Tigers' aggressive baserunning pays off

May 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DETROIT -- The Tigers have spent most of the 2024 season pushing the tempo on the basepaths, taking chances and testing defenses with the goal of wringing extra runs out an offense that occasionally runs dry. Ironic, then, that on a Sunday -- when the Tigers outslugged the Blue Jays for a 14-11 walk-off victory -- they could chalk up at least two critical runs to their aggressive mentality on the bases, and from two unlikely sources at that.

“We talk about the mistakes a lot, because I know we’ve made plenty of them,” manager A.J. Hinch said. "But you have to train that way in order to make those good reads when the ball is high. You have to take extra bases. It’s fundamental baseball, but you’ve got to risk something.”

The first, not surprisingly, was an aggressive send from third-base coach Joey Cora. But it was the read that made on a third-inning line drive into shallow left from Andy Ibáñez that gave Cora the chance. While waited for a split second to read left fielder Davis Schneider before heading home, Rogers read quickly that the ball was going to fall in front of Schneider and took off. Once Rogers got the wave home, he was just a few steps behind Báez, allowing him to slide in ahead of Schneider’s throw to the plate and turn a three-run inning into four.

Rogers could’ve easily been held at third with one out in hopes of a sacrifice fly, but he likely would’ve been stranded there. Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi induced groundouts to the left side from Mark Canha and Gio Urshela.

“Not to toot my own horn, but it was a pretty good read,” Rogers said. “I figured it was going to be down in front of him. Tip of the cap to Joey for sending me.”

Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. Though Rogers ranks in the 35th percentile in sprint speed among MLB players this season, down from the 45th percentile last year, he shows good instincts. According to Baseball Reference, he has scored from second base on a single 12 times in 13 situations since the start of last season, stopping at third only once.

“I try to get good jumps whenever I can,” Rogers said. “I know RBIs mean a lot for the hitter and for the team.”

Five innings later, the Tigers were trailing by two when 's two-out single extended the eighth for . The rookie second baseman hit a blooper down the left-field line that Schneider charged but couldn’t reach in time. Though the play at third was close, Vierling’s break from first with two outs allowed him to take the base.

Once Keith saw Vierling head to third, he charged around first in hopes of taking second. Schneider, perhaps because of the angle, tried for the lower-percentage throw to third, even though Keith was the potential tying run heading into scoring position. Keith was able to race into second standing up as second baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa -- who was standing on the bag before Keith even reached first -- jumped up and down trying to get Schneider’s attention.

The Tigers’ win probability improved from 11.3 percent after Vierling’s single to 19.2 percent on Keith’s double. His extra base allowed him to tie the game when Canha followed with a two-run single to right field, sending the Tigers’ win probability to 55 percent. Had Keith played it safe and stopped at first, he would’ve been on third after Canha’s single, and potentially stranded there.

Those are examples where the combination of situational awareness and aggressive running pay off, even in a game that featured 31 combined hits. It becomes more evident in games with fewer runs.