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Stealing a Good First Impression

Every year, many A’s fans decry the fact that the A’s aren’t aggressive on the basepaths and every spring training it would seem like reporters would almost always ask A’s manager Ken Macha the same question: “Are you planning on being more aggressive on the bases this year?” And Macha would seemingly always reply the same way, “I think so, I’d like to definitely be more aggressive and work on base running this spring.”

The A’s would then go out and not really do anything more than what they’ve done the year before. As a matter of fact, it was much of that inactivity on the bases last year that led to the A’s hitting into double play after double play.

I asked the new A’s manager Bob Geren this very question the day before he flew to Phoenix to open his first spring training and this is how it went:

Blez: A lot of A's fans get frustrated, especially the old school A's fans who saw Rickey Henderson and a lot of the stolen bases, hit and run style baseball, and just a lot more action on the bases. What's your philosophy on that? Do you plan on being more aggressive with stealing and hitting and running or do you plan on keeping the A's system over the last few years in place?

Geren: If I had a 27-year-old Rickey Henderson, he would steal 100 bases, there's no doubt. I don't have anything against that. I know that there's a certain percentage of stealing a base that has to make it even worth trying it. There's been all kinds of statistical studies done on that and I believe in that. The hit and run can be a questionable thing because what you're doing there is starting a runner and you have to have a reason to do it. Are you trying to stay out of a double play? Are you trying to create something?

Blez: Well, the A's hit into so many double plays last year it might make sense to be more aggressive.

Geren: True, very true. Also on the hit and run, my philosophy on that has to take into consideration: what if the hitter swings and misses and what are the chances that he's going to still steal it? If the chance is like zero, it's not really worth it on the risk/reward factor.

Blez: So you don't send a Dan Johnson on a hit and run then?

Geren: Not too often, but if I had a 3-2 with one out and Jason Kendall hitting who is one of the lowest strikeout totals in baseball, he's going to run because you're putting it on the hitter and not on the runner. My philosophy on sacrifice bunts is that statistics show that no outs and a runner on first, you're probably going to score more runs than with one out and a runner on second. But if moving that runner into scoring position has a chance to win a game or tack on an extra run to help you win a game, I'll do it. It's really difficult to talk about hypotheticals. You have to manage the situation first and what is going to benefit the team on that day. I'm not against anything, but right now we don't have the personnel to steal a ton of bases. But if a pitcher is slower than normal in his delivery or a catcher is struggling or something, I would say sure, we'll be a little more aggressive than we've been in the past.

Geren has been pretty aggressive so far on the bases. Yesterday’s hit and run with Kendall and Scutaro really wound up making that inning work for the A’s. Because Kendall was in motion, the Aybar had a much harder time flagging down the ball that Scutaro hit.

The A’s have stolen eight bases in 15 games so far this season. That’s stealing a bag in about 53 percent of the games the A’s played. If you calculate that over a full season that would equal out to about 86 stolen bases for the season. Last year, the A’s stole 53 bases in 162 games. That’s roughly 33 percent of the games the A’s played. Now I’m not saying that the A’s will continue to be this aggressive. I mean who knows, perhaps they just felt like they could run wild on Mike Napoli and that’s why they had been so aggressive. Remember when the A’s ran wild on the Padres with Piazza behind the dish?

Now all statistical analysis with 15 games played in a 162-game season seems premature. I just wanted to note that it seems like Geren understands this offense and how to try and maximize the number of runs it will produce. He’s mostly made really good choices on the bases so far this year. And if Billy Beane loathes the stolen base so much and he’s the egomaniacal control freak people would have you believe, why is he letting Geren implement it so often so early?

My guess would be that he has someone running the team that he trusts making the right decisions at the right time when it comes to playing the small ball game. Geren said himself that you shouldn’t expect a lot because the A’s don’t really have the personnel for a lot of stolen bases, but this team can make smart choices that will increase their chances of scoring more runs and staying out of the dreaded, repeated double plays. And if they do, then you can count me as one who is all for it. I like what I’ve seen so far.