Baseball is pretty simple. A team wins games by scoring runs. You score runs by traveling 90 feet, four times in a row.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter wants to make it harder for opposing teams to travel that distance in 2012. It's been a major focus this spring, starting with the pitching staff.
"It's not only controlling the running game and eliminating stolen base attempts. It's the walks and hit batters and passed balls and errors all those things where you're just giving away 90 feet. The running game is a portion of that," pitching coach Rick Adair said. "Our emphasis is eliminating 90 feet as a team. One of our jobs as a pitcher is to be able to control the running game."
With catcher Matt Wieters behind the plate, passed balls were not an issue. The Orioles only had four passed balls all last season. Wieters was only responsible for one, which is pretty impressive.
However, the O's were fourth in the American League in errors. Orioles pitchers were fourth in walks surrendered and were responsible for just two pickoffs (last in the AL) and 42 runners caught stealing (11th in the AL).
Improving those numbers won't solely be on the pitchers this season, but they can help in some categories by improving their release times to the plate, a fact drilled home by Adair this spring. In limited exhibition games, the Birds have showed signs of improvement, Adair told me, and none more so than Jake Arrieta.
"He's just used to being slow and being able to hold runners by throwing over at various times," Adair said. "He's gotten to the point now where he's at a manageable release time that regardless if they're running, with a guy like Wieters and (Taylor) Teagarden behind the plate, has a legitimate chance of controlling the running game. He's done a great job of that and still maintaining the quality of stuff. Actually his command has improved by doing that."
There's been a concerted effort to work on pick off moves, as well. My MASNsports.com colleague, Roch Kubatko, pointed out Wei-Yin Chen never had never picked a runner off in his career until this spring.
Overall, look for the pitchers to be much more aware of runners on base.
"It's been addressed and it's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but once you work at it and have an understanding of why you're doing it, and the purpose of it, and how to do it, and then you see the results of how much difference it makes in a final score, it does help guys," Adair said.