Eric Byrnes’ Baserunning: Building on ’06 Success
Eric Byrnes is on the radar screen as a base stealer. He’s no Jose Reyes or Alfonso Soriano, but his 25 swipes in 28 attempts in ’06, established that he’ll pick his spots, and the choices will usually be good ones.
We’d like to see Byrnesie take 30+ bags this year. That’s going to take the right combination of circumstances. In addition to his starting 150 + games this year, it would be helpful if the Diamondbacks built running into their game a bit more. Especially since they don’t have any 45+ homer guys–Byrnes will probably bat cleanup and we think 35 homers would be a spectacular year for him–the D’Backs have to find other ways to come up with runs. We think Chris Young and Orlando Hudson are the prime candidates to join Byrnes in a base-stealing gang, though we say this with the proviso that Hudson get better at picking his spots; he was 9-6 last year. A patient pinch-hitter who works the walk and can be a threat to run will be available, if fourth outfielder Jeff DaVanon rehabs fully from surgery for an injury sustained last August while stealing a base. The more runners a team has, the more opportunities to get into the pitcher’s head and to induce the catcher to make a wild throw.
As for Byrnes himself, working more walks will add to his base-stealing total. As they say, "you can’t steal first." We’d also like to see him improve his sliding technique, which an MLB.com writer once described as reminiscent of someone diving into the neighbor’s pool. Eric sometimes starts his slide too soon, which slows him up going into the bag. On a bang-bang play like a stolen base attempt, those fractions of a second he loses by sliding too soon could be the difference between "safe" and "out."
Byrnes also needs to keep a handle on his enthusiasm to avoid getting picked off. We know that some pitchers just have outstanding moves and they’re gonna git’cha sometimes. But too much dancing too far off the bag will be a thief’s undoing. We still remember Byrnes’ first game as a Baltimore Oriole in July ’05. He hit a double and two minutes later, got picked off second.
Last, but not least, we note that 2 of his 3 "caught stealing" came on pitchouts toward the end of the year. Eric has to know that managers are now aware of the threat he represents on the basepaths, and which managers are more likely to try a pitchout than others. (Some don’t like the idea of giving the batter a ball and would rather the catcher just try to throw the runner out).
By and large, we think improving his sliding technique, keeping a handle on his enthusiasm and being aware of pitchout managers and situations are small adjustments that will refine a talent that has yet to be fully explored and exploited. Eric’s bigger challenge will be to take some more pitches. This is where having a team that runs more in general will help him. If Young, Hudson, or even Drew are on ahead of him and a threat to go, he’ll have to take a few pitches to give them a chance.
So we’d like to see some organized crime on the basepaths this year. And we look forward to what the ring-leader will do.