ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have had to work hard at being as bad at baserunning as they have been this season.
To lead the majors in being caught stealing and running into outs other ways — 81 total going into play Saturday — means doing a lot wrong.
Failing to take advantage of the scouting information and data provided. Using bad judgement. Ignoring reminders from the coaches. Having poor instincts.
And, more than anything, making terrible decisions.
“You’ve got to be smart aggressive, not dumb aggressive,” said third-base coach Rodney Linares. “There’s certain things that I can deal with, especially when younger guys are coming up, making those kinds of mistakes. But it comes a point where it’s like enough is enough.”
But is it?
The Rays were caught stealing 29 times in 92 attempts, their 68 percent success fifth-worst in the majors. Their 52 outs on the bases — trying to stretch a hit or tag up, doubled off, caught advancing on a wild pitch, per baseball-reference.com — were 10 more than the next-closest team (Cubs) and 19 above league average. That included 17 outs at home, second-most in the majors.
Their most egregious offenders are two of their somewhat experienced players. Randy Arozarena has been caught stealing a majors-most 10 times (in 31 attempts) while running into 10 outs. That is second most of all big-leaguers to Yandy Diaz, who has made 11.
The Rays say they are constantly addressing the issues, are confident the young players are open to improving and are actually doing better than the numbers show. But the outs continue to be costly.
“It’s not going to get fixed. We’ve already done the damage of making so many outs on bases,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We just have to be better.”
First-year first base and baserunning coach Chris Prieto said there is an ongoing education program.
“There’s a fine line between being relentless and reckless,” Prieto said. “We just want them to be prepared, know what they’re up against — outfield arms, tendencies on the mound, catchers’ tendencies. We want them to do their homework and look at some video and understand how to find an edge and how to beat the other team on the bases. Those are the things we talk about.
“I think there’s times where we just get a little over aggressive. But hopefully we learn from it.”
In one slight way, the numbers show the Rays are, as their outs on the bases have dropped since the All-Star break (from one every two games to every three). But their caught stealing rate has gone up.
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And, to be fair, there are some things the Rays do well, such as runners taking an extra base on singles and doubles — in part due to their above-average team speed — with a 44 percent success rate that is tied for eighth-best in the majors.
Cash said there are different issues in being caught stealing and being thrown out for other reasons.
“Base stealing is very instinctual,” Cash said. “You see guys that just have a knack for getting good jumps. We have not been very good this year at getting good jumps.”
That includes Arozarena, whose team-high 21 steals (fourth in the American League) are off-set by being caught 10 times. “That doesn’t work,” Cash said. “Any person that understands the impact of that will tell you that that is not being successful.”
At the start of the season, a select number of speedy Rays had a green light, allowing them to steal whenever they saw fit. After about a month, Cash took that privilege away, and now everyone starts with a red light until they get a sign for green — or a must-go or hit-and-run.
“Tried to entrust guys to make decisions knowing when (to go) and following some of Prieto’s guidance,” Cash said. “But found out that they were just running in maybe not the best situation, and just getting poor jumps.”
Running into outs can be more straightforward.
“The outs on the bases have been really bad,” Cash said. “I think it’s a combination of guys not making good decisions, and then guys trying to do too much with the lack of offense.”
In a way, those two reasons are related.
Because the Rays have been struggling to score, some of the players who get on base are trying too hard to move up. That was part of Jose Siri’s excuse for getting thrown out trying to stretch a double on Tuesday.
“We can’t try to create offense on the bases, too, by being overly aggressive,” Prieto said. “We still have to be intelligent baserunners and try to make really good decisions on moving up.”
It’s not just the players that get caught up in that either.
Cash put on a hit-and-run after Arozarena drew a leadoff walk in the sixth inning of a 0-0 game in Detroit Aug. 7 and saw it fail when Ji-Man Choi swung and missed and Arozarena was thrown out.
Linares made a blatant bad call in the July 31 game vs. Cleveland. Down 5-3 in the fifth with no outs, he tried to score Brandon Lowe from second on single to left and watched him get thrown out easily.
“We’re having trouble scoring, and anytime you get an opportunity you’ve got to try to get it,” Linares said. “Sometimes for me, that’s kind of the same thing as the players — that’s being dumb aggressive instead of being smart aggressive.”
Some players, such as Arozarena, have cut down on their mistakes, but they still will be made, especially by young and/or new Rays. “But,” Linares said, “don’t make stupid mistakes.”
When he sees a player make another one on the bases, Linares admits he sometimes wants to take more aggressive action of his own: “I’ve thought about tackling them or just putting my foot out.”
That might be one way to slow it down.
Stop right there
Rays players who have made the most outs on bases (through Friday):
Yandy Diaz: 11 (3 caught stealing)
Randy Arozarena: 10 (all 10 caught stealing)
Kevin Kiermaier: 6 (1 caught stealing)
Harold Ramirez: 2 (4 caught stealing)
Taylor Walls: 2 (3 caught stealing)
Vidal Brujan: 0 (5 caught stealing)
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