Who was that fast man? Lopes tutors men of steal

Posted: April 02, 2007

It was the perfect opportunity to run, but Jimmy Rollins did not take it.

Bad idea.

"Did you see that? Did you see that?" Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes asked Rollins later. "When he gives you that, you've got to go. You've got to run. If you see that the first pitch and he does it again the second pitch, you've got to go. You've got to run."

Keep in mind: It was Feb. 28 and the Phillies were playing an exhibition against Florida State, their final tune-up before their Grapefruit League opener. The kid on the mound from FSU basically handed Rollins second base, but Rollins wasn't quite ready to run.

Lopes, who hopes to make Rollins, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn better base stealers and cause countless headaches for the opposition, hardly cared that it was only an exhibition against a college kid. He wants Phillies runners to always be ready to go.

"That's good," Rollins said. "You need somebody with that energy at first base. Because sometimes you know you can go, but you need a push. Your legs might be a little tired that day, but somebody gets on you and gives you just enough of that burst to get to second.

"Now somebody can get you over and get you in. That's a run right there. That's a run that wouldn't have happened had you stayed at first. That groundball to second base is probably a double-play ball, but now I'm on third. Or possibly home because I was already on third."

Lopes, who joined the Phillies' coaching staff in the off-season, has a passion for stealing bases. A longtime fixture atop the Dodgers' lineups of the 1970s and '80s, Lopes stole 557 in his career, which ranks 25th on the all-time list.

"It's almost like good base stealers are in control in the game," Lopes said. "They change the complexion of the game. They change the speed of the game. It's almost like speed slows down the game because people get defensive.

"They try to slow the runner down. They'll step off. They'll try to do all these crazy things to combat this individual that's over there at first. But you have to be aggressive. Fearless. I call it confidence. A lot of people call it cockiness. I like to say it's confidence with humility, but I'll call it cockiness if you don't have any humility."

Lopes broke down his keys to being a special base stealer:

1. Speed and quickness - "You have to have one of the two, or a combination thereof."

2. The mental makeup - "A base stealer challenges you every time he's on base. Almost like the attention goes from the hitter to equally the hitter and the runner on base. Because there is the anticipation of him going at any particular time. You have to have a fearless mentality, almost a cocksure-type attitude. It's knowing yourself. It's knowing what you're capable of doing and what you're not capable of doing."

3. Reading a pitcher - "Looking for key spots on a pitcher's body. It could be any idiosyncrasy that he has. It could be as simple as a guy looking down every time he throws to first base and then when goes home he doesn't look down. I'm not going to say I can get everybody, but enough to the point where it will be very helpful to me. And then if you don't, it might a rhythm-type thing."

A 75 percent success rate is considered to be the percentage a base stealer needs to justify his running. Otherwise he's only hurting his team's chances to score. Lopes wants at least an 80 percent success rate to steal second and at least a 90 percent success rate to steal third.

Baseball Prospectus said a runner on first with no outs is worth 0.9116 runs. It jumps to 1.1811 runs with a runner on second and no outs. It plummets to 0.2783 runs with nobody on and one out.

In other words, the loss is about 2.3 times the gain.

So if you want to steal, you better make it.

"It comes with practice," said Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who is second on baseball's all-time list with 938 stolen bases. "It's just like hitting. You don't learn to hit unless you hit. You don't learn to steal bases unless you take off."

Brock and Lopes agree that the combination of speed, quickness and an ability to read a pitcher is lethal.

"You can have a guy that's fast and have a guy that's not as fast," Lopes said. "If the guy that's not as fast reads keys quicker, he more than likely is going to get there sooner than the faster guy, because he'll already be in motion when the other guy hasn't moved yet."

But there is time involved, too.

See the stopwatch Lopes has at first? He's constantly clicking.

He's clicking the stopwatch from the moment he picks up the pitcher's first motion to the plate - it's like a tell in poker - and clicking the stopwatch again at the moment the ball reaches the catcher.

A time of 1.4 to 1.5 seconds to the plate is manna from heaven.

"Your catcher would have to have a bazooka to throw out a guy with speed," Lopes said. "You don't really worry about the catcher because if the pitcher doesn't give him enough time to throw him out, it doesn't make any difference."

If the pitcher keeps his time below 1.28 seconds and the catcher has a good arm, it's going to be a challenge to run.

Most pitchers would be happy with a 1.3.

"But if you get an elite base stealer, he's still going to beat the throw," Lopes said. "But if a guy goes 1.1, 1.2, and there's a catcher that can throw? That's a nightmare. You're hoping for a bad throw at that point. I wouldn't run in that kind of situation."

Rollins said Lopes has helped him in his desire to steal third. He hasn't stolen third much in the past.

Lopes is a big fan of stealing third.

"They always say it's easier to steal third than it is to steal second," Lopes said. "Yeah, if you know what you're doing. You're not going to steal third if you don't. You won't even try. You're already in scoring position. It behooves you not to run. But if somebody is giving me the base, if he's slowing his delivery, I'm taking it. I'm a firm believer in taking third because you can score from third in other ways you can't score from second. But you better make it. You better make it."

It's clear Lopes wants these guys to run, but run with intelligence. He knows the potential this lineup has, and he doesn't want to run his team out of any innings.

Outs are precious.

"The game situation dictates what you can and can't do," he said. "Who's at the plate? You have to be careful, especially on our team with our three and four guys [Chase Utley and Ryan Howard]. But when you've got a guy who knows what he's doing, he can screw up a whole team. When you come in and it says, 'Keep this guy off the bases' - how many guys are like that today?"

Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.

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