Coleman's mission: Improve baserunning

Giants want to be more aggressive, smarter on bases

Coleman's mission: Improve baserunning

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Playing to win is different from playing not to lose.

Vince Coleman intends to help the Giants maintain the former approach more often in 2017.

Coleman, one of the most preeminent basestealers ever, has joined the Giants as a roving Minor League baserunning and outfield coach. Before he begins visiting outposts such as Sacramento, Richmond and the organization's other Minor League affiliates, the Giants want him to share his baserunning expertise with the big leaguers during Spring Training.

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"In this day and age, guys have been taught how not to run the bases," Coleman said Saturday. "And I think we need to know how to run the bases. I'm the how-to coach."

Even at their best, the Giants have never been fleet.

They ranked last in the National League in stolen bases in 2010 and 2014, two of their three World Series-winning seasons. But they often negotiated the basepaths expertly, ranking fourth in the NL during 2012, another championship year, and 2014 in Fangraphs.com's UBR -- ultimate baserunning, which measures factors such as taking an extra base.

By any measure, the Giants weren't at all dynamic on the bases last season.Their 79 steals were 14 below the NL average, and they ranked 11th in UBR.

"We just want to be smarter baserunners," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "The numbers show it. We weren't a good running ballclub."

Coleman embraces the challenge of mobilizing the Giants.

"I hope that a little part of me can rub off on them," he said.

Nunez's first Giants steal

Should that happen, the Giants will be noticeably transformed. Coleman ranks sixth all-time with 752 stolen bases and led the NL in steals six consecutive seasons (1985-90) as a member of the Cardinals. He topped 100 steals in each of the first three years of that span.

To Coleman, efficient baserunning involves technique.

"Your first step is the most important step, how I become electric and get into full speed in two steps," he said.

Good baserunning also involves attitude. He told a meeting of Giants position players, "You were the best player at your high school or college. As soon as you hit pro ball, did they tell you, 'Don't get picked off. Don't make the first out at third base. Don't get doubled off on a line drive.' So, now, that confidence you had as a hitter doesn't translate to being on the bases."

It's a popular misconception that an effective baserunner must be fast. Rather, Coleman said, he should be "aggressive, daring, savvy, smart."

An undercurrent of discontent lingered in recent seasons over former third-base coach Roberto Kelly's guidance of baserunners. Coleman maintained that the aptitude of the third-base coach won't matter to a truly adept baserunner.

"Rounding third base, head on a swivel, knowing instinctively that if that ball's bobbled by the cutoff man, I don't need a third-base coach to tell me what to do," Coleman said. "I want to create an atmosphere where you become your own baserunning coach."

Baserunning, Coleman said, can change the course of an entire season. He asked rhetorically, "How many one-run games could have been determined if a guy had gone when that ball was in the dirt? Now he's at second base. The whole momentum changes. It takes you out of the double play. Now there's a base hit. You score. You've got a domino effect because of the energy in that dugout. How exciting! What a jubilant feeling that is. It just boosts that ballclub."

Giants connoisseurs will remember that an almost identical scenario unfolded for the Giants on Sept. 1, 2010, when pinch-runner Darren Ford broke from second base on a wild pitch and prompted a throwing error that enabled him to score the tiebreaking run in a 2-1 victory over Colorado. That accelerated a 6-1 surge and solidified the Giants' status as contenders in the NL West race that season.

"We're going to improve on the bases," Coleman vowed. "And we won't just run the bases. We're going to run them with style. We're going to run them with class. We're going to run them with elegance. We're going to look good doing it."

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.