Bae's baserunning mistakes part of learning process

Speedy outfielder caught twice to spoil potential scoring chances in Pirates' loss to Rangers

May 24th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Ji Hwan Bae sat hunched over at his locker, head in his hands following the Pirates’ 6-1 loss to the Rangers. Bae was, in all likelihood, contemplating the two baserunning mistakes he made on Tuesday night at PNC Park, the latest in a series of missteps in recent weeks.

As team interpreter Daniel Park provided Bae’s answers to the media conglomerate in the clubhouse, Bae’s gaze fell towards the ground.

“As much as it stings now, those are teaching moments and we have to make sure that things like that don’t happen again,” manager Derek Shelton said.

On Tuesday, those teaching moments cost the Pirates opportunities to scratch out runs against Nathan Eovaldi, who threw his fourth career complete game and continued his recent stretch of excellence.

In the third inning with one out and Andrew McCutchen at the plate, Bae was picked off by Eovaldi at first base. Bae’s first move was to second base when Eovaldi began his pickoff and was unable to scamper back to the bag.

In the bottom of the eighth inning with Bae on first base, McCutchen smacked a single into right field. Bae took off at the crack of the bat with there being two outs, and with his speed, Bae appeared as though he was going to cruise into third base without much contestation.

After rounding second and taking several steps towards third, Bae tried to suddenly retreat despite being about one-third of the way to third.

Right fielder Adolis García casually threw the ball to second base, where second baseman Marcus Semien grabbed the throw and applied the tag, ending the inning. The Pirates appealed, but the call on the field stood.

"Because there were two outs, I thought I had to go to third, but didn't read the play properly, so ended up getting out,” Bae said.

Added Shelton, “Once he commits to going, he’s got to go with his speed. We saw that García was coming up and throwing the ball to second, too, but once he commits, he’s going to go. He’s got to go.”

The baserunning mistakes have added up for Bae in recent weeks. In addition to Tuesday’s misgivings, Bae has been caught on four of his five steal attempts (one of those attempts technically was on a pickoff where Bae tried to advance to second and was tagged out).

In total, Bae has made six outs on the bases.

“He needs to slow down a little bit,” Shelton said. “Right now, he’s going a little fast. I think you see young players that have speed, at times, they try to create things instead of just letting things come to him. Right now, he’s probably trying to do a little too much.

“The weapon that he has is a true weapon, but if you use it recklessly, then you run into outs and you can’t have that.”

Bae agreed with Shelton’s theory that he’s trying to do too much, saying, “When I look at the score, and when we're losing, I definitely want to help my teammates. So, I feel like I'm doing a little bit too much.”

That eagerness has been apparent in some of the instances where he’s been thrown out trying to steal. On May 5 against the Blue Jays, for example, Bae broke one of baseball’s cardinal rules, being thrown out at third base on a steal attempt with no outs and Bryan Reynolds at the plate.

To begin the season, by contrast, Bae created more chaos on the bases than just about anyone. In March and April, Bae swiped 11 bases, tied for the second most in MLB through the season’s first full month.

Bae recorded three multi-steal games, one of which being a three-steal game on April 26 against the Dodgers. Between his walk-off home run against the Astros and his dazzling defense in Boston and St. Louis, Bae was arguably Pittsburgh’s most electrifying player.

His speed is an elite tool. Coming into play on Tuesday, Bae ranked in the 96th percentile of sprint speed. He’s not among the Major League leaders in steals by accident.

Bae knows he has speed, but he’s learning that speed isn’t enough; he has to know how to use it, too.

"I think the biggest homework for me right now is really just reading the situation of the game and using when to know when to use my speed and when to not,” he said.