When LSU batters leave the dugout for the on deck circle, Andy Cannizaro sometimes reminds them of this year’s base-running theme.
“How quickly can you get to third?” the Tigers new hitting coach, recruiting coordinator and base-stealing instructor might say.
The answer through the first month of the season: quick.
LSU leads the Southeastern Conference and is top-10 nationally with 35 stolen bases.
Through 17 games, the Tigers have swiped nearly three-quarters the number of bags they did in a 63-game season last year, and their top stealer – Alex Bregman – is on pace to set the school’s single-season record for stolen bases.
Call it The Cannizaro Effect. Tulane’s all-time base-stealing leader has brought an aggressive style to a team that’s rife with speedsters.
They’ve become relentless swipers.
They’ve stolen at least one bag in 13 of 17 games and have swiped third base a whopping 10 times. Steals have led to at least six runs that would have not been scored.
“We’re probably opening eyes around the country – LSU is stealing bases,” Cannizaro said.
The Tigers, 16-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation in one poll, get their first shot at testing their new base-stealing ways against a Southeastern Conference team. LSU hosts fledgling Ole Miss (9-7) – they’ve dropped from all of the top-25 rankings – in a three-game set starting Friday.
Games Saturday and Sunday are on the SEC Network, LSU baseball’s first appearance on the first-year platform this season.
SEC fans around the southeast get their first glimpse of the Tigers’ speed. Bregman (12 steals) and outfielders Andrew Stevenson (5), Jared Foster (4), Jake Fraley (4) and Mark Laird (7) are the primary weapons.
Foster and Stevenson haven’t been picked off yet, and Bregman has been thrown out once in 13 tries. Overall, the Tigers lead the SEC in stealing percentage. They’re safe 85 percent of the time. Just two other SEC teams are in the 80s.
“We’re not just running to run,” Cannizaro said. “We’re running with a purpose.”
Coach Paul Mainieri hasn’t hidden the fact that he hired Cannizaro this summer, in part, to help LSU in the stealing department. Already, Bregman has matched his steals from all of last season, and he’s on pace to have about 48 steals in a 64-game schedule. The LSU record for steals in a season is 42, set by Rob Hartwig in 1987.
Fraley is halfway to his steals total of last year. Laird is three steals off of tying his 2014 total, and Foster’s four steals are more than he had in his previous three seasons.
“When the time is right, we’re going to try to put pressure on the defense because coach wants us to be aggressive offensively and put the pressure on teams,” Bregman said. “So it’s a bit of a mindset change and I love it.”
Bregman is the best base-stealer on the team, coaches say, and he’s only the fourth or fifth fastest guy.
“He’s the smartest baseball players I’ve ever coached,” Mainieri said.
Stevenson is the fastest in the 60-yard dash at about 6.4 seconds, then it’s Laird (6.5) and Fraley (6.6). Bregman hovers around 6.8 or 6.9, but it’s his instincts, smarts and the first step or two – key in stealing bases – that sets him apart.
“His instincts are off the charts,” Cannizaro said.
Then there’s the sliding part. Bregman and Laird are head-first sliders – the fastest way to go. Stevenson and Fraley are feet first.
Mainieri and Cannizaro have scattered their speedsters throughout the lineup, placing them in strategic spots to utilize speed on the bases. For instance, Fraley, Laird and Bregman are the first three in the order, followed by slower power hitters in Chris Chinea and Conner Hale.
Stevenson – the faster player on the team – is often sandwiched between guys like Hale or Chinea and catcher Kade Scivicque.
“He’s spreading out the speed,” Stevenson said, “bouncing it around the order. Got 1 through 9 stealing bags.”
Well, not exactly. Scivicque, Hale and Chinea have not attempted a steal this year. Cannizaro hears from them about that, too.
“They’ll say, ‘Hey coach, we can steal bases too,’” Cannizaro said laughing.
The green light is always on for many of LSU’s base runners, specifically Bregman, Laird and Stevenson. That’s something new to this season, Mainieri said. The coach has never been so aggressive with his runners.
It’s paid off in more than one way. LSU hitters are seeing more fastballs because of the steals, Cannizaro said.
“(The pitchers) are trying to be quicker to the plate,” he said. “Your hitters are getting fastballs based on your runners trying to run.”
And that’s a good thing. The Tigers lead the SEC with a .322 batting average. The aggression has seeped into the non-stealing part of base running. LSU leads the league in extra-base hits at 48, many of them singles-turned-doubles and doubles-turned-triples.
Mainieri’s club has a whopping 11 triples. Stevenson has five of them.
The steals have done something else, too: created infield gaps.
“When they’re worried about holding you on at second base,” Bregman said, “there are holes all throughout the infield for us to hit the ball to.”
Stealing has become a competitive affair with LSU’s base runners. The question is always on their mind. s
“How quickly,” Cannizaro says, “can you get to third?”
LSU baseball players were expected to steal more bases this season with base-stealing expert Andy Cannizaro as the program’s new hitting coach. They’re living up to that.
2015 (16 games)
2014 (63 games)
35 (1st SEC)
49 (10th SEC)
Steals per game
SPEEDING TO THE RECORD
Alex Bregman, at 12 steals through 17 games, is on pace to end the season as one of the best LSU base-stealers in history. If he keeps up the pace, the shortstop would have 48 steals through a 64-game season.
Top 10 single-season LSU base stealers
WHERE: Alex Box Stadium
RANKINGS: LSU is ranked as low as No. 7 and has high as No. 1. Ole Miss is not ranked.
EXPECTED STARTING PITCHERS:
- Friday: LSU sophomore LHP Jared Poché (4-0, 2.08) vs. OM junior LHP Christian Trent (3-0, 2.96)
- Saturday: LSU freshman RHP Alex Lange (4-0, 1.57) vs. OM sophomore RHP Brady Bramlett (2-1, 2.05)
- Sunday: LSU freshman Jake Godfrey (3-0, 1.69) vs. TBA
- Friday: None
- Saturday: SEC Network
- Sunday: SEC Network
ONLINE STREAMING: Online at SEC Network-Plus, which is accessible at SECNetwork.com and the Watch ESPN app
RADIO: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); KLWB 103.7 (Lafayette); WWL 870 AM and WWL 105.3 FM (New Orleans);
IN-GAME UPDATES: @DellengerAdv, @BarrecaAdvocate
PRE- AND POSTGAME COVERAGE: blogs.theadvocate.com/linedrives; theadvocate.com/sports/
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.