Pickoff Caught Stealing: Runner picked off a base and or while attempting to steal. Is included in CS and PO numbers.

      • tcostant - May 28, 2014 at 1:27 PM

        I did some official scoring of games in the minors and that is how they told us to score it. My last year was about 8 years ago with the Middleburg Rangers.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 28, 2014 at 1:38 PM

        I personally don’t know but BaseballRef and Stats Inc are the go to now for stats and if Mark picked his stats from BasballRef then their definition of CS only includes Pickoffs in that PCS definition.

        I think you have to look at Caught Stealing and Pickoffs and subtract PCS so you’re not counting them twice.

    • masterfishkeeper - May 28, 2014 at 9:38 AM

      Frank Robinson didn’t really seem to understand the importance of not giving outs away. He had the Nats bunt quite frequently. Drove me crazy.

  5. edshelton2013 - May 28, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    Anyone have any stats on pick-offs this year? It seems we have been picked off more than we have picked off opposing baserunners. Maybe that’s a function of being more aggressive and taking bigger leads.

    • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      As for this season, it’s pretty much a wash: Nats runners have been picked off 5 times, and the Nats have picked off 4 opposing runners.

      But the real shocker is the comparison to last year, when the Nats were picked off 11 times on the season, but picked off only 3 opposing runners.

      So in other words, they have already picked off more opposing runners this season than they did all of last season.

  6. Doc - May 28, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    Obviously not statistically relevant to the above discussion, but broken thumbs on the bases, i.e. RZim and Harper should be analyzed beyond ‘just an accident’ stage.

    Harper slid too late into an immovable object. And RZim might have avoided injury by squeezing batting gloves the way a lot of MLB players do to avoid injured fingers when sliding into bases.

    So far, nobody in the lineup with their good fingers has replaced those guys, and the Nats haven’t been scoring runs since they departed.

  7. Theophilus T.S. - May 28, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    When we’re reduced to talking about being successful as the 12th of 15 clubs in the NL in base-stealing, things have reached a point of desperation. At least they have gone nearly 48 hours without losing.

    Just as I predicted with the return of Fister the team would not endure a four-game losing streak the rest of the season, the team lost four in a row until Fister’s next turn in the rotation. (‘Course Gonzalez got hurt but that wasn’t one of the starters I was counting on to be a stopper.)

    Optimistically it looks like Zimmerman is out for at least two more weeks, Harper until the All-Star break. Ramos returned from his hammate bone surgery drained of power as predicted. Espinosa is getting remedial hitting instruction in the batting cages below the stadium during games. (The WaPo article led me to conclude he must be the dumbest National since Elijah Dukes, although there is a long list of antecedents.)

    Maybe I’m wrong about Espinosa — I hope — because I decided this morning Espinosa is the key to long-term (post-ASB) stability in the day-to-day lineup. If he can hit .250 then he can play second, Rendon can play 3B, Z’man LF and Harper, at the cost of some defense, CF. The last half of the season this team needs to average — seriously — 6 runs a game, because it is clear the starting pitchers — most of them, anyway — aren’t going to stop anyone.

    In measuring the quality of the players on this team, there’s a difference between their journalistic value and success on the field. Roark,Treinen and Jordan are great stories on the sports page but they aren’t ready to pull this team over the mountain. We’ve been fed a steady diet of hype — which has only recently started to go bland — about Strasburg, Harper, Gonzalez and Z’mann, from Boswell on down, for going on four years. If you count the players that are actually pulling their weight, there aren’t enough of them to put a lineup on the field every day. The parallels between this team and the Capitals’ power-play-or-bust style are distressing.

    My kids bought me a ticket for Saturday’s game — first time actually going to the ballpark this season. If they win, I’m taking credit.

    • scnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      There is no scenario I see Espi hitting .250. I would bet the best we can expect from him will be in the .220 range. Still we can dream, can’t we? It’s free.

    • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM

      If I felt as negatively about this team as you do, I could not bear to follow them.

      • Theophilus T.S. - May 28, 2014 at 10:48 AM

        Pretty close. I happily skipped Saturday thru Monday.

      • scnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 11:00 AM

        I love the team. I can’t stand that Espinosa continues to give away at bats and I can’t stand the team plays flat uninspired baseball. Still I root for them and keep hoping tonight is the night the team turns it around. Have been hoping that for a seaon and a half and will continue to do so.

      • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 11:15 AM

        scnatsfan

        Sorry if that was unclear – my comment there was for Theo.

    • Eric - May 28, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      “[Espinosa] he must be the dumbest National since Elijah Dukes”

      Really? You say that, then this?

      “The last half of the season this team needs to average — seriously — 6 runs a game, because it is clear the starting pitchers — most of them, anyway — aren’t going to stop anyone. ”

      Our TEAM ERA is 3.23, and we’ve lost I believe one game when we’ve scored 4 runs or more. Wherefore art thou the judge of another’s intelligence?

      • Theophilus T.S. - May 28, 2014 at 10:55 AM

        Maybe because he remembered what they taught him for a whole 30 days?

      • Theophilus T.S. - May 28, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        Your team ERA is whatever it is because the bullpen, which is pitching 40+ percent of the game, is nearly untouchable. The starters aren’t stopping anybody. The team is giving up almost four runs a game. Because runs typically are scored in whole numbers, they must score 5 just to be a better-than-.500 team. To be a division winner or runner-up, I don’t know what the number is but it’s better than five.

      • Theophilus T.S. - May 28, 2014 at 11:08 AM

        Put another way, the 2012 Nats won the NL East championship on the next-to-the-last day of the season with 731 runs. At their present pace they’ll miss that number by nearly 25 percent.

      • texnat1 - May 28, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        As Eric says, the Nats are like 20-1 when they score 4 runs. So I’m not sure why they need to average 6.

      • Eric - May 28, 2014 at 12:48 PM

        Exactly. If the starters were regularly giving up 4+ runs, we wouldn’t have nearly that kind of dominance in games where we score >= 4 runs. Unless relievers are able to REMOVE runs the opposition has already accumulated? But, I believe they are not ;).

      • Eric - May 28, 2014 at 12:48 PM

        Exactly. If the starters were regularly giving up 4+ runs, we wouldn’t have nearly that kind of dominance in games where we score >= 4 runs. Unless relievers are able to REMOVE runs the opposition has already accumulated? But, I believe they are not ;).

      • manassasnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        Espi is not dumb. An excellent fielder, but totally undisucplined hitter. Swings way too hard way too often, at way too many pitches not in the strike zone.

        But dumb no way.

        Uncoachable? well…….

      • NatsLady - May 28, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        With respect, you need to look at more than ERA, because not all runs scored are “earned.”

    • Section 222 - May 28, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      You need to get to the park more often. :-)

      There are many frustrations watching this team, but you’re bound to be disappointed if you really want to see the lineup you outlined. Espi isn’t going to hit .250, Zim isn’t going to play LF, and Span isn’t going anywhere.

    • 6ID20 - May 28, 2014 at 11:05 AM

      Where you sitting Saturday? Oh, never mind. I’ll just look for the black cloud hovering over your seat.

      • snerdblurter - May 28, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        This made me laugh more than it probably should’ve.

      • Theophilus T.S. - May 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM

        Don’t know. Somewhere in the cheap seats, I think. The kids like to be where the designer beer is flowing.

    • Candide - May 28, 2014 at 12:18 PM

      The last half of the season this team needs to average — seriously — 6 runs a game, because it is clear the starting pitchers — most of them, anyway — aren’t going to stop anyone.

      Six runs a game? Are you serious?

      If the Nats had scored only five runs every game since Opening Day, they’d have 36 wins today.

      And as of today, they’d be on a nine-game winning streak.

    • veejh - May 28, 2014 at 12:26 PM

      Effectively starting Espinosa over Span? You crazy.

  8. Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Off topic – do we have any word on how the rotation lines up for the weekend series vs Texas?

    I know it is JZimm tonight (weather permitting), but then who?

    • therealjohnc - May 28, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      With Treinen being skipped and Zimmermann going tonight (weather permitting) it should line up as Strasburg-Fister-Roark this weekend. With another off day on Monday, that should line up Zimmermann-Strasburg-Fister against the Phillies next week.

      • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 10:49 AM

        Thanks – makes sense. Planning to go Friday, and I’m not that interested in seeing Treinen pitch.

      • Eric - May 28, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Hrm…I might be at that last Phillies game…would love to see Fister in action.

  9. tcostant - May 28, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    Always enjoy reading about our Nats in the national media:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20140527/pace-of-game/index.html

    Even this…

    • scnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 11:02 AM

      Good article. All batters who step out after every pitch and adjust all their gloves and body armor detract from the game just as pitchers who take what seems like forever between pitches. It does seem the 3 hour game that ends 4-3 seems much more common.

      • 6ID20 - May 28, 2014 at 11:13 AM

        Batters need to mix it up between pitches. Start making the adjustment, if you get my drift.

    • Section 222 - May 28, 2014 at 11:06 AM

      Interesting read. Espi ranks 2nd in baseball in time between pitches. Wow. Can you imagine how many times Espi would strike out if he felt rushed and not focused?

    • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 11:11 AM

      You know, Tom Verducci can be a bit of a Debbie Downer.

      Here, he wants to complain about the slow pace of play, and picks on Danny for how long he takes between pitches (2d only to Tulo–maybe it’s a Long Beach thing?).

      What Verducci doesn’t acknowledge is that Danny E also speeds the game up by swinging and whiffing so much. He sees fewer pitches per PA than most batters–about 65 fewer pitches than the average MLB batter would in the same # of PA so far this season.

      So in other words, he’s saved ~30 minutes of game time right there!

      • Doc - May 28, 2014 at 11:43 AM

        Now that’s funny, HH!

        Danny The K is really Danny The Time Saver—an national baseball hero!

      • texnat1 - May 28, 2014 at 12:05 PM

        Now that is a positive take!

      • manassasnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        As I said last week does anyone know a place that has the stats for the highest percentage of swings and Misses. Danny the K unfortunately is probably near the top of that list.

      • Hiram Hover - May 28, 2014 at 2:28 PM

        You can find those stats on fangraphs or baseballreference.com.

    • Dave - May 28, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      This article sounds a little grumpy. Limits on pitching changes? Making defensive shifts illegal?

      I don’t really want to see a zip-zip-zippy, fast-paced baseball game. This is baseball, not basketball.

      Stop and smell the pine tar, Tom V. Eat espresso beans in the press box if you find yourself dozing.

      • scbilly - May 28, 2014 at 1:56 PM

        The games were a lot “zippier” when I started watching them back in the ’70’s and it was quite enjoyable. That said, those suggestions sound like the wrong way to get there.

  10. veejh - May 28, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    Pitchers holding runners is like night and day compared to previous seasons. Others teams used to run wild on us. Good job whoever got the message across.

    • Eric - May 28, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      Agreed!

    • manassasnatsfan - May 28, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      Granted though the fielding promise to be better by MW has not materialize holding runners has improve dramatiically.

  11. veejh - May 28, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Everyone knows the Mendoza line. What are the qualifications for the new “Espinosa line”? K more than half of your ABs?

  12. edshelton2013 - May 28, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    Re: the Verducci article, I confess to DVRing every game, then watching later the same evening with remote in hand. A three-hour game can be watched in 90 minutes or less. I miss some of the FP/Carp commentary, but I figure it’s worth it.

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