Dodgers manager Dave Roberts emphasized his desire to focus on base running upon his hiring during the offseason, and so far the primary beneficiary of that focus has been Yasiel Puig. Although still early in the season, Puig has been aggressively successful on the base paths under his new skipper’s guidance.
A slimmed-down Puig was one of several Dodger position players to report early to Camelback Ranch for Spring Training, and Roberts welcomed Puig to camp while promising a fresh start for the outfielder who once again was the center of offseason controversy. With no disciplinary action stemming from the domestic abuse allegations involving his sister due to lack of evidence, Roberts and Puig are hopeful that he will remain focused and healthy in 2016.
Before the first official workout during spring training, Puig spent time with Maury Wills working on base running, and Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times wrote about Wills and Puig working together on base running back in January.
“My hope and prayer is that I get to work with the entire team on baserunning,” Wills said. “Good baserunning wins more ballgames than any other facet of the game. I’m not talking about base stealing. Base stealing is for a select few. But baserunning is for everybody.
“The slowest runner on the team can be the best base runner. Baserunning is just getting the most of what you have to work with, going from first to third on base hits you should go from first to third on, scoring on base hits you should score on, because you know what to do and how to do it.”
The base running work may already be paying off for Puig, who is 2-for-2 in stolen base attempts this season, and his boneheaded mistakes have been nonexistent thus far.
Speaking of those mistakes, it’s not surprising that Puig would be the focal point of Roberts’ base running renaissance. Since his MLB debut in 2013, Puig has been openly criticized for his mistakes on the base paths. In 2013, Puig was 11-for-19 stealing bases, he was picked off four times, and was doubled off three times. Similarly, in 2014, Puig led the majors with 15 outs on the bases, according to Baseball Reference, and he was 11-for-18 stealing bases while being picked off four times. In 2015, multiple hamstring injuries limited Puig’s playing time to 79 games, and he was still an atrocious 3-for-6 in stolen base attempts.
It did seem like the Dodgers addressed their base running woes last season when they replaced third base coach Lorenzo Bundy with Ron Roenicke in August. There was some improvement in the second half when the Dodgers stole 40 bases after the All-Star break, but Puig was only a part of eight of those games under new coaching and better results were still desired.
Roberts, who stole 243 bases over his 10-year MLB career and was caught stealing only 58 times, was hired with the promise of harnessing Puig’s speed and revitalizing a stagnant base running approach that fizzled out under Don Mattingly‘s tenure.
Eric Stephen of True Blue LA described the Dodgers lack of success on the base paths in 2015 as their failure to advance runners from first base to third base and take the extra base.
In 2015, the Dodgers had 295 singles hit with a runner on first base, and 76 times the runner advanced to third. Only three National League teams advanced to third base on a single fewer times than the Dodgers, and their 25.8-percent rate at doing so was below the NL average of 27.7 percent.
The Dodgers were also next-to-last in extra bases taken, at 37 percent of the time, below the league average of 40 percent of the time.
In the 2016, the Dodgers are fourth in the NL in going from first-to-third (albeit without percentage improvement) and seventh in taking the extra base at 42 percent. Perhaps more importantly, the Dodgers were fourth from last in the NL in scoring from second base on singles in 2015, but in 2016 they lead the NL in that category, which helps to explain how they’re scoring at about the same rate as last April even without all the same power numbers.
So the early results on the bases certainly looks promising despite the fact that there haven’t been many stolen base attempts thus far from the Dodgers.
Yasiel Puig's steal of second base (along with Corey Seager's) gave the Dodgers 5 SB attempts. Only NL team with fewer: Mets, with 4.
— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) April 18, 2016
Thus, while it may seem like nothing has changed, the Dodgers have actually been much better on the bases this year and Puig’s efforts have been a significant part of that.
Puig’s speed was always one of his impressive tools, but his aggressive and unbridled approach to base running was a point of contention for many. While Puig’s base running and sliding skills still need refinement, his speed is an element of his skill set that can be honed to the Dodgers’ advantage under the tutelage of Roberts, and Puig’s progress thus far is something to be excited about.
Puig may be known for his bat flips at the plate and powerful arm in right field, but if he keeps this progress up, he may soon be commended for being a quality base runner as well.