Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo takes pride in his team’s baserunning. “That’s Diamondbacks baseball,” he has said in dozens of press conferences. While 2020 was a tremendously disappointing season, it was not due to baserunning.
Every season since the arrival of Torey Lovullo, the Diamondbacks have been toward the top of the National League in Extra Bases Taken percentage (XBT%). This measures how often a baserunner advances more bases than the value of the hit, i.e. first to third on a single, scoring from second on a single, or scoring from first on a double. From 2017 to 2020, the Diamondbacks ranked, in chronological order, first, second, fourth, and third.
Teams Ahead of the Diamondbacks in Baserunning
In 2020, the two teams ahead of the Diamondbacks in XBT% were the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. When looking more closely, this makes sense – the Cubs have the deepest foul line distances in the NL (355 to left, 353 to right), while the Rockies have the second-deepest (347 to left, 350 to right). The Rockies also have the deepest alley in left-center (390) and deepest corner in right-center (approx. 420). With a bigger outfield, the outfielders have to play deeper, making it more likely for runners to take that extra base. The top two teams in extra bases taken every year should be the Cubs and the Rockies simply due to their ballpark layout.
For everyone else, it’s philosophy and coaching. In first-base coach Dave McKay, the Diamondbacks have a tremendous teacher. “Dave McKay is one of the best teachers in the game,” Lovullo said. “He’s outlined his program. He knows what my vision is, and when these players get to first base, they do something in their preparation that’s going to allow them to be ready to make that move.”
Diamondbacks Baserunning on Singles
With runners scoring from second on a single, the Diamondbacks finished fourth in the National League in 2020. Of the 71 times they had a runner on second when the batter hit a single, the runner scored 47 times – a 66% scoring rate. Only once did the runner get gunned down at the plate. The three teams with a higher percentage than the Diamondbacks were the Rockies (76%), Cubs (69%), and Cardinals (67%).
Another important factor in smart baserunning is going from first to third on a single. Not only does it put pressure on the defense to make a quick, accurate throw, but if a runner can get to third with fewer than two outs, that makes a sacrifice fly possible. In 2020, when a Diamondbacks hitter singled with a runner on first, the runner made it to third 38% of the time. This was second in the National League to the 47% from the Cubs.
First to Third with Consistent Success
Also of note for the Diamondbacks – every time a runner on first attempted to take third on a single, he made it safely. This speaks volumes of Dave McKay and the way he prepares the baserunners, both physically and mentally. It also speaks highly of the judgment of third-base coach Tony Perezchica, who always puts runners in a position to be successful. And it was of no surprise to Lovullo. “It’s one of my simple concepts – we’re trying to advance as far as we possibly can without the ball stopping us.”
Lovullo would have liked to see it happen even more often, however. “What stands out to me are the times I felt like we could have pressed the issue and didn’t. We want to make sure that these guys understand that if they do make a mistake and get thrown out at third base, then it will be okay. (They just need to) be mindful of where we are in the game, what the score is, and what the situation is, obviously, when we take that type of chance.”
Scoring from first on a double is probably the most difficult aspect of baserunning, especially in the final 90 feet, when endurance becomes a factor. The Diamondbacks only pulled it off 10 times in the 26 opportunities they had – 38%. This put them ninth out of the 15 teams in the National League. They also had the fourth-fewest opportunities to even do it, something they also will want to change.
Keeping the Pressure on the Defense
Fans can obviously expect this to continue, given that it’s a core philosophy of Lovullo and his entire staff. “I want to put pressure on the defense any time that we can. This is something that we’ve developed a reputation of doing very well, but we’ve got to enhance that.”
It goes deeper than putting pressure on the defense, also. Lovullo is someone who preaches the value of the team above the individual, and baserunning is one area where that shows. “The reason why I love this type of play…is that it’s the ultimate team concept that we’re following. You are on the bases, where everybody kind of forgets about you, and you’re just going to be pushed around by what the hitter does. There is a certain degree of preparation and anticipation that you’ve got to be working through in setting up your body to be ready for that moment. You never know what’s going to happen, so you can’t take a pitch off.”
“We talk about that a lot here, about not taking pitches off and being ready for that moment. Our guys do a very good job of that, and that transitions into going first to third, going second to home, and taking that extra base.”
With the deadening of the baseball in 2021, taking that extra base will be even more important than before. Teams will not be able to be as dependent on the home run, so finding gaps in the outfield and taking extra bases on bloop hits can make the difference in some ballgames. That could give the Diamondbacks a leg up in their close games.
Running the bases aggressively and running the bases wisely has been a staple of this franchise for years. It’s not going anywhere. Lovullo summed it up in one simple sentence. “It’s something that represents Arizona Diamondbacks baseball, and we’re very proud of that.”
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