A hitter is still an offensive asset when they get on base, Rangers infielder Brock Holt pointed out in a Zoom session with the media.
The Rangers' attack has been centered around fueling the offense with aggressiveness on the basepaths even when the at-bat is over. At the close of Wednesday night’s games, the Rangers were ranked fourth in the Majors in stolen bases at 14 and had been caught stealing five times.
“I think baserunning remains a huge part of the game that that kind of gets overlooked,” Holt said. “Anytime you can take advantage and take an extra 90 feet and get into scoring position or get to third with less than two outs or anything like that, it's big and it creates runs. And that's the goal, trying to try to score as many runs as you can.”
It’s especially been an emphasis for manager Chris Woodward since he took over at the position in 2019, but it’s not only about stealing bases. It’s about looking forward to extending a single into a double or a double into a triple. It’s about putting extra pressure on the defense at any moment of the game.
Rangers veteran infielder Charlie Culberson emphasized Holt’s main point: baserunning is a part of the offense here.
“It's not just about stealing bases, but making sure that we're tuned in on every pitch,” Culberson explained. “On the pitchers and what they're throwing, and being able to advance 90 feet at a time. It's just our job as a ballplayer and as a team to take advantage of those moments. It's a collective mindset and having that mindset in tune with everyone else, that's ultimately how you're going to win more baseball games and that's what we're trying to do here.”
Woodward and the coaching staff have given the players almost free rein to do what they see fit when working things out offensively.
Holt said the hitters get a scouting report for each team, and without giving away all the secrets, they get catchers’ pop times and pitchers’ breaking ball rate in order to determine when is the best time to attempt a steal. They’re looking for those slower catchers and breaking balls in the dirt before taking off.
“I feel like we've done a really good job of doing that,” Holt said. “We get some good information prior to the series and prior to games about certain guys that we might be able to take advantage of. We've done a good job of taking that information and using it whenever we get into the game.”
In the Rangers' 7-4 win over the Angels on Wednesday, Rangers outfielder Leody Taveras went first to third on an Isiah Kiner-Falefa single. With Taveras taking third, Kiner went and took second and put runners in scoring position to produce a run later in the inning.
That sequence of events is exactly what Woodward expects from the players on the basepaths from an aggressiveness standpoint.
“That’s the style of baseball that we want to play,” Woodward said. “We want [defenses] to know that we're going to do that as well, because that's how mistakes are created. [The players] know the reason why, like we're trying to create pressure.
“We're trying to take advantage of everything we possibly can. That changes the whole game. It allows us to create chaos. And our guys love it and they play with a ton of energy. They're fearless doing that. If it gets them thrown out right there, I don't care. ... I thought that was a really intense aggressive move that we're trying to do. Any chance we can.”
Everybody’s bought into Woodward’s thought process. He’s even emphasized how important it’s been to have the team leaders so ingrained with what the organization is trying to do.
On April 11, in the bottom of the first inning of a loss to the Padres, Joey Gallo walked. That in and of itself wasn’t shocking. It’s what happened after that -- a Gallo steal with a snazzy swim move to avoid the tag diving into second base -- that was different.
“That’s just being athletic and came from swimming back in Las Vegas when I was young,” Gallo said on his swim move. “I've got long arms, so I figured I can use it to my advantage to get around tags and stuff like that. I'm big, but I'm pretty flexible and athletic at the same time. It wasn't pretty, I was pretty shocked by how it looked. Honestly, I thought I was gonna look a lot goofier than it did, but it was pretty cool.”
Gallo, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, is not your typical base stealer. He’s just in the 37th percentile of Major Leaguers in sprint speed per Statcast. Comparably, his fellow Rangers outfielders Eli White and Taveras are both in the 99th percentile, while second baseman Nick Solak sits in the 98th.
Gallo only has 22 stolen bases in his seven-year MLB career and never more than seven in a single season. Gallo is now tied for the lead on the Rangers with two stolen bases on the season. That’s been part of Gallo himself becoming a more well-rounded player, but also a factor for the Rangers offense for everybody, not just those proficient in base-stealing.
He’s emphasized not only being fearless in stealing bases, but been aggressive on the basepaths whenever the ball is in play.
“Overall, these guys know exactly what's expected,” Woodward said. “They should have no fear of pushing the envelope. We do a lot of homework, so it's not like we're just out there running recklessly. A lot of our guys know what they're looking for. I want our offense to honestly push it a little more. We need more guys on base. If we get more guys on base, we can cause a lot more havoc.”