Why Giants are so focused on running game in spring training originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Conforto hit a fly ball to right last Wednesday and watched Bryce Johnson jog home from third for a run. When Conforto got back to the dugout at Scottsdale Stadium, there was a line of teammates and coaches waiting with high-fives for a productive plate appearance. He tried to deflect the attention elsewhere.
“He’s like, ‘That dude just laid down a bunt, stole second, stole third, and scored,’ ” manager Gabe Kapler said the next morning. ” ‘All I did was get the ball in the air.’ “
Johnson’s sequence, which started with a perfect bunt down the third base line, would have looked out of place for the Giants in recent seasons. It still might in 2023, but the game is changing, and the Giants know they have to change with it.
They have 21 stolen bases in 25 attempts this spring, and Kapler talks often of players who are standouts going first-to-third or tagging up. It’s one of the things he likes about Blake Sabol, who is one of the more athletic players the Giants have ever put in the squat.
A lot of this is spring noise, but the Giants do expect to run more often, in part because they expect everyone to run more often. While the pitch clock gets most of the attention, Major League Baseball also made bases slightly larger — from 15 square inches to 18, making that trip between bags slightly shorter — and put in a limit on the number of times a pitcher can throw over. A third unsuccessful throw to first now will result in a balk.
“I think stolen bases will be up across the league,” Kapler said, “And I think we will be more aggressive in stealing bases ourselves.”
There are a couple of major caveats here, starting with the reality of the roster.
It’s nice that Sabol and Joey Bart run well for catchers, but it’s not ideal that they’re two of the faster players in the lineup. According to Baseball Savant, the Giants have just three projected regulars (Thairo Estrada, Austin Slater and Bart) who rate above the league average in sprint speed. Some of their slower players from last season (Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella) are gone, but they still project to have one of the slowest rosters in the big leagues, if not the slowest.
Johnson has a league-high seven stolen bases this spring but is not on the 40-man and almost certainly headed for Triple-A. The only other players with multiple steals are Slater and
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