Sign stealing: a waste of time, but easy enough to defend against

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ESPN’s Buster Olney reproduces an email he received from former major league catcher Brent Mayne talking about sign stealing and mound visits and stuff.

It’s pretty illuminating.  Among the the tidbits he offers are that most hitters don’t want stolen signs flashed to them by their teammates anyway. I can see that: how much time do you have to prepare for a pitch in the first place? Not a ton, so why would you want to take your eyes of the pitcher for the second or two you’d need to focus on the baserunner bouncing around down at second base?

Also, if you think the bad guys are stealing signs, you’re much better off simply using a subtle indicator of some sort to change signs pursuant to a pre-set pattern as opposed to having mound visits. If you have multiple conferences on the mound the other team knows you’re changing up, and they’ll know they need to pay closer attention and try to steal a new set of signs.

Mayne sounds pretty sensible in all of this. Maybe Jorge Posada and CC Sabathia should call him this winter for a couple of tips.

The Nats want Trea Turner to attempt 75-80 stolen bases this year

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When it comes to cliche spring training stories, we talk a lot about “Best Shape of His Life.” Sometimes we talk about the “[Pitcher] has been working on a changeup” or “[Hitter] has made an adjustment to his swing” stories too. Then there’s the “we’re really going to focus on fundamentals” quotes managers love to give in February and March. They’re evergreens. 

Another one in that category is the “we’re going to run more” or “we plan to be aggressive on the base paths this year.” You hear that from at least one or two managers every spring. I imagine because, like the fundamentals one, it deals with something over which they have at least some moderate control. It’s a good quote.

We’re hearing it from Nats training camp this year with respect to one particularly speedy player in Trea Turner. From Mark Zuckerman at MASN:

Davey Martinez called Trea Turner into his office this week and told the speedy shortstop he wants him to attempt more stolen bases this season. How many? Let’s just say even the ultra-aggressive Turner was taken aback.

“Yeah, he gave me a number,” Turner said. “And I was like: ‘Wow, all right.’”

Martinez later revealed to assembled reporters that he thinks if Turner “attempts 75-80, we’ll be in great shape.”

Turner led the National League with 43 stolen bases on 52 attempts in 2018. The year before he attempted 54, which was his career high. Only only four players have attempted 80 or more stolen bases in the past ten years, so yes, 75-80 would be quite the escalation.

Which is not to say it’s silly. On a very basic level, yeah, if he is stealing bases more often, even without changing his basic approach, the Nats WILL be in great shape because it’ll likely mean that he’s on base more, and that’s good. If it’s merely a matter of him being more aggressive in the same number of times on base, well, let me know, but I’m not holding my breath.

I guess it’s nice to have goals, though.