On Jason Bartlett’s Headiness | The Process Report

On Jason Bartlett’s Headiness

By R.J. Anderson //

It’s very easy to get lost in Jason Bartlett’s game. On any given night he is the shortest player taking part for the Rays and he’s usually flanked by Reid Brignac or Ben Zobrist – two 6’3” pseudo-shortstops themselves – making Bartlett the small guy in reality and metaphor alike. The nuances of Bartlett’s game make him endearing to the observer who relies solely on the aesthetic aspect of the game and pays no mind to performance data. Bartlett is a heady player with a well-earned reputation. Take these three aspects of his game that go unmeasured:

– Excellent with runners on third/en route to third

I can’t count the number of times in the past month or so that Bartlett has made a play in these situations. A week ago he stared the runner down at third, causing him to retreat, before attempting to flip a double play. The runner eventually scored, and yes, Bartlett took some heat for it, but I didn’t have an issue with it if he thought the double play was unrealistic anyways.

He seems to make the correct call of when to go to third and when to take the out at first. He also does a nice job of holding runners by using his eyes.

– Stolen base gamesmanship

In 2007, Bartlett became an enemy of the Rays because of how he blocked the second base bag with his shin during steal attempts. It is exactly what it reads like, he’d bend his leg in front of the base so stealers wouldn’t have a clear shot at the bag. It cost the Rays at least a swipe or two during that season. I believe this is also what led Coco Crisp to being irate at Joe Maddon in 2008.

Bartlett displayed another move during Saturday’s game. After Cesar Izturis stole second, Bartlett faked as if the throw coasted into centerfield. Of course, he did so while standing close enough that a flinch off the base from Izturis would have ended with a tag and an out. Izturis did not fall for it, but sometimes it only takes once for the failures to look worthwhile.

– Leading off

Not in the lineup, but from the base. Consider this statistic: Bartlett has been successfully picked off four times in his entire career. That’s it. Four times. Carl Crawford is a very good baserunner and he’s been picked off successfully four times since the 2009 season began. Bartlett has managed that rate his entire career. The obvious caveat is that Crawford is not only on base more often, but also attempting to get into optimal stealing position (more on this later) but it’s still an impressive statistic.

If I had to place a quantitative value on these aspects without doing the legwork, I’d guess the combination offers maybe a half a win at most. That’s valuable, but it doesn’t change his season or worth too much. Of course, there is a flip side to Bartlett’s headiness. The downfalls are two-pronged.

For one, he trusts his arm too much. Confidence is rarely a bad attribute until it conflicts with performance in a negative manner. A situation which pits Bartlett’s perception of his arm against reality is when a slow roller is hit his way and he must scoop and throw a laser to nail the busting runner.

Where Bartlett gets himself in trouble is when he fires one off rather than eating the ball in unrealistic situations. Simple physics: the more effort an action requires, the longer said action will take. Bartlett’s arm strength is not elite and perhaps not above average, so on bang-bang plays he really has to rifle the ball. Maybe the problem is not his arm, but that his range has curbed from its once above-average status. Slowing a step isn’t unexpected given his age and lower body injury history. The combination makes him profile as a second baseman heading forward.

The second part is Bartlett on the basepaths. Bartlett has attempted 12 steals in 129 stolen base opportunities this season. That’s one attempt for every 11 opportunities. Over the last three seasons he attempted a steal every seven opportunities. It does not appear as if Bartlett has lost his speed or ability to accelerate – he is taking more extra bases this season than in years past – and it is not that big of an issue until the Rays bunt him over which has happened a few times this season. Bartlett’s stubbornness to steal falls more under the unusual umbrella than a looming pandemic. There seems to be no physical limitation and it’s unlikely Maddon has placed a restriction on Bartlett alone. It’s just an odd, odd development.

My hope is for Brignac to grasp a few of these subtle techniques; it’s a pretty package when you combine the small things with superior physical skills.

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