Remember Jim Leyland’s quotes early in camp about wanting to become a better baserunning team — not through utilizing the speedsters more, but by getting some of his other baserunners to look for opportunities and take advantage when they present themselves? Looks like they’re instilling the mentality.
The Tigers put up a good late-inning comeback Saturday to beat the Blue Jays, but in a one-run game, getting their first run with some aggressive baserunning made a difference — not the difference, but not trivial, either. Miguel Cabrera went from first to third base on a Brennan Boesch single to right, beating out a strong throw from Moises Sierra, and set up Brandon Inge’s sac fly because of it. Boesch looked to get to second base on the sac fly, and though he ended up thrown out easily, Leyland likes the mentality.
“If you’re going to be aggressive, it’s a good time in the spring,” Boesch said Sunday morning.
It’s a message the coaches are getting across to them. To Boesch’s credit, he’s a better runner than he probably gets credit for. But he’s also a slugger, and he was batting Saturday in front of Inge, who isn’t a traditional situational hitter by any stretch.
Those are the situations where the Tigers can be a better baserunning team. It’s difficult to see them stealing a ton of bases in front of Miguel Cabrera if he’s hitting anything like he did last year. And there aren’t a whole lot of instinctive basestealers who could get on in the bottom half of the order, where you might like them to set up opportunities for Inge and Jhonny Peralta.
But they can take the extra base. They did it last year at a better rate than you might expect. Bill James Online, a site run by Baseball Info Solutions, does a pretty decent job of tracking baserunning chances. They had the Tigers last year going first to third 100 times in 356 opportunities, by far the most since they started tracking the data in 2002. For comparison’s sake, they went first to third 52 times in 239 chances in 2008, and 73 times in 240 chances in 2006.
Also for comparison’s sake, the Twins did it 92 times in 329 opportunities. The White Sox did it 85 times in 294 chances.
The Tigers earned a +23 net gain in baserunning, also their best since at least 2002. Add in basestealing, and Detroit’s +23 net gain was their best since 2007, when they somehow earned a huge rating on stolen bases.