The Washington Nationals were among the most aggressive teams on the bases in 2017, but their offensive strategy could be completely different in 2018.
Davey Lopes served as the Washington Nationals‘ first base coach for the past two years, but he will not return in 2018. He is widely regarded as one of the best first base coaches around, and his presence led to the Nats becoming one of the best baserunning teams in the league.
Last year, under Lopes, the Nats had the third-most stolen bases in the National League. The Nats have some excellent base stealers, most notably Trea Turner, but Lopes certainly made an impact. Now, the Nats must prepare for life without him.
Lopes will be succeeded by Tim Bogar, who brings quite a bit of coaching experience to the table. He last served as a first base coach in 2009 for the Boston Red Sox, but he has served as a third base coach, bench coach, and manager since.
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The 2009 Red Sox stole 126 bases with Bogar as first base coach, which was good for fifth in the league. This was largely due to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s incredible 70 stolen bases, but Bogar helped average base stealers, such as Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, and Kevin Youkilis, combine to steal 40 bags.
Now with the Nats, Bogar will attempt to continue to build upon the aggressive culture that Lopes established. However, Bogar is not quite the coach that Lopes is. This is not a knock on Bogar; Lopes is just on a whole other level.
The Nats’ roster and lineup construction could also be detrimental to stolen bases. Adam Eaton will be back in 2018, which should theoretically improve the running game, but he could actually hurt it.
Dave Martinez announced that Eaton will lead off for the Nats, which means Turner will presumably bat second. Eaton is a solid base stealer, but Turner is elite. Because of this, Turner may be better suited for the leadoff spot.
If Turner bats second and reaches base, he may not be able to steal as much as he would like. Bryce Harper will likely bat third, which means Turner would have to steal with Harper at the plate. Attempting to steal could be distracting to Harper, who is arguably the Nats’ best hitter, but it would also be an enormous gut punch to get thrown out with Harper batting.
For this reason, Turner may be more productive batting lower in the lineup if he is not going to lead off. He possesses game-changing speed, but he could be restricted on the basepaths with Harper batting behind him.
Although the Nats have several capable base stealers, such as Turner, Eaton, Michael Taylor, Wilmer Difo, and Brian Goodwin, their running game may regress in 2018. The great base stealers may not be affected much, but players like Harper and Anthony Rendon, who stole a few bases in 2017, likely will not be as big of a threat on the basepaths anymore.
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The first base coach is typically extremely under-appreciated, and that was certainly the case with the Nats over the past couple years. Although roster and lineup construction will also play a role, losing Lopes will undoubtedly hurt the Nats’ running game moving forward.