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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