It all innocently started in Detroit when Tigers manager Brad Ausmus discussed whether pitchers or catchers were more accountable for a stolen base.
Ausmus, a catcher for 18 years in Major League Baseball, provided the opinion that it was all on the pitcher.
“It’s how much the pitchers vary their holds, delivery time to the plate, how deliberate they are with their delivery,” Ausmus said. “There’s all types of things, but base stealers steal off the pitcher.”
Accountability on stolen bases is an opinion that can provide mixed thoughts, but one that provides thought regardless of the stance.
Joe Torre spent 10 seasons as a Major League catcher and 24 seasons as a manager during which time he won 2,326 games. During his time as a catcher, he recalled trying to throw out Maury Wills and Lou Brock, but having a hard time. It is no surprise that as a former catcher that he largely agrees with Ausmus’s views.
“Giving a catcher time to properly unload is really depending on how quickly the pitcher can get the ball to the catcher,” said Torre. “It’s really so important on the pitcher and it doesn’t mean that he has to have a quick delivery, he just has to make sure that he changes up what the delivery is. That’s what we always taught our pitchers because you can’t create something that isn’t there, but you can have a pitcher just change his tempo all the time just to make sure that the base runner can’t time him and be able to make it easy for him to steal a base.”
Dave Roberts had perhaps the most well-known steal in baseball history with his theft in game four of the 2004 ALCS.
Roberts, now bench coach for the San Diego Padres, was of the opinion that pitcher and catcher both assume responsibility, though the situation varies who is more responsible. When recalling his infamous stolen base, Roberts discussed his strategy which involved hours of study of pitchers and their tendencies.
“There was a lot of studying of Mariano [Rivera] and knowing he was going to hold the ball on me,” Roberts said. “We had a great team, and I was a role player at that time and I just wanted to make something. Fortunately it was more of an opportunity for me to create something but [Jorge] Posada made a great catch and throw. I think he was a 1.7 from home to second base but I got a good jump and fortunately I was safe.”
Josh Harrison offered a similar school of thought.
“A lot of times you’re picking spots off the pitcher because the catchers are going to do what they do, but a lot of times maybe if you pick a pitch that you believe he is going to throw it may help you decide,” said Harrison. “You have a better idea of what may be coming in certain situations.”
Chris Stewart provided the view point sharing blame with the pitcher. Stewart has been known as a defensive catcher and has thrown 33 percent of runners attempting to steal.
“It can be tough, especially when you’re trying to set up and not trying to give up location,” said Stewart. “At the same token it’s the pitcher trying to do his job and a guy close and get a throw off. My biggest thing is the pitcher varying their times when they come to the plate. As long as they’re not being a robot back there, a guy can’t time them up. It makes a guy second guess if a pitcher is going to sidestep or use a high leg kick.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle took pitcher’s delivery, release point and the catchers throwing while equally saying all were responsible for a successful stolen base.
“Sometimes you can take advantage of a pitcher’s release point,” Hurdle said. “Neil Walker stole a base [during a Wednesday game against Detroit] based solely on [Alfredo] Simon’s release point, it had nothing to do with the catcher. Sometimes you do get it on a catcher, there’s been some situations on teams we’ve played where the longer release time is there. Sometimes we just have some very good guys that get some very good reads off pitchers but it’s basically just a really good jump from the base runners. It can be a combination of two of the three or three of the three but it’s not just one thing ever.”
Regardless of who is most accountable, stolen bases very much have their place in the game and they are here to stay.
“The home runs are down and if you can steal a base at a high percentage, then it’s still a good baseball play,” said Roberts. “There’s a lot of information now and I think that getting a good lead of jump supersedes everything.”