Believe it or not, Tigers baserunning improved in ’16

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Depending on your perspective, this is either a dubious achievement or progress.

The Tigers, despite ranking among the worst baserunning teams in baseball last year, actually improved in most significant baserunning metrics.

“It’s an improvement,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We talked last spring about improving the baserunning and we brought Kirk Gibson in, and the baserunning improved. Is it good enough? No. It needs to improve more.”

Here is the list of metrics in which the club improved over 2015:

■ Total baserunning (BSR): 8-point improvement.

■ Runs on the bases (UBR): 1-point improvement.

■ Stolen base percentage: 5 percent improvement.

■ Pickoffs: Five fewer.

■ Outs on the bases: Five fewer.

■ Outs at home: Eight fewer.

■ Total bases taken: 54 more.

“The players and Gibby get the credit,” Ausmus said, with a chuckle. “I don’t want the credit, and I don’t want the blame.”

The Tigers still had the lowest percentage of extra bases taken in baseball last season (per Bill James Abstract) and had 55 runners thrown out on the bases (17 at home). But, as Ausmus said earlier this spring, the Tigers are not built to run.

“We’re not a fast team; we’re a team that slugs,” he said. “If somebody thinks they’re going to turn Victor Martinez into a base-stealing threat, they are off their rocker.

“You try to improve the little things in baserunning. You take what you have and try to make it as good as possible. We’re still not going to be a fast team. There’s just no way around it.”

Gibson has been working with baserunners the last two days.

“It’s not really fundamentals,” Ausmus said. “These guys know the basic baserunning fundamentals. It’s more the details surrounding the fundamentals.”

Gibson is not only doing on-field instruction, he’s also prepared extensive video presentations.

“A guy was just barely out or barely safe — what are the components that make you barely safe or barely out?” Gibson said, explaining his approach. “There are a lot of elements. A lot of it is concentration. You have to learn how to process everything that’s in front of you to determine whether you can make it or not.”

About center field

Ausmus is asked almost daily about the competition in center field, but until the games start, there’s not much evaluation going on.

As he said Tuesday, he’s not seen Mikie Mahtook play very much. He’s seen Tyler Collins play plenty of corner outfield, but not much in center. Rookie JaCoby Jones played third base during his brief call-up last year.

The only candidate he’s seen play center field on a regular basis is Anthony Gose.

“In theory, we have enough offensive production at other positions to be able to put a premium on defense in center,” he said. “But the question becomes, do we have a premium defensive center fielder in the mix? That’s what we don’t know.”

Ausmus reiterated what he’s said since the Winter Meetings — a platoon is likely.

“I wouldn’t say it’s etched in stone, but if I were to guess, I’d say it will be a mix of players,” he said. “Though that could change.”

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Andrew Romine, super-utility player, is also in the mix to play some center field.

“He was fine in center field last year, but he never really got tested,” Ausmus said. “In all the games he played in spring and during the season, he never got tested. We think with his speed and instincts he’d be a good center fielder, but I’d like to see him get tested.

“But how much he plays out there is going to come down to how well the other guys play.”

Goofy lineups

How do you like this for top of the order: Ian Kinsler leading off, followed by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez? Or how about Cabrera hitting leadoff?

It might happen in the first few exhibition games this spring.

“You guys will have a field day with some of the lineups I put out there in the first few games,” Ausmus said. “The guys who are going to play in the WBC, they need to get a few extra at-bats, so you may see them at the top of the order – Kins, Miggy, Vic and Efren Navarro.

“Do not read anything into those lineups.”