When Matt Williams was signed to manage the Washington Nationals this past offseason, he spoke of taking a more aggressive approach offensively. As we’ve seen in Spring Training, Williams wasn’t kidding around when discussing that philosophy.
In 2013, the Nationals were simply one of the least aggressive teams when on base. You can’t call them the worst, they just weren’t aggressive. Collectively, the Nats reached base 1,904 times and had an on-base percentage of .313, tied for 12th-worst in MLB. When they had runners on base, they only attempted steals 113 times, but did convert on 88 of those tries.
Their conservative nature on the base paths certainly didn’t help in run scored, or lack thereof. Washington relied on stringing hits together to score runs, and that’s something they just couldn’t do. Their 656 runs scored were 19 below the league average. Just for some comparison, the Boston Red Sox led the league with 853 runs scored while also stealing 123 bases.
When you look at the roster, there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t have been more aggressive when on base. Both Ian Desmond and Denard Span swiped at least 20 bags with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth stealing at least 10. They’ve got the speed, but they didn’t use it last season. In Spring Training, however, they’ve been using it quite often.
This spring, the Nationals have stolen 17 bases, led by Desmond with four. Span has stolen three bases, while Danny Espinosa and prospect Will Ryhmes both have two. Williams has given the green light to many different players, including first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has one steal this spring.
It doesn’t stop with steals, either. On numerous occasions, have we seen the Nationals execute a hit-and-run. Oftentimes, it’s allowed the runner at first to move over to third or even score.
As Williams continues to figure out who can steal and who can’t (let’s be honest, LaRoche isn’t burning anyone), expect to only see more dust flying on the base paths. Runners will continue to be given the green light, and we’ll see more hit-and-runs attempted.
Hopefully, we’ll see this aggression kept up into the regular season, as it will certainly help in getting them over the hump and back into the postseason.