Davey Martinez didn’t have any problem with Trea Turner trying to steal second with Bryce Harper at the plate and two out in the fifth inning of last Saturday’s game in Citizens Bank Park.
“You’re talking about somebody that’s leading the league in stolen bases,” Martinez said after what ended up a 3-2 loss to the Phillies, though Michael A. Taylor actually led the National League at that point, with 23 to Turner’s 22, and the Braves’ Ender Inciarte is tied with Taylor for the lead now.
Turner was thrown out by Philly catcher Jorge Alfaro, whose near-perfect throw still just managed to get the Nationals’ shortstop on that attempt.
“He thought he had a good jump,” Martinez said. “Alfaro threw a bullet. I think his pop time was like 1.7, so he’s pretty good.”
MLB.com’s Statcast’s look at the play showed a 1.77 second pop time, with Alfaro firing off a 92+ mph throw to catch Turner for just the third time in 25 attempts overall this season.
MLB.com writer Todd Zolecki noted on Twitter that the throw by Alfaro, which was wide to the first base side of second with the defense in the shift on Harper, requiring a slick swipe tag by Philly third baseman Jesmuel Valentin to get Turner, “... was tracked at 92.5 mph, making it the hardest throw on a caught stealing and the second-hardest overall throw by a catcher in Statcast history.”
Jorge Alfaro vs. Trea Turner is a dream matchup of arm vs. legs.— #Statcast (@statcast) July 1, 2018
Tonight, @_JorgeAlfaro11 won the battle with this 92.5 mph throw and 1.77-second pop time!
- The hardest CS throw by a catcher in #statcast history
- The 2nd-fastest pop time on a CS throw since 2015 pic.twitter.com/iM8YwWXjOa
The Phillies’ backstop got Turner again in the next game in Philadelphia, cutting him down after a two-out single in the 12th inning of what ended up a 13-inning loss for the Nationals.
So how aware was Turner of Alfaro’s arm going in? Had he looked at the “pop time” or the, “... the time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder is projected to receive his throw at the center of the base,” as it’s defined by MLB’s Glossary?
“To be honest, I never really look at the catcher,” Turner said when asked if he studied the opposing team’s backstops before a game.
“The only time I worry about catchers is maybe like back picks,” he explained.
“Alfaro is a guy you have to worry about throwing behind you at second base and first base.
“The guys with really good arms can back pick you.
“When I’m stealing bases, I base it all off the pitcher. If I think I can steal then I go, and like you saw, [Alfaro’s] got to make a really good throw in order to get me, [Michael A. Taylor], and some of the guys. So that’s what I look at.”
“For me it’s more so the pitcher,” Taylor said when asked the same. “I don’t really look at the catcher too much. I have an idea of who has a good arm and things like that.”
As for what they’re looking at with pitchers, Taylor said his concern was, “mainly time to the plate,” though he added that he does consider other factors.
“I’m looking at his move and anything I can pick up to get an edge, so you can get a better jump the slower he is to the plate, and the better chance you have.”
While the Nationals and National League’s top base stealers don’t really look at the catchers, first base coach Tim Bogar said, “I do.”
“You have to know who can throw and who can’t. It’s not going to stop us from running just because the catcher can throw, but there’s more than one factor that you put into play, and the catcher is one of them.
“Alfaro if you look back and you look at the balls that he threw guys out on, they were all fastballs away, kind of really good balls to throw, and if he didn’t throw the ball perfectly we’re safe, so we take our chances, we’ve got two of the fastest guys in the league.”
“I mean it’s always a calculated risk,” Taylor said. “I think it depends on the pitcher first.
“If you feel like you have a chance with the pitcher, then you challenge that [catcher] to make a play, the same as when the third base coach is making that call on whether or not [to send] the runner around third. He sees where the ball is at, thinks he has a shot, but then he still runs the risk of that guy making a great throw, so I think with Trea’s speed he’s just going to keep going and challenge him to make the perfect throw every time.”
Bogar said he does everything he can to prepare his runners for the opportunities they have once they get to first base, providing all the information he can.
“We look at the pitcher’s time to the plate,” he explained, “we look at their slide step, but we also break down the pitcher and everything they do, whether that’s how many looks they do, how long they hold the ball, what part of their body goes first, how quick their moves are to first base, so we know how big a lead we can get, there’s all kind of little factors that if you study hard enough on every pitcher, they’re going to give you advantages to steal a base.”
“Time to plate is like the one thing,” Turner added. “I look at how fast he is and like his move, so if I can make that time to the plate as long as possible cause I see something really early, and make it like a 1.3 a 1.4 or something like that.”
“That part is observational,” Bogar said, “but the statistical part is the times to the plate, but when you look at the statistics part of it, if you figure out a certain tell that a pitcher has and you go off of that, well, his times go up, and if we can get to a certain time, we know, so if I know Trea or Michael can get to second base in 3.1 seconds, and he’s getting there in half of that, we’re going to be okay.
“So obviously using those stats gives them a better advantage.”
“It’s there for you,” Taylor said of the data that’s available these days.
“They have as much information as you want. They kind of let you pick and choose. Some guys like a little more, some guys like a little less, so it’s kind of finding what works for you.”
Taylor falls over on the side of using it a little more.
“Maybe a little more than other guys,” he said, “anything I can do to get an edge going into it, and make me feel comfortable once I’m out there, like if I’ve seen his move on video twenty times before I get out there, then I’m not surprised.”
“They provide us with a bunch of stuff,” Turner said. “Counts they throw pitches in, all that stuff.”
“There’s stats and analytics for those, but sometimes I feel like you can get paralyzed by that stuff, so I try not to look at it too, too much.”
Both Turner and Taylor say they learned a lot from former first base coach Davey Lopes, who was decidedly more old school in his approach than Bogar.
“He was very aggressive and pushed us really hard to take what the other team gives us, and he had one of the best eyes that I’ve seen on stealing bases, picking up little keys to give you that edge,” Taylor said.
“If there’s a stolen base there or if there’s a chance you can steal, he wanted you to go,” Turner said, “and that confidence was something that I had never played with or been coached by.”
“[Bogar] brings his own things to the table,” Taylor said when asked to compare the two.
“He’s been really good with getting us that information and picking up little keys to go off of and things like that.”
“[Bogar] lets us go,” Turner added. “I think it’s a little bit more analytical. He gives us more stats than Davey did, Davey was a little bit more old school, but everyone’s different and the way Bogar has given us the stats has allowed us to maybe expand our game a little bit, because we never had that with Davey. [Bogar] kind of lets us do our thing, whereas Davey would kind of yell at us if we didn’t go, so it’s a little bit different style, but I think there are definitely positives.”
“I think me and [Michael A. Taylor] are kind of the two that are allowed to go for the most part whenever we want.”
“I love having the green light,” Taylor said.
“I appreciate that they believe in us enough to give us that freedom to go cause it definitely makes it easier when you feel like you have that whole at bat or multiple at bats to try to get to the next base.
“Sometimes when you feel like you have to go on this pitch, you might force it and run.”
Bogar said he found both receptive to what he had to offer, but in the end it was up to Turner and Taylor and their instincts.
“That’s the thing, base-stealing is instinctual, because you have to be able to read the pitcher,” he explained, “so the stats themselves are just kind of giving you an overview of, “Okay, this is a guy that I probably have to be a little more perfect with my timing, with my jump, with my read, whereas there are other pitchers that are longer to the plate and those numbers tell you that it might not mean as good a jump, but you can still steal a base off him.”