The primary impetuses behind the White Sox plan to be more aggressive on the basepaths–and Dan Hayes’ story about it–can be freely and easily enjoyed: running out double plays hard and Daryl Boston acting with disturbing amounts of aggression (or having the nickname ‘DBo’).
It’s always enjoyable to see players commit to effort-laden tasks for a far-off reward that they might never reap simply because it is good practice, and if the team–as Wise forewarns–gets into spats with rival clubs for playing too hard, it will really only serve to make games more chippy and spirited, which is to the benefit and enjoyment of the viewer. Brawls can be fun, an intensely-played game with an undercurrent suggesting that a brawl could break out at any time is always fun.
The larger reason that Robin Ventura cites for pushing an increased onus on taking extra bases also comes from an easily understandable source of inspiration.
“You can get stagnate if you sit there and not do anything,” Ventura said. “The other team needs to be aware we’re out there and we’ll take the base if we can get it.”
Alex Rios plowing through Omar Infante to force an error is one of the last positive memories the offense created last season, and the unfortunately timed drought that the low-OBP, power-heavy offense ran into lent itself to suggestions to alternatives–such as trying to break up the monotony of waiting for power hitting by forcing the issue on the basepaths.
Simply putting an emphasis on breaking up double plays in the name of giving “another turn” to the heart of the order as Boston suggests could be useful to players like Alexei Ramirez , Alex Rios and others who became associated with non-confrontational play under the more laissez-faire stewardship of the later Ozzie Guillen period.
But as Boston readily admits, the personnel isn’t around to push the thrusters too hard. Last year’s club finished 11th in the AL in Ultimate Base Running–FanGraphs’ stat specifically measuring players’ ability to take extra bases–at 6.2 runs below average. Almost all of that could be attributed to Paul Konerko (-6.1), or Adam Dunn (-2.9) and Dayan Viciedo (-3.1) in combination with one another, but those guys are also on the roster again, probably running worse than ever.
Alex Rios, Alejandro De Aza and Alexei Ramirez are the only regulars who were above-average last year. Gordon Beckham and Jeff Keppinger didn’t make the grade, and Dewayne Wise will only be a regular if something goes wrong
Furthermore, one of the principles of embracing a power-heavy offense is maximizing opportunities for the hitters to go to work, or more specifically, not frittering them away on the basepaths. Initiatives to break up double plays may be created with this in mind, but pushing for more advances on wild pitches isn’t. The White Sox struggle mightily to put players on base, but have a style and ballpark that downplays the importance of taking an extra base as opposed to just having a runner on.
The aggression initiative thus works better if its backed by preparation rather than simply being an organizational demand to run for running’s sake. That’s where Boston’s emphasis is.
“The main reason we don’t advance on balls in the dirt is we’re just not ready and when it happens it’s too late. You have to prepare before the pitch.”
This doesn’t sound worlds apart from idle coach speak, but if there’s one thing the Ventura administration has established, it’s an ability to really deliver significant returns on points of coaching emphasis, even with the same personnel. In 2012, outfield relays became a strength through spring drilling, two less-than-thrilling catcher arms manage to boost their caught stealing rates thanks to better work from the pitching staff at holding runners as well as competently-run pitchout and throw-behinds, and the much ballyhooed emphasis on extra infield practice provided a firm answer to the question of ‘what does it mean when a manger says his team is going to work on the fundamentals?’
It will never cease to set off blogger warnings when coaching staffs set down initiatives to become more gritty and agressive, but if Ventura can match his fervor with demonstrated tactical advantage once more, I might learn to just ignore the alarms soon enough.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan