The Bourn ultimatum: Tigers need to hold down running game
Jim Leyland’s planned focus on making Tigers pitchers improve holding baserunners just took on a lot more importance. Michael Bourn’s jump to the American League Central guaranteed it.
With Bourn’s four-year deal with the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers now have 18 matchups against the toughest speed merchant to hit the division since Juan Pierre stole 68 bases with the White Sox three years ago. Detroit survived his arrival for two reasons: He hit just .247 (19-for-77) against the Tigers in 2010, and he went just 4-for-9 in steal attempts against them that season. He fared much better the following year, victimizing the Tigers for six of his 27 stolen bases, but couldn’t do enough to turn the race.
The Tigers were in the middle of the pack among AL teams in allowing stolen bases in that 2011 season, giving up 119 stolen bases in 168 attempts. Those numbers jumped all around last season, up to 131 steals in 176 tries for a 74.4 percent success rate. Only the Indians (140) gave up more stolen bases among AL teams.
That said, by throwing out 25.6 of would-be basestealers, a four-percent drop from the previous season, the Tigers still had the sixth-best rate in the AL.
The Tigers were in the middle of the pack in pitcher pickoffs (14, 6th-best in AL) and pitcher caught stealing (10, tied for 4th).
Leyland believes they can do better, mainly on the numbers that show for their catchers. Get quicker to home plate and hold runners better, and Alex Avila will have a fighting chance to throw out more basestealers.
Not only did AL stolen base champion Mike Trout not swipe a base against the Tigers last year, he didn’t even attempt one. Of course, when six of his 11 hits against Detroit went for extra bases (including four home runs), he didn’t have much of a need.
A dozen players accounted for 49 of the 131 stolen bases off Tiger pitching last year, and they did so with an efficient rate of success. Alcides Escobar led the pack, going 7-for-8. Former Toledo Mud Hen Dewayne Wise went 6-for-7. Twins speedster Ben Revere, now a Phillie, went 5-for-7.
Alexei Ramirez (4-for-4), Michael Brantley (4-for-4), Rajai Davis (4-for-5) and Darin Mastroianni (4-for-5) were next on the list. Asdrubal Cabrera, Alejandro De Aza and Jarrod Dyson all went 3-for-3.
Just four players — Revere, Nelson Cruz, Erick Aybar and Jason Kipnis — were thrown out multiple times by the Tigers last season, twice each.
What does that mean for Bourn’s chances? Well, first, we’ll have to see how he adjusts to the American League after spending his entire career in the NL. As someone on Twitter pointed out, he can’t steal first, so the best way Tigers pitchers can counteract him is by getting him out. His strikeout high gives them something to look at. The only Tiger he has faced extensively is Anibal Sanchez, and he’s 6-for-18 as a hitter against him.