Maddon gives Rays freedom to run
Tampa Bay leading Major Leagues in stolen bases
CHICAGO -- They live by the steal. They die by the steal.
More than any other team in baseball, the Rays work the bases like their own personal track meet.
They are fast, they know it, and, generally speaking, they've been given the liberty to run free whenever they feel the urge, thanks to Rays manager Joe Maddon's aggressive approach.
"I think it all starts with Joe just giving us that freedom," Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "It's an honor that he trusts us."
No team in the Major Leagues even comes close to the 137 stolen bases the Rays have accumulated thus far this season. Entering Tuesday's games, the Angels carried the second-highest total with 94.
In fact, the Rays have three players -- Bartlett, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton -- who have combined to amass 97 stolen bases this season, or more than any other 25-man team in the big leagues
Crawford leads the Majors with 46 steals, Upton is fourth with 31 and Bartlett is tied for 11th with 20. To put Crawford's stolen-base success in perspective, consider that he has more steals than six entire teams and is tied with another.
But the trust Maddon displays in his players can be both a gift and a curse for the risk-taking Rays.
Case in point: The gift. With the Rays up to their usual tricks on the bases during Monday night's 4-3 loss to the White Sox in Chicago, they stole two bases to extend their Major League-leading total to 137. Before Bartlett stole second base in the eighth inning, first baseman Carlos Pena executed a steal of second in the fourth inning, just his second theft of 2009.
Case in point: The curse. The Rays also were caught stealing twice on Monday. Crawford was nabbed at second in the first inning, while Bartlett was thrown out on perhaps the biggest play of the game in the eighth. He got a bad jump but still ran on his own in an attempt to swipe third with one out in the inning. The play killed a Rays' rally in a game they went on to lose by one run.
"There's times where we run when we probably shouldn't, but that's just Joe giving us that freedom," Bartlett said. "Even when we do make mistakes, he tells us to stay aggressive, and that kind of relaxes us even more."
Despite the lack of execution on Bartlett's attempt, Maddon said he learned long ago as a manager in the Minor Leagues that those mistakes come with the territory of allowing runners to pick and choose when they want to run -- without the manager's interference.
"To try to put signs on or pick spots for them, I don't think they're ever going to really achieve the level of their abilities with restraint," Maddon said. "I would rather them make that determination. ... I think with all good basestealers, you really need to let them be creative on their own. It's an art, in a sense, and I don't want to restrict them in any way."
Maddon's approach seems to be working. The Rays have stolen 137 bases in 170 attempts, good for an 80.6 percent success rate. The Angels, meanwhile, have been caught 32 times while stealing their 94 bases (74.6 percent).
Crawford said he, too, is thankful for the freedom given to him by Maddon.
"The only time we stop is when they give us the red light, but other than that, we're looking to run every time," Crawford said.
And how often does Maddon put the stop sign on his runners?
"It's very rare," Crawford said. "It's not too often they give it to us. Whenever he wants a certain guy to hit, then maybe he might do it.
"If you're a guy that likes to do a lot of things and run, then you like the fact that he doesn't give you the red light."
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.