Matt Williams and Aggression on the Bases

 

When a manager says he wants his players to be aggressive this is often
misinterpreted by fans and some in the media as “stupid”. That shouldn’t be the
case. A baseball player can be aggressive and still be smart. Think about
hitting. If a batter is aggressive in going after pitches they can handle then
they will get more hits and end up on base more than a batter that doesn’t go
after those types of pitches. Just look at Denard Span’s second half when he
was less concerned with working the count and more concerned with swinging at
pitches he knew he could drive. It didn’t matter is those pitches came on the
first pitch or the eighth pitch of an at bat. When he got one he could handle
he got around on it and put barrel on ball.   

That is the mark of a good hitter, a
smart hitter, and aggressive hitter. Much the same can be said of a smart base
runner. When they see an opportunity to take the extra base, to put pressure on
the defense, and force them to make a play, they do it. In my opinion this is
also the mark of a winner. Instead of sitting back and waiting and hoping for
something to happen they make it happen. Matt Williams in his press conference
sounds like a manager that wants to put pressure on the defense. He wants to
take the extra base, and attempt to steal more often. He wants the Nats to get
better at taking the extra run instead of waiting around for runs that may
never come.   

When most people think of strategies
like the hit and run they focus on it being a mistake, and when it isn’t
executed it can be quite costly. The expected run total in 2013 with a runner
on first and no outs was 0.8262 and with two outs and the bases empty 0.0918.
That is quite a drop and that can happen on a hit and run if it is a strike out
thrown out double play or if the runner is doubled off on a line drive. Most
people take the option of looking at these two negatives and deciding that the
strategy should be abandoned, but anyone who has watched Japanese baseball can
tell you there is another option, execute better.  

It isn’t so much executing better as it
is picking your spots. A hit and run with Adam LaRoche at the plate and Wilson
Ramos on the bases is doomed from the start. It is the combination of a slow
runner and a strikeout hitter. That isn’t the time to hit and run, but if it is
Desmond on base and Rendon at the plate then that is a much better time to
execute the strategy. Some batters like Ryan Zimmerman don’t like it when base
runners go when they are batting. It distracts them from their task at hand and
this means that the batter should always have some signal he can give a third
base coach to call off the play. Having the strategy done with a good base
runner and a higher contract hitter only helps to reduce one type of double
play.   

The other one, the line drive double
play, shouldn’t even be a concern. Think about it this way; a line drive should
never be viewed as a negative. It is the result of a positive approach at the
plate. Furthermore in 2013 21.2% of all balls put in play were line drives and
of those 21.2% 67.4% went for hits. The vast majority of the time when a line
drive is hit it is going to be a hit, and even if it isn’t it will more than
likely be caught by an outfielder and not an infielder which gives a good base
runner time to reverse course and get back to the bag they were running from.
 

I am not convinced the hit and run is
as bad a strategy as some think. If it doesn’t work out it is extremely
detrimental to the cause of scoring runs, but the way around that isn’t to
abandon it. A team that picks the proper spots to attempt a hit and run and
that can execute well will have an advantage in the modern game of baseball.
Baseball has become a game between the pitcher and the hitter with the fielders
almost there for show and emergency situations. A well-executed hit and run
will force the defense to move their feet and abandon their strategic
positioning. It opens holes for a hitter and it forces defenses to defend
something that not a lot of teams do anymore.    

It has always been the way with
baseball that what is old will become new again, and perhaps Matt Williams’s
emphasis on finding ways to create runs on the bases will help to usher that
part of the game back into more common usage, but executed smarter and better than
it was when it was abandoned. Now many Nats fans having read this might be
ready to hunt me down, because in their opinion the Nats were too aggressive on
the bases last season. In baseball outs are the only thing inevitable, and as
far as outs on the bases went the Nats were right around league average. They
made a total of 58 total outs on the bases and 15 outs at home. The MLB average
in those areas was 52 total outs on the bases and 17 at home. So for as over
aggressive and terrible as some thought Jewett was, he got less runners thrown
out at home than the average MLB third base coach. Perhaps a little more
aggression would help the Nats. Put the pressure on the opposing defense and
force them to beat you instead of standing by and letting them.   

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