LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro knows a thing or two about stealing bases.
Actually, he knows 165 things.
Over a four-year span for Tulane, Cannizaro stole 128 bases, including 52 out of 58 (89.7 percent success) attempts in his senior season for the Green Wave. He went on to steal another 37 from 2001-2009 in the minors.
His knowledge on the base-paths has been invaluable in Alex Box Stadium in 2015, considering LSU ranked tied for No. 167 in the nation in stolen bases last season, swiping only 49 bags in 63 games. The Tigers ranked even lower in stolen bases per contest, sitting at No. 209 in the country (0.78 bags swiped per game).
Cannizaro has begun implementing his own teachings to help improve both of those rankings in 2015.
Despite last season’s poor numbers, the ability to steal bases is present on the Tigers’ roster, according to Cannizaro.
Junior outfielders Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson combined for 19 stolen bases in 2014, accounting for nearly 40 percent of LSU’s stolen base total. Junior shortstop Alex Bregman led the squad in steals with 12.
But Cannizaro said it isn’t the physical attributes that necessarily make the most lethal weapon on the base paths.
“What I’m trying to do is get those group of guys that can really run with the mentality of being aggressive on the bases,” Cannizaro said. “Base-stealing is a mindset.”
The Tigers’ hitting coach said the attitude begins at the plate.
First, the hitter must have a desire to reach first base, whether it’s via a hit, a walk, or an error. Then the focus shifts to second base. And then to third.
“We want that mindset to be, ‘I’m running until somebody stops me,’” Cannizaro said.
It’s a mentality that began over the summer for both Stevenson and Laird. While playing for Yarmouth-Dennis, Stevenson stole a whopping 21 bases, getting caught only three times.
Laird fared just as well, stealing 17 bags without getting thrown out once.
When the duo returned to Baton Rouge to unite with Cannizaro, they were made aware of their base-running statistics from the season prior. Those weren’t going to cut it.
“A lot of the players have our statistics taped in their lockers,” Laird said. “We have it on board just to look at and show us what areas we need to improve in. (Stealing bases) is one of the areas we’re looking to improve in.”
Cannizaro immediately began his lesson plan.
He emphasized getting a lead off of first base established as quickly as possible. Then to help improve the Tigers’ jumps on steal attempts, Cannizaro squared players against each other. The goal was simple: get a better break than your opponent.
“Coach (Paul Mainieri) and Coach Cannizaro have been working with us every day on it,” Bregman said. “We probably do it every day in practice. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it. Everybody who is a base-stealer on the team is really improved.”
After stealing 0.78 bases per game in 2014, Cannizaro said he’d like to see that number jump to one swiped bag per contest.
Though Mainieri said he doesn’t want to be a team that “lives and dies by the stolen base,” he said he believes his squad has the ability to improve its number from a season ago.
“The fact that (Cannizaro) was a great base-stealer and did it not too many years ago, I thought he could have some good input to those guys that could help them,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully, it’s going to add to our arsenal offensively.”
Vanderbilt, the national champion in 2014, finished as the Southeastern Conference’s best team in base-stealing last year. LSU was 167th in the nation.
Game Played: 63 at LSU; 72 at Vanderbilt
Steals: 49 at LSU; 120 at Vanderbilt
Caught Stealing: 25 at LSU; 45 at Vanderbilt
Stolen base per game: 0.78 at LSU; 1.67 Vanderbilt