Jose David Flores, the Phillies’ new first-base coach, folds a sheet of paper before each game and tucks it into the back pocket of his uniform pants. The coach has overseen a dramatic shift this season in how the Phillies approach baserunning. They are one of baseball’s most aggressive teams and are on pace to attempt 80 more steals than a season ago.
And it is on that sheet of paper where the Phillies can find their edge.
“More than likely, when you see guys taking off, it’s because we have a really good type of information given to the base stealers that it’s a good time to steal a base,” Flores said.
The Phillies have infused their team with analytics, which manager Gabe Kapler said is really just a fancy term for information. They shift their infielders and outfielders dramatically based on scouting reports and spray charts. Their catchers wear wristbands detailing the tendencies of opposing batters. The hitters have been instructed to work deep counts and not shy away from strikeouts. The Phillies look for any advantage they can find. Baserunning is no different.
The advanced scouting department compiles a report before each game for Flores, who then digs into video of the last four or five starts from an opposing pitcher and searches for clues. He studies to see how long a pitcher takes to throw to the plate, how likely he is to try a pick-off move, what his leg kick looks like. Flores holds pregame meetings with the baserunners in the team’s prep room, which was built before the season, and passes on that information.
“It goes hand in hand with the pitching and hitting, right? It’s just knowing a little bit more information,” Rhys Hoskins said. “You’re not empty when you get out there. You have a little bit of what this guy does. You see it for yourself. Now you’re pretty confident of what’s going to happen.”
The Phillies entered Friday with 16 steals in 24 attempts. Last season, they ranked fifth-to-last in stolen bases, as they swiped just 59 bases in 84 attempts. Kapler and Flores told the runners during spring training to be aggressive. Find your limits, they said.
The Phillies are asking not just speedsters such as Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery to be aggressive, but players such as Hoskins who might not win a 100-yard dash but have the instincts to know when to steal. Hoskins already has three steals, including one at third base. He knows how to read a pitcher, Hoskins said, and find a chance to steal. Most players entered the season with green lights as they use the information Flores provides to determine the best situation to steal.
“We encourage them to be aggressive, but at the same time, they need to be smart,” Flores said. “We don’t want to just give away outs on the bases because we know over the course of a game, our lineup can produce four or five runs in a single inning. We don’t want to be so aggressive that we don’t give Hoskins or [Carlos] Santana a chance to drive in runs.”
Kingery reached first base last week in Atlanta with a 10th-inning walk. The Phillies had the winning run on, and Flores reached for the paper in his back pocket.
“Let’s say, for example, Max Scherzer, a pitcher we haven’t even faced, is more than likely to bounce a breaking ball on a 1-2 count against a power hitter. Then that’s something I’ll relay to the baserunner,” Flores said. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, more than likely, he’s going to bounce one here, so this is a good spot to run.’ We take advantage of that. If we can anticipate that, we’re going to have an edge.”
Flores reviewed his sheet — which has the information he presents to the runners before each game — and told Kingery he had a chance. The Phillies do not limit their intel to just starting pitchers, so Flores knew the tendencies of Braves reliever Jose Ramirez. Kingery broke for second base on the second pitch Ramirez threw and was safe. The Phillies had a rally brewing. And it started with a sheet of paper.
“We had good information,” Kingery said. “I felt confident. Flo reminds us of whatever it is once we get on base. He’s a huge help. He knows his stuff. Any advantage we can get, he’s out there helping us.”