Henning: Tigers plagued by baserunning gaffes

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Russell Martin tags out Victor Martinez at home in the second inning Saturday.

Toronto – They always look bad, and unnecessary. They’re the ultimate indictable offense in the view of fans.    

Baserunning blunders.

And the Tigers are racking up their share this weekend in Toronto.

Jose Iglesias made one in the third inning of Friday night’s 6-0 Tigers loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.     

After slashing a leadoff double, Iglesias was at second with one out when Cameron Maybin slapped a comeback one-hopper to Jays pitcher J.A. Happ. Iglesias sped for third and was an easy out when Happ tossed to third baseman Josh Donaldson.

“I don’t know if it was a mis-read, or over-aggressiveness,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said before Saturday’s game, which the Tigers won, 3-2. “ He knew he screwed up. I talked with him.”

In the second inning Saturday, Victor Martinez decided he could score from third on Steven Moya’s line-drive fly to medium-range left. But he didn’t, even if left-fielder Ezequiel Carrera hoisted a relay throw that looked more like a javelin toss as it hurtled through the air, in a rainbow arc, before plunking into the mitt of Russell Martin at home plate.

Martinez was out.

The assumption from afar was Carrera’s arm is no secret to the Tigers. They had determined that even creaky-kneed Martinez could score from third on a fly ball and that Martinez had been given the go-ahead from third-base coach Dave Clark.

But no.

“Vic did it on his own,” Ausmus said afterward. “He’s a veteran guy. He has game instincts. The throw was right there, and he still barely got him.”

Andrew Romine had his moment to forget, also, Saturday. 

Following a one-out double in the seventh, he was standing at second, then tried to play a game of derring-do as he danced far from the bag, prepared to grab third after third baseman Josh Donaldson snagged Ian Kinsler’s ground ball and threw to first.

One problem: Donaldson waited out Romine and flipped a throw to second. Romine was out as he dived for the bag.

Ausmus understood Romine’s motivation. Be aggressive. But he already was in scoring position. It ended up being something of a no-penalty trade when Kinsler, who was safe at first on the fielder’s choice, moved to third on a throwing error. He didn’t score.

Iglesias’ gaffe Friday might well have cost the Tigers a run, given that Miguel Cabrera later singled. It’s a fundamental baserunning rule that a runner at second, in a non-force situation, can’t yield scoring position on a grounder that makes him a dead duck at third.

Iglesias did. Moreover, he ran into the tag. He didn’t slide, didn’t attempt to evade, didn’t do anything to mitigate a bad decision. It’s not the first time this season it’s happened to him on a ground ball to the infield’s left side, or, in this case, to the mound,

But it wasn’t the reason Iglesias had a day off and Andrew Romine was starting at shortstop Saturday against tough Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez. Ausmus was loading up with as many left-handed bats as possible, and there was nothing punitive about Iglesias’ breather.

“Human beings make mistakes,” Ausmus said. “And there’s really nothing more to it.

“I wouldn’t say it (running into outs) happens to him more than others. It was a mistake.  .

“It happens to every player.”

Tigers baserunning has been a lingering issue and shows no signs of changing, at least dramatically.

The team is hamstrung by players who can’t run with any steam, principally, Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. They have runners on the plus side in Kinsler, who is excellent, Cameron Maybin, and even Justin Upton. But according to baseball’s wide range of metrics, the Tigers simply don’t run well, or aggressively, or altogether wisely, even when slow runners are taken into consideration.

FanGraphs lists them 28th among 30 teams in BsR (Cardinals and Mariners 29th and 30th), which takes into consideration a palette full of skills and efficiencies: stolen bases, caught stealings, grounding into double plays, taking extra bases, advancing on fly balls and ground-outs, with “weightings” further refining the categories.

It’s consistent with findings by analytics expert Bill James and his researchers and by metrics students across the game. The Tigers simply don’t run with great fire or discretion, an area that was supposed to have improved in 2016 after it was made a point of daily emphasis during spring camp.

“I think overall we’re pretty good,” Ausmus said. “It hasn’t been an issue. Really, everyone’s been fine. They make the occasional mistake. But it certainly hasn’t been a problem.”

Iglesias has played brilliantly since June ushered in a return to his former ways: lots of hits, a surplus of excellent plays, with more spice obvious in his game and in his demeanor.

But the occasional gaffe does, and no doubt will, be on display. It’s part of being human, the manager insists, and nothing makes mortals understand their flaws quite like baseball.


Twitter @lynn_henning