Lakeland, Fla. — The Tigers were not a good baserunning team in 2014. But to be honest, compared to Jim Leyland's station-to-station teams of 2012 and 2013, they were like the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals.
"We are going to be aggressive," third-base coach Dave Clark said Wednesday. "We are going to push the envelope and make defenses make mistakes. And if we can have everybody think along those lines we will be successful more than we will fail."
One of manager Brad Ausmus' first points of emphasis when he took over last year was for the Tigers to be a greedier baserunning team. He knew he didn't have a team full of speedsters, but he thought creating an aggressive approach right out of the gate would translate into more extra bases and thus more scoring chances.
It didn't go exactly as planned.
"I still think we need to be aggressive on the bases," Ausmus said earlier this month. "But we need to be intelligently aggressive. We can't just run into outs. Last year I thought there were times we ran into outs when it wasn't necessary."
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Tigers made 60 outs on baserunning plays last season, not including pickoffs or being caught stealing. Ian Kinsler (11), Nick Castellanos (seven) and J.D. Martinez (seven) were the main culprits.
The Tigers had 20 runners thrown out at the plate and were successful on just 40 percent of their attempts to take an additional base on a single or double.
"We have to be very aware as baserunners — what the situation is, what the score is, what inning and who is coming up to the plate," Ausmus said. "I still want guys to force the issue on the defense, to some extent force them to make the play. But we have to be smarter."
Of the 335 runners who were on first base when a single was hit last season, only 94 got to third. Only 40 runners out of 104 scored from first on a double. From second base, 123 of 212 scored on a single.
While Clark is the traffic cop at third base, Omar Vizquel will be running the baserunning drills this spring.
"The biggest thing, especially down here, if you are going to get people thrown out, this is the time to do it," Clark said. "We are going to stretch the limits down here. I've got to find out who these guys are, who can score from second on a base hit, who can go first to third or even score on a ball in the gap.
"This is the time for me to learn as well as these guys to learn my style, as well. If I get some guys thrown out down here, so be it. Who's going to remember that in July?"
Clark has gone over the tapes and the numbers from last year. He knows what went wrong. He may be a little quicker to put the brakes on certain runners, but his philosophy isn't going to change.
"I did see some things," he said. "But if I am going to err, I am going to err on the aggressive side. I am going to make them make plays. I preach to the guys all the time, use me as a stop sign. Keep coming until you see me stop you."
The baserunning meetings and lessons will come early in camp and they will be ongoing throughout the season.
"We will still continue to do the things that allow us to get an extra base and extra runs," Ausmus said. "We will be emphasizing things that happen in the dugout, watching things that happen on the field while you are in the dugout, things that we see on video that you can take advantage of when you are on the bases.
"Whether it be something a pitcher does or something a fielder does that allows you to take an extra base or get into scoring position — it's about paying attention to detail."
The Tigers have added some speed with center fielder Anthony Gose and shortstop Jose Iglesias to go along with Rajai Davis. Both, though, have not played enough to be seasoned baserunners. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes is athletic but is no longer the plus-baserunner he was earlier in his career.
So, the Tigers are still not a speed-burning club. Which will not, apparently, deter them from being aggressive on the bases.
"I learned a long time ago, a good third-base coach is going to get some guys thrown out," Clark said. "The guy that never gets anybody thrown out, you know what? I can't look at that guy as being that good."