Delino DeShields wears number 90 on the back of his jersey for the year he made his Major League debut with the Montreal Expos. He wound up playing 13 Major League seasons with five different clubs and retiring in 2002. He amassed 463 stolen bases, 31st on Major League Baseball’s all-time list since 1898. That’s when the current stolen base rule was implemented. 17 years later, he will step onto a Major League field again. He was hired as the Cincinnati Reds first base coach on November 28th to join new manager David Bell’s staff.
“I didn’t really get interviewed…I got a phone call from Dave (manager Davie Bell), he asked if I was interested and that was that,” said DeShields in a phone conversation. He was interviewed earlier in the offseason for the field coordinator position but did not get offered that position. “I was wondering what was going to be next for me, but then Dave called and asked if I wanted the first base spot and I said no doubt.”
Before getting back to the big leagues, he again was like a player trying to work his way up. Not as a player, though, this time as a minor league coach. He’s spent the last 10 years in the Reds minor league system first as a hitting coach for Rookie-level Billings in 2009 and then manager in 2010. He went on to manage at Low-A Dayton (2011-12), Double-A Pensacola (2013-14) and Triple-A Louisville (2015-17) before serving as the organization’s roving bunting and base running instructor in 2018.
Also spending time in the Reds minor league system from 2009-2012 was David Bell. But Deshields doesn’t think that is the reason he got the phone call. He does believe that all of that work has him prepared for his first season as a Major League coach, though. “I don’t get this job without all of the seasons in the minor leagues. It’s gratifying to know that all of the work and all the bus rides [paid off]”.
DeShields’ will have a couple of responsibilities, but his bread and butter will be base running. He will be working with a team that finished 25th in baseball in baserunning runs according to Baseball Prospectus. They also finished 27th in advancing on base hits. That is where he believes they need to improve the most and it starts in Spring Training.
“The guys have to know that it is important to us, from the top down. We are not satisfied being that type of base running club. It starts with scoring on extra base hits from first base, running hard down the line, putting pressure on the defense. That is what we are trying to do. The work that we are going to put in [to be a better base running team] doesn’t happen at 7:05, it starts in Spring Training.”
Base running is hard to quantify in my mind, but FanGraphs has four current Reds that finished above average in base running last season (Jose Peraza 3.8, Phillip Ervin 2.4, Scott Schebler 0.3 and Scooter Gennett 0.1). That is based on stolen bases, taking extra bases, outs on the bases and avoiding double plays. The Reds non-tendered Billy Hamilton who finished at 8.4. A bad base running team by the metrics got worse by losing Hamilton. As the roster sits right now, adding Phillip Ervin to the every day mix and having Nick Senzel playing regularly should help fill the void left by Hamilton and help the base running improve overall through the length of the lineup.
DeShields expressed that it is all about the players buying in to working hard on the bases. Everyone will have the scouting report. But, it will be up to the players to take base running seriously, “especially at GABP where you have take advantage of every scoring opportunity.” He will also be going back to his playing days and watching tape on pitchers to help the players get a better jump, or find a tendency in a pitcher’s delivery that could give the Reds an advantage.
Along with his base running responsibilities, he will be working with infield defense. In my time with the Louisville Bats during DeShields’ tenure, he really worked with base running and infield defense, so it is a smooth transition. Taking the step to the big leagues, there will be more information available to him to help position the defense. This includes knowing his pitchers, and working with the analytics provided to him. DeShields added, “we have always had analytics in baseball, they were just called tendencies when I played.”
He will be working with a coaching staff that was put together this offseason. They all met at RedsFest a little more than two weeks ago. They used this time to get to know each other, but the communication didn’t end there. “We have a daily group chat with the coaching staff that goes on 24/7.” Hearing this didn’t surprise me at all. It went well with what I had heard about Bell’s time in Louisville as the manager. Front Office staff loved him because of the way he communicated. It looks like that has continued as he becomes a Major League manager for the first time.
I don’t know if Deshields has some extra insight on baserunning skills or any extra ability to teach it to the Reds. It’s possible that since he was fast he relied more on that than mastering the subtleties. But I do know that an emphasis on this aspect of the game from anyone willing to study this detail of the game can only help. The Reds have not been good on the bases, and the fastest ways to improve overall are to work on the things you’re worst at. So I don’t know if I should be excited about Delino Deshields, but I’m definitely pleased that this will be an area of emphasis in 2019.
Good baserunning is primarily about getting a proper secondary lead, rounding the bases correctly, understanding where the defense is playing (particularly the fielder nearest you), and thinking through various situations between pitches. And old-fashioned hustle, which allows for example a guy to turn a single that is slightly bobbled into an extra base.
Plus, a guy has to understand the baseball equivalent of down and distance. If a decent base stealer is on first with a tough lefty on the mound and Jesse Winker up with an 0-2 count, it may be prudent to try to steal even if the chance of success is barely over 50-50; the worst that can happen is that Winker reloads the next inning with a new count.
Much of it is just competitive instinct and concentration. Properly done, it amounts to a run here and there, stops a few double plays and other outs, puts some pressure on the pitcher, etc. There is no excuse at the MLB level not to play the game properly.
Votto is as poor a base runner as any player I’ve ever seen. He’s proven his defense is very practice dependent – when he works hard, he’s gold glove. When he hasn’t worked hard or the quad limited his mobility, he’s very bad. I wonder if it’s the same for the basepaths for him?
I’ve joked that when he’s finally on the ballot for the HoF, the one outstanding question will be the TOOTBLANs.
That said, he’s still an “inter”-national treasure!
Not sure how this helps.Running the bases to me is instinct more then anything and hard for me to fathom anybody being taught how to get a lead,go from first to third on a single,read the ball off the bat etc etc.Guess it won’t hurt but guys that are good base runners just have that knack.
Unfortunately the off season continues to be a snoozer.
Frank Robinson wasn’t the fastest runner when he played, but was one of the best base runners in the game during his time.
Barry Larkin was a great baserunner, too; very confident and aggressive, and rarely wrong.
I agree that Votto is a certifiably bad baserunner. He never got back any confidence on the base paths after injuring his quad a few years ago. Wade Boggs was a bit like that in his latter days. It would take two triples to score him from second.
I don’t expect guys to all-out sprint routine grounders to shortstop in an ordinary spot in the game. They would risk pulled hamstrings if they did. I do expect them to run hard enough to be able to take advantage of a bobble or a throw a bit off-line.
You can’t know that the Reds leaked names or if the other teams involved leaked names. And if history tells us much of anything – it probably wasn’t the Reds doing ANY of the leaking. You don’t tend to hear about anything they do until it happens. If they were the source of leaks, we’d not have moves come out of nowhere with them all of the time. But we do.