Basestealing is an art, and two players who excel at it are Jacoby Ellsbury and Ben Revere. Ellsbury has done it the highest level, having pilfered 70 bags last season while establishing a Red Sox record for thefts. Revere, a 21-year-old outfielder rated as one of the top prospects in the Twins organization, swiped 45 last year in the High-A Florida State League. In separate spring-training interviews, the two speedsters discuss the art of thievery.
David Laurila: Is data important in stealing bases?
Ben Revere: It’s probably one of the key things, especially being up here trying to steal bases in the big leagues. You can’t just go on instincts. The main guys, you know, Rickey Henderson, even Ellsbury, they use a bunch of data to know how to get a jump. That one-second jump can give you a stolen base, so I use quite a few data. I work with (Twins instructor) Paul Molitor. He helps me out to work on some stuff I should learn from, some stuff I should write down and go over, to help me become a big-time baserunner.
Jacoby Ellsbury: It’s not that important at all. I like seeing it on the field. I’ll look over a little bit of game film, but basically, if it doesn’t look right, I won’t go. I’m aware of all the pitchers—what they do—but if they change something, it’s just in-game adjustments. What he does on one pitch isn’t necessarily what he’s going to do on another pitch, because they‘re always making adjustments. (Red Sox first-base coaches) Bogie (Tim Bogar) last year, and R.J. (Ron Johnson) this year—we’ll kind of have a game plan going in, and depending on how they react, we’ll go from there.
DL: Which is more valuable: pitcher data or catcher data?
Revere: I’d say pitcher. You’re going off the pitcher, so definitely the pitcher. No. 1, even in the Florida State League, they started slide-stepping on me a lot. That’s one of the main things—how quick the pitcher is. Usually we have the first-base coach timing him—every team does that—and he tells me how quick he is. That tells me that I have to get a lot better jump. If not, I still get a good jump, but usually when he picks that foot up, I take off running.
Ellsbury: It’s mainly on the pitcher. You’re mainly stealing on the pitcher; you‘re rarely stealing on the catcher. If he gives you something, then I’m most likely going to go.
DL: Can you talk about technique?
Revere: Yeah, one of the main things Molly told me is that you usually get a three-step lead off first. Last year, I got picked off two or three times, or a team knows I’m stealing because I get a really big lead and they start slide-stepping on me. Usually I’m going to be safe, but you can’t always help that. Mostly he’s been telling me to get a good average lead and when the pitcher comes set you start creeping a little bit. Out of that, what I like to do is take my lead foot and I’ll pull it back—I’ll take a step back with my lead foot so that when I start turning I won’t be turning awkwardly. I get a quick turn, so hopefully I get a good jump—a good two-second jump—to get to second base quicker.
Ellsbury: It’s all about the jump. (From) your first initial steps, you’re going to know whether you’ve stolen the base or not. Just from the number of times I’ve done it, I can tell whether I’m going to be out or safe.
DL: How much of base-running technique is from the waist up?
Revere: A lot. Probably one of the main things that get me to turn quickly is my arms. Usually, you start pumping your arms—that’s why some of the fastest guys you see have their arms in an athletic position, so when they turn they just rip their arms through so when they go to second they get a quicker jump out of their lead. That’s one of the main things. If you don’t have your upper body rotating, you slow yourself down and that‘s how you‘re going to get caught stealing. That’s why your upper body is a main, key thing of basestealing.
Ellsbury: There are little techniques. I always think that if you’re a pretty good athlete, you’re going to put yourself in the right positions with your hands and those sorts of things. If you have the right technique, you’re going to enable yourself to get from A to B and be more efficient.
DL: Is focus on the basepaths similar to what it is at the plate?
Revere: Oh yeah, it’s definitely similar. I mean, especially for a guy who’s a leadoff guy. No. 1, you want to score runs for your team to win. That’s the main thing you’ve got to do, so baserunning has been a key thing for me, even before I got drafted. Coaches have been working with me every day on baserunning, and it’s been pretty good so far. It’s nice to have a Hall of Famer like Paul Molitor helping me out because that’s one of the main things that will help me get to the big leagues.
Ellsbury: Yeah, you have to be (focused). Anybody, whether you’re stealing or not, has to be aware, and being a good baserunner isn’t just stealing bases. It’s advancing on balls in the dirt, seeing different things, and reading balls in the outfield—whether they’re going to fall—and taking an extra base. It’s not just about stealing bases.
DL: Have you had teammates who don’t like you to run when they’re hitting?
Revere: No, they all want me to run. They want RBIs, right? They want to look good. I’m trying to help them out, and help the team out, so that hopefully we can win a ball game.
Ellsbury: Not really. It doesn’t usually distract them, so it’s never really been an issue.
DL: Are there situations where you don’t want to run, because you could potentially distract the hitter?
Revere: No, usually it’s more that the coaches get mad if I run and they swing the bat—unless it’s a hit-and-run. If I’m stealing and they swing the bat, the coaches get mad because I’m putting myself into scoring position for them. Usually, if you’re a leadoff guy, you’ve got to run, basically, and the guys behind you know that. So, it’s not a distracting thing. I also like to go on the first or second pitch so I can get there quicker. I’m on second base before they get two strikes, so the guys behind me are more comfortable at the plate.
DL: Does a pitcher knowing that you like to go early give you a mental edge?
Revere: I think sometimes it does give me a little edge. Usually, I can tell by the warm-ups, but it’s kind of tough because you don’t know what they’re going to do at first, because you haven’t seen their moves. The second time you play them, they probably know how quick you are, but I also know how quick the pitcher is. That’s why I like to get going and get moving. The pitcher doesn’t expect you to be going that early. They expect you to go later in the count, so that’s why I like to go early and get there before two strikes.
DL: How important is it for you to be relaxed on the basepaths as opposed to having tension in your body?
Revere: You’ve got to be really relaxed. If you get too intense, you’ll probably get picked off or make a mistake. That’s probably one of the main things that the coaches are telling me, which is to just be relaxed and go out there and have fun. They’re going to try to pick me off every time, but you can’t be nervous. They know your speed, they know you’re quick and fast, so you have to go out there nice and smooth. You can’t steal bases, tense. It will slow you down, so you’ve got to be nice and loose, kind of like Usain Bolt a little bit.
Ellsbury: Same thing as hitting. The more relaxed you are, the quicker you’re going to be. I keep it pretty simple. It’s just something you build over the years and I kind of have my own style in baserunning. I basically do what works for me. I use the video when I need it, just kind of a quick—maybe three minutes before a game—look at it just to get the right information I need. I don’t over analyze it.
DL: Not only are you studying the pitcher, the opposition is watching you. How important is it not to tip off the other team that you’re running?
Revere: In this league, they’re really good at noticing guys who are about to steal, so I‘ve been teaching myself that you can‘t do that. You don’t want them to know you’re stealing, so I‘ve been working on some things. Every time I get on base it’s the same thing, so they really can’t know when I’m stealing.
When I’m on second base it is kind different than when I’m on first base, because I move around a lot. Usually I just get a feeling about it, so if I’m taking off I’m taking off and whatever happens happens.
Ellsbury: I try to keep everything the same, everything consistent, just so I don’t give anything away. And yeah, that’s just like a pitcher—it‘s the same thing. You’re trying not to give the other team any information.
DL: How much wear and tear comes from stealing 70 bases in a season?
Ellsbury: Once the season was over I felt pretty good. My body felt pretty solid. I was fortunate to stay healthy last year, but it does—it does take a toll on your body. Fortunately for me, last year I did feel pretty good.
DL: Is it more fun to steal third than second?
Revere: Yeah, because you’ve got to get momentum moving toward third base. If you’re on first base you just kind of stand there a little bit, so I like stealing third base a lot better.
DL: What about a straight steal of home? Jacoby Ellsbury did that last season.
Revere: Actually, I did that in high school, but here…I want to do that, but you really can’t take the risk. But hopefully one of these days I can make it happen.
Ellsbury: It was just a matter of instinct; it was just a matter of going. If I saw him go back in his windup, I was going to go. There were really no…it wasn‘t a build up. It was just a matter of, 'OK, if I see him go, I’m taking off.' There were no second thoughts. If you think you’re going to be out…it was just on reaction.
Revere: Yeah, those guys were ridiculously quick. Hopefully one of these days Gardy (Twins manager Ron Gardenhire) will give me the sign to steal home in a coupe of games. It would be nice.
Ellsbury: It depends, you know. Pitchers, a lot of time, had big windups and leg kicks back in the day, so that’s a reason you could steal a lot more bases. Now pitchers have slide-steps and that sort of thing, and that was never even thought of before. I think that’s a reason why that was done a lot more often. Now with scouting reports and stuff like that, it’s a lot tougher, but it’s still possible.
DL: Any final thoughts on the running game?
Ellsbury: I think one big thing is that it takes, through 162 games, a toll on your body but you’re just putting the team in a position to stay out of the double play and in a position to, with one hit, score a run and maybe two. Yeah, a lot of times with good baserunning you can take the extra base and a lot of it is instinct, and you don’t necessarily have to be the fastest guy to be an efficient baserunner. But obviously, with speed in addition to good baserunning, you’re going to be an elite baserunner.