Note: This is part of a series analyzing the questions facing the Texas Rangers as spring training gets set to begin.
Today's question: How do the Rangers improve on the bases?
The Rangers were not the same club on the bases as they were in 2010 and 2011, when they won consecutive AL West titles and appeared in the World Series both seasons. Then, as we discussed early this year, the club's aggressiveness really paid off. They took the extra base whenever they could get it, helping put men in scoring position in a variety of ways. It seemed that nearly every ball in the dirt by an opposing pitcher turned into an additional base for the Rangers.
It turned the offense into a versatile one, something manager Ron Washington had been attempting to mold into his team for years. But, as is the case, the opponents adjusted. In 2012 and last year, pitchers frequently went to the slide step. They weren't afraid to throw over and were clearly paying attention. Outfielders played a little shallower at times too. Those adjustments coincided with Ranger mistakes. They were tied for the league-lead in caught stealing and second-to-last in stolen base percentage (67.4) in 2012. The Rangers did improve in both categories in 2013, finishing second in the league in stolen bases. But what they didn't do was consistently score a runner from third with less than two outs or have as much success going from first to third and swiping the extra base on balls in the dirt.
Rangers runners got picked off 18 times in 2013, that's near the bottom of the AL. Ian Kinlser, who was traded to Detroit for Prince Fielder earlier in the offseason, was caught stealing 11 times, tied for third-most in the league. The club's first-to-third rate was 30.1 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which was not as good as it was in 2010 or 2011.
You'll hear plenty of talk about staying aggressive. And the Rangers must do that. This offense is at its best when it can score runs in a host of different situations, whether that calls for a sac fly, a stolen base or a home run. The running game is critical to that. Gary Pettis, who was moved over to the third-base coaching box last year, is a big part of that and will be continuing to stress it this spring.
One addition that should help is Shin-Soo Choo. He's stolen at least 20 bases in his last four full seasons of at least 144 games played and getting on base is his specialty, posting a .423 on-base percentage in 2013, good enough for fourth in the big leagues. He's the leadoff hitter, taking the place of Kinsler. So Choo must get on base and make things happen once he gets there. He was hit by a pitch 26 times in 2013, the most of any hitter in the majors. Whatever Choo had to do to get on base, he did it.
Step one is getting on base more often. Step two is doing something once you get there. The Rangers aren't going to all of a sudden forget about being aggressive just because they've got some more power in the lineup with Fielder. But they have to be smart about when they push things. This spring is big in terms of re-establishing the solid baserunning that made the Rangers so tough in 2010 and 2011.