One of the hallmarks of West Virginia baseball under coach Randy Mazey has been an emphasis on team speed.
West Virginia (10-9, 2-1 Big 12) has stolen at least 57 bases in every full season since Mazey was hired in 2013. Even in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, WVU swiped 39 bags in just 16 games.
The Mountaineers have stolen 28 bases in 19 games to start this season, but that number is lower than they would like, according to assistant coach Steve Sabins.
“We just haven’t been able to use that weapon enough because there’s been a lot of runs given up early,” Sabins said. “It’s just harder to run our offense how we want to if it’s a five-to-nothing game and we’re trailing in the second [inning]. You can’t give away outs as much on the bases, you have to take a few less risks.”
Even if the Mountaineers are not stealing as much as they would like, it is still enough to rank at the top of the Big 12. WVU is tied for the most aggressive base-stealing team in the conference, averaging 1.9 stolen base attempts per game and they are tied for second in stolen bases per game with 1.5.
Leading the way on the basepaths for WVU this season have been outfielders Victor Scott and Austin Davis. Scott is 8-9 on stolen base attempts and Davis is a perfect 8-8. They are tied for fourth in the Big 12 in steals.
Scott, a sophomore center fielder, said he almost always has the green light to steal when he wants to, and he usually wants to.
“For the most part [I have a green light], depending on the situation. But normally, yeah,” Scott said. “It depends how fast the pitcher is to the plate, but most definitely I’m looking to steal at one point or another.”
“That’s really what our team’s built on,” Sabins explained. “We have three or four kids that are premium base-stealers. They’re not just fast kids, they’re some of the fastest kids in the country.”
The other member in WVU’s trio of speedsters is second baseman Tyler Doanes. The senior has been limited to just 10 appearances this year, however, and has yet to swipe a bag this season.
While the Mountaineers value aggression on the basepaths, their approach at the plate is the opposite. When batting, the name of the game for WVU is patience.
“It’s something that we really work on,” Sabins said. “Not necessarily [drawing] walks, but we work on strike zone awareness and we work on approach heavily. We work on approach more than anything mechanically.”
WVU hitters average 4.6 walks per game and have drawn more than four or more walks in a game 17 times this season. In their most recent series against Kansas, the Mountaineers’ approach was on full display, drawing four walks against just one strikeout in game one and drawing 11 walks in game three.
“It’s starting to look that our team’s not going to strike out very much,” Sabins said. “They’re going to swing at good pitches and they don’t offer at pitches out of the zone.”
West Virginia averaged just 7.7 strikeouts per game this season, tied for the second-lowest mark in the conference.
The patient approach at the plate leads to more runners on base, playing right into what the Mountaineers want to do on the basepaths. Scott leads the team having drawn 14 free passes against 15 strikeouts. Doanes has walked nine times and only strikeout twice. The approach is important even for someone without much speed, like Wofford transfer Hudson Byorick, who has nine walks and just six strikeouts.
Of course, there is a time when aggression at the plate pays off, especially when runners have already gotten on and advanced into scoring position. Sabins said knowing when to be aggressive at the plate versus being patient is something WVU’s hitters are learning as this season goes on.
“I think we’re best when we’re aggressive [on base] and I think our hitters’ approaches are developing as far as understanding the situation of the game and what needs to be going through their heads during their at-bats,” Sabins said.
WVU will not play a mid-week game this week but is back in action with a three-game road series against Oklahoma State starting on Thursday.