Friday, February 22, 2008

Running down a dream

Unless there’s a website that someone can point me to, or a “baserunning” bible that has all sorts of crazy new statistics that can evaluate a team or player on the art form, there’s really no way to tell if a team is good baserunning team compared to all the others. Most fans watch their own team 90% of the time, with little room for analyzing the habits and strategies of any others. Since I am like most fans, I watched most of the Jays games last year, and whatever other games between other teams that I could catch along the way. Despite my previous statements, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the Jays definitely had some issues rounding those bases effectively last season. I’m not talking about the whole “station to station” vs “small-ball” debate. That’s been discussed and dissected more times that is worth bringing up at this point. Besides, it might even change come this season (doubtful). I’m talking about actually running the bases smartly and efficiently while the ball is in play.

Baserunning can be intuitive and an art, but it can also be taught properly, and good habits can be formed. For instance, from the time we first started playing all the way up until we were 19 year-olds working on beer bellies, we heard the old tenet “never make the first or third out at third base.” Seems reasonable. Why take a chance on killing a rally if there are so many outs to work with, and why kill a rally when there are so few outs left? This is just one example.

The Jays last season seemed to run themselves out of innings on a semi-regular basis. How often did we scream at the television because a Jay batter smoked one right at the first basemen, who promptly doubled up the man on second? Seems like bad luck, right? Maybe in some cases it was, but in many the runner on second hadn’t followed one of those old Peewee chestnuts: “Freeze on a line drive.” All too often, the runner had made a start towards the next base and wasn’t able to recover in time. Would it have mattered each and every time? No, sometimes runners get doubled off and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Bad baserunning can kill rallies and spoil games, but it’s barely discussed in game summaries unless a runner is thrown out or does something monumentally dumb like missing a base or passing the runner ahead of him. But not tagging up on second on a deep ball to right, and then standing there helplessly when the next batter hits a deep fly to centre that would have been a sac fly is just as damaging.

Since these things aren’t in game summaries, and I wasn’t taking notes last season, baserunning is something I’m definitely going to be focusing on during this coming spring training and season. It’s a part of the game that’s often overlooked, and for me, a part that is one of the most fun. Anyone witnessing Paul Molitor taking every advantage he could on the basepaths, or Aaron Hill’s swipe of home last season will probably agree.

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