Saturday, February 16, 2013

Determined to stop the running game

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg prepares to field a comebacker during today's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals had few glaring weaknesses during their 98-win season, but one did stand out like a sore thumb: Their inability to prevent opposing teams from stealing bases at will against them.

Nationals catchers threw out only 16.5 percent of basestealers last year, the second-worst rate in the majors ahead of only the Pirates (11 percent) and well below the MLB average (26 percent).

Too often, though, those catchers took the blame for something that wasn't really their fault.

"The catching corps has never been the problem," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, we've got six guys here who can catch and throw. That's never been a problem. You always steal on the pitcher. But there were too many loopholes there where guys could steal."

Indeed, the biggest contributing factor to those terrible basestealing numbers was the Nationals pitching staff's inability to hold runners close to first base. The problem wasn't so much being slow to the plate; it was becoming so predictable that runners were able to time their moves to a T.

"Everybody on the ball field has got to know the speed of the runner. And so should the pitcher," Johnson said. "He should know: Don't be so regular that they can read you and start before you even think about throwing home and have no chance."

So guess what Johnson has decided to make a point of emphasis this spring? Yep, early this morning after the pitching staff completed pre-workout stretches, Johnson gathered everyone up and told them they would be spend considerable time working on their pickoff moves and timing to the plate.

"If I remember right, that was one of the meetings I had with [GM Mike] Rizzo after they stole 26 in a row bases," the manager said. "So I'm kind of nipping it in the bud. I look at the things as a group we can improve on, and one of them is not being so easy to steal on.

Johnson wants his pitchers to rely less on the dugout to signal for step-offs and throw-overs, as they did last season under the direction of bench coach Randy Knorr (a former catcher).

"The bench controls all their movements, and they learn that all the way up through the minor-league system," Johnson said. "And once they get to the major-league system, they're almost like a machine out there. So they don't even think about that. They let the bench decide what they're going to do.

"Then you sometimes get into such a routine that you can be read. I've always hated that. I've always put a quietus to calling the step-offs and throw-overs. I always want my pitching staff to read and pay attention and to vary their delivery."

They took their first step toward that new directive this morning, the first of several sessions Johnson has planned on the subject during camp.

"We have some things to do this spring to clean up," he said.

68 comments:

MicheleS said...

Thank the heaven's they are doing this. Do it every day until they have it down which means November 1st.

SonnyG10 said...

What she said!

djinFl. said...

Some of todays pics are up
2djbinFl.

And Davey let the pitchers know those steals were not the catchers fault. It was the most serious talk I have ever heard from him. No mix of light heartedness in this talk.

djinFl. said...

@djbinFl

Anna Peregrina said...

At least they're not "nipping it in the butt." as I read on a blog recently.

natsfan1a said...

What MicheleS and Sonny said. Also, I like the "putting the quietus" phraseology.

natsfan1a said...

That's a good one, Anna. Maybe whatever it was gaining on them sped up, so that it was nipping there as opposed to at the heels? Nah. :-)

natsfan1a said...

Although, on further reflection, not stopping the running game could come back to bite a team in the figurative...nevermind...

MicheleS said...

Djinfl.. great pics! Thanks for sharing!

baseballswami said...

These guys are so smart, competitive and hard working that I have no doubt they will tackle it head on and fix it.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Davey said "the catching corps have never been the problem".

All I can say is thank you for saying that out loud Davey.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Ghost.... I didn't hear it but djinfl was there and heard it word for word.

Section 222 said...

Good to hear the Nats are working on a part of their game that is weak, as well as congratulating themselves on how great they are. Next up, hitting the cut off man.

UnkyD said...

So glad to see this... But it courts to me that it's not a quick fix type of problem, and I'll be happy to see progress to the tune of finishing in the middle if the pack, in SB%. Also..... With our rotation , bullpen, and defense, I'm thinking there might just not be that many baserunners, in the first place....

UnkyD said...

Occurs.... occurs to me....(sheesh!)

baseballswami said...

I was actually thinking last year that some of our guys didn't know how to handle base runners because they hardly ever saw it happen. Glad to see them acknowledge that it's a possibility.

baseballswami said...

Oh- and it has also occurred to me that the Nats all seem to be physical specimens. Some have downright beastly bods, none are overweight or out of shape. Not even a relief pitcher. Studs.

NatsNut said...

Their problems holding baserunners never bothered me that much, if only because they're such studs and hey, they're gonna get the next guy out anyway. Well, I thought that until Game 5 at least.

SonnyG10 said...

Fixing this problem will be hugh in adding to the defense. About time they addressed it.

I seem to remember last season, Randy Knorr saying they didn't want to distract the pitchers from concentrating on pitching. I wonder if their predicament could be laid at Randy's feet. He is the one that called for every pick-off attempt, step-off, etc. and Davey saying this spring that he wants the pitchers to do a lot of this on their own. If Randy is the one to take over for Davey next year, he better get with this program.

Section 222 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Section 222 said...

Apropos of a discussion we had a few days ago about whether players know the complicated and always changing PED rules, this article quoting Jose Bautista at length is interesting. Basically he says that everyone knows the rules and no one can plead ignorance.

NN, your last comment made me laugh.... and then cry.

NatsNut said...

Yea, I know. Sorry.

natsfan1a said...

222, I think your link is circular.

NCNatsie said...

Swami @ 6:40:

It's really tough to tackle a problem head on while you're nipping it in the butt. (See Anna P. @ 6:19)

Doc said...

I don't know a lot about Randy Knorr but I kinda think that he should have known about the pressure that he was putting on the infielders by letting the pitchers 'concentrate' on the batters by not bothering to throw over. Davey should have kicked some butt too!

As a former catcher, Knorr should have been helping Ramos learn how to turn and catch a pop foul and receive throws from the OF.

Let's hope that we have a few more choices than Knorr to take Davey's job next year.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Ghost Of Steve M. said...
Davey said "the catching corps have never been the problem".

All I can say is thank you for saying that out loud Davey.
February 16, 2013 6:44 PM

NatsJack in Florida said...
Ghost.... I didn't hear it but djinfl was there and heard it word for word.


Too many commenters have bashed the catchers for the opponents success in stealing, and sometimes it was but most time it was on the pitchers.

baseballswami said...

Folks, really? Do you honestly think any of the coaches was following a philosophy that was not directed by Davey and Rizzo? They are control freaks. I think it was more letting the younger pitchers get established before adding a layer of complexity- keeping it simple. Now they are ready for another layer of skill. Look out. When they set their collective minds on something .......

UnkyD said...

Terps beat the Devils!!!! Sweet Fancy Moses!!!

djinFl. said...

Davey was real clear the problem with stealing began and ended with not checking the runner, not stepping off, and having a predictable delivey. There was no bullpen session today, three fielding and one bunting drill.
Must be spring training, tonights our first freeze of the winter.
Fear the Turtle!

SonnyG10 said...

baseballswami said...
Folks, really? Do you honestly think any of the coaches was following a philosophy that was not directed by Davey and Rizzo? They are control freaks. I think it was more letting the younger pitchers get established before adding a layer of complexity- keeping it simple. Now they are ready for another layer of skill. Look out. When they set their collective minds on something .......
February 16, 2013 8:58 PM


Swami, I sure hope you're right, but Davey said Rizzo had a talk with him after 26 straight steals last season, so I don't know. I have no clue what type of manager Randy Knorr would make, but we need someone smart enough to pick up where Davey leaves off.

baseballswami said...

I think they will do a full out search. My point is that Davey is always in charge of everything and if Randy Knorr was calling the plays he was doing it at Davey's direction. Knorr raised a lot of these babies and they won a lot on the way up. In the Nats organization that seems to count for something. The problem will be this -- Davey is one of a kind and whoever the new guy is, he will have to be allowed to be himself and run things his own way. It won't be easy to follow him.

Dave said...

Hey, djbinFl, I just followed you on the Twitter, 'cause everybody talked about the pictures you posted. Great stuff!

I'm hoping to put the quietus on thinking about Game 5 too much.

(Awkward, but I had to use that word somehow...)

Joe Seamhead said...

Many months ago I was ridiculed by one of our self appointed esteemed most knowledgeable bloggers for hammering on this very point. When Chase Utley came off the DL, sore knees and all, and stole 2 bases by timing our pitchers, the writing was on the wall. This was an unspoken guffaw that was killing us through the late part of the season, especially during the playoffs. This should be a priority one for McCatty to work on. It wasn't on Ramos,Solano, Suzuki, etc. This was all on the pitchers..

baseballswami said...

Gio was new, Stras still recovering, Det back and forth between the rotation and the pen, Wang- whatever, EJX, new. This season there is enough stability for them to take on this issue and fix it. And they will. You know they will.

Doc said...

Having read a lot of Shaksepeare, I thought that I'd come across most the words in the English language.

All of a sudden, Davey introduces me to 'quietus'. I thought that it was maybe a colloquial sourthernism or somethin'.

Anyway, thanks for the lesson in Medieval Latin Davey. And here I thought that you were just a math scholar, and #2 best manager on Club House Confidential's Shredder!

Now all that's left for you to accomplish is to teach the guys how to pick off a runner.

MicheleS said...

Unkyd. Totally agree that this is not a quick fix. That's why i said practice until November 1st! ;-)

Joe Seamhead said...

Sorry, Swami, but this is a skill that is drilled into high school pitchers, and catchers. I have been guilty of unabashed support of Davey, but the fact is, not only were the pitchers guilty, especially the late inning relievers, but Suzuki could have made a perfunctory throw down to first against STL in the 9th. The fact that he didn't is on him, and the coaches, IMHO.

Joe Seamhead said...

UNKYD, regarding the Terps, abig time "LIKE"!

baseballswami said...

Agreed, Joe- they just totally blew it off. They also won 98 games and mostly got away with it. Now - that has to end. Any improvement will be a good start. I hope they keep after it all season.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

UnkyD said...
Terps beat the Devils!!!! Sweet Fancy Moses!!!

February 16, 2013 9:08 PM


That was Kardiac Kids finish! What are they doing, taking after the Nats?

sjm308 said...

Loved the terps today

Can one of you help me with these pictures on twitter from djinfl? I have a computer and how do I get them?

Thanks in advance

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

www.twitter.com/djbinfl

baseballswami said...

But the Terps fans on twitter- let's just say they have never heard this phrase-- Act like you've been there before.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

baseballswami, the Terps are young and just took down the #2 team in the country on national TV. Its time to celebrate. These are 18 to 21 year old kids who haven't been there before not 50 year old alumni.

sjm308 said...

Thanks to Ghost and to dj for the pictures. What is that big blue ape or monkey signfy??

baseballswami said...

But, Ghost- they are setting fire to things. I get the significance of the win, but the behavior just seems over the top. The tweeters actually are 50 year old alumni, however.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Baseballswami, the fire is a bonfire that the University set up in front of the chapel. Anyone showing anything else should watch Comcast Sports as they have cameras out there.

You can make anything look ugly, just ask Gio. Its all good. 2 arrests from some braniacs who knocked over a lamp post.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

I found 3 photos of that bonfire. One is an overhead shot, 1 is from Route 1 with the chapel in the background and 1 from a side view that just looks like a big fireball.

If you want to make things look bad, which one will you re-post?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

https://twitter.com/BraunFilm/status/302974001213485056

Case in point from a hater. This has been copied and retweeted.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Same bonfire. Different angle from ABC News.

https://twitter.com/ABC7News/status/302960425056739328

peric said...

Hmmm looks like baseball is no longer the topic?

Davey is doing it the right way ... he is feeding them new things to work on at the right way ... not all at once and not with a huge sense of urgency of OMG we should have done this yesterday.

Everything in its own time and place and it seems to work with the talent the Nats have collected.

Each year the young players are presented with something new to work on.

Instead of all at once as if the sky was falling as it was under Riggleman. And when they couldn't handle it all at once Riggleman would use that as his excuse to Rizzo to pick up JayB's "Rizzo" veterans which were and actually ARE Giggleman's veterans. A few good most basically AAA players.

Anna Peregrina said...

Doc, the only reason I recognized quietus was from Hamlet! "When he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?" Well, I also recognized it because it's Latin ... :)

baseballswami said...

Why, Peric- is that you being the voice of reason? Well done.

NatsJack in Florida said...

sjm308.... that blue ape thing is the balloon for the Toyotathon that the Space Coast people allowed to take place in Nats fans normal parking area.

NatsJack in Florida said...

sjm308.... that blue ape thing is the balloon for the Toyotathon that the Space Coast people allowed to take place in Nats fans normal parking area.

NatsJack in Florida said...

sjm308.... that blue ape thing is the balloon for the Toyotathon that the Space Coast people allowed to take place in Nats fans normal parking area.

NatsJack in Florida said...

sjm308.... that blue ape thing is the balloon for the Toyotathon that the Space Coast people allowed to take place in Nats fans normal parking area.

UnkyD said...

Quick! Somebody slap NatsJack!!

Joe Seamhead said...

Good morning,Jack! Is the multiple post thing a result of the shivers from the unseasonably cold temps down there?

sjm308 said...

Thanks jack

sjm308 said...

Thanks jack

sjm308 said...

Thanks jack

sjm308 said...

Slap!!!

sjm308 said...

Obviously ready for more baseball talk

UnkyD said...

hehehehe......

realdealnats said...

No one will fill Davey's shoes, or won't immediately appear to do so. But hopefully great clubhouse leadership and what I believe to be this rare club's core character, will let winning ease this transition. In the end Rizzo and Davey will know who to pick. In Rizzo We Trust.

Doc said...

Anna, guess I don't know Hamlet as well as you!

In spite of the fact that I studied it at HS and Uni, and have 3 times seen it on stage and at the movies.

I'll know all about 'quietus' the next time I hear it.

Thanks for the great quote!

natsfan1a said...

LOL x 3. Slap!

sjm308 said...

Thanks jack
February 17, 2013 7:51 AM
sjm308 said...

Thanks jack
February 17, 2013 7:52 AM
sjm308 said...

Thanks jack
February 17, 2013 7:52 AM
sjm308 said...

Slap!!!
February 17, 2013 7:52 AM

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