Angels are giving up a lot of stolen bases. Their catchers aren’t to blame

Seattle's J.P. Crawford beats the tag of Angels shortstop Luis Rengifo to steal second base.
Seattle’s J.P. Crawford beats the tag of Angels shortstop Luis Rengifo to steal second base during Wednesday’s game. Opposing teams are stealing bases at an alarming rate against the Angels.
(Lindsay Wasson / Getty Images)

If you’ve noticed the Angels have given up an inordinate number of stolen bases during the first 13 games of the season, you’re not alone.

Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday in a video call that he and coaches have been addressing the problem since pitchers and catchers first gathered for spring training in February. They made it a focus during training camp last month, too.

But the effort hasn’t translated into success during games. During the first two weeks of the season, Angels opponents had swiped 14 bases. Only the opponents of the Arizona Diamondbacks had fared better, stealing 15.

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Angels. Limiting stolen bases wasn’t their forte last year, when they gave up an American League-high 99.

They have begun the 2020 season where they ended 2019 despite a mostly new catching tandem of Jason Castro and Max Stassi, who only played in 20 Angels games last year.


The blame doesn’t lie with the catchers, who have caught four would-be stealers and generally made strong throws to the bases when they couldn’t beat the runners.

Dylan Bundy throws the third complete game of his career — and the first for the Angels in more than two years — in a 6-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Aug. 6, 2020

Controlling an opponent’s running game is the duty of the pitcher.

“Everybody’s always worried about pitchers having good [pickoff] moves to first base,” Maddon said. “I just prefer they get the ball quicker to the plate.”

Maddon said it’s important to work on streamlining release mechanics and teaching an effective slide step at the beginning of pitchers’ professional careers. Otherwise, problems manifest at the major league level.

“A lot of times in the minor leagues, they permit pitchers to be as slow as they’d like to be, and try to explain that as ‘I don’t want to take the stuff away,’” Maddon said. “Well, I think that when they are quicker to the plate, when that foot gets up and down, your arm gets quicker. It gets where it wants to be sooner. You normally see better command, and the ability to control the running game. … It’s something that we really have to emphasize in the future.”

Until they’ve successfully reprogramed the instincts of their pitchers, the Angels can at least take comfort in who they’ve got behind the plate. Both Castro and Stassi boast strong arms and roughly league-average pop times, a metric that represents the time between when a pitch hits the catcher’s mitt and the throw reaches the fielder’s glove. Stassi’s pop time of 2.04 seconds last year lagged a tad behind Castros’s 2.0 seconds, which is considered elite.

On a steal of second base by Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis Wednesday night, Stassi performed better than the MLB average of 2.01 seconds. It took him 1.96 seconds to deliver the baseball into the glove of shortstop David Fletcher. Stassi had another throw reach second base in 1.97 seconds, according to live MLB data provided to broadcasters.


For comparison: JT Realmuto, one of the game’s best defensive catchers, led baseball with a pop time of 1.89 seconds last year.

“I think our catchers have thrown well,” Maddon said. “Their feet have been really good. I think J-Mo [catchers coach José Molina] has done a nice job with them. We just got to get the ball to them a little bit more quickly and then we’ll have better results.”

Short hops

Angels star Mike Trout celebrated his 29th birthday at the Texas Rangers’ new covered ballpark, Globe Life Field. He entered the game worth 73.1 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. That ranks fourth all-time by a player’s 29th birthday, behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Mickey Mantle. . . . Left-hander Patrick Sandoval will return to the Angels’ rotation Saturday, pending a roster move. . . . Outfielder Jo Adell was left out of the Angels’ lineup for a second consecutive game on Friday because of soreness in his right quad. He’s expected back Saturday.