I guess when you rank near the bottom in something, there's only one to go, right? Well that's pretty much the Detroit Tigers in a nutshell when it comes to traffic on the base paths.
Improvement in base running has been an emphasis for the Tigers over the last few seasons, as they ranked near the bottom of the league for quite some time in numerous base running statistics (stolen bases, extra bases, outs on the bases, pickoffs, etc.). The team continues to try being more fluid on the bases while also maintaining their slugging mantra.
Numbers from last season would actually show that, while their overall rankings are relatively low, they are signs of improvement on the bases from 2015 to 2016.
“It’s an improvement,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We talked last spring about improving the baserunning and we brought Kirk Gibson in, and the baserunning improved. Is it good enough? No. It needs to improve more.”
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus owes a great deal of gratitude to Kirk Gibson, who has been assigned to help the team during spring training with base running. The current color commentator for the Tigers and former Diamondbacks skipper is in his role of ‘base running teacher' for a second straight season and he's earned another go at it with the results.
Last season, the Tigers showed small yet noticeable upgrades across the board, from fewer pickoffs and outs on the bases, to improved percentages of stealing bases and total extra bases taken. All of them point to the team being smart in the right moment, knowing when to be aggressive.
“The players and Gibby get the credit,” Ausmus said, with a chuckle. “I don’t want the credit, and I don’t want the blame.”
“We’re not a fast team; we’re a team that slugs,” he said. “If somebody thinks they’re going to turn Victor Martinez into a base-stealing threat, they are off their rocker.
“You try to improve the little things in baserunning. You take what you have and try to make it as good as possible. We’re still not going to be a fast team. There’s just no way around it.”
Ausmus also talked about how it's not so much the fundamentals of base running, but more so the “details of base running.” And if you ask Gibby, he says it can be almost always a mental thing.
“A guy was just barely out or barely safe — what are the components that make you barely safe or barely out?” Gibson said, explaining his approach. “There are a lot of elements. A lot of it is concentration. You have to learn how to process everything that’s in front of you to determine whether you can make it or not.”
The team's first spring scrimmage of the season is this Thursday, February 23 against Florida Southern. Base running will surely be something to keep an eye on in 2017, particularly without the speedy Cameron Maybin, who was traded earlier in the off-season to Los Angeles.