Opposing teams no longer embarrass the White Sox on the basepaths.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski expressed a similar sentiment to bench coach Mark Parent on Sunday afternoon, shortly after the White Sox completed a series victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Even though the Angels had 45 opportunities in three games, Mike Trout and Co. -- who rank second in the American League with 90 steals -- only tried to swipe one bag against the White Sox, a team notorious for poor past performance in its limitation of base runners.
With more stress on the minute details, in this case pitchers paying closer attention to base runners, the White Sox have improved their run defense.
Though they always want to improve their thrown-out rate and have thus far, the emphasis in this case is for pitchers to do what they can to help limit what the opposition thinks it can do.
Now, a team that allowed the fourth-most stolen bases in the AL from 2005-2011 has only yielded 66 steals this season, which ranks fifth among the ALs 14 teams for fewest allowed.
(Pierzynski) mentioned to me after the series: That used to be a track meet for them, Parent said. Its not how many guys we throw out. Its how many attempts we keep them down to.
Over their last six games, opponents have tried to run against the White Sox four times. Those figures are more impressive because the Angels and Kansas City Royals rank second and fourth in the AL, respectively, with 173 combined steals this season.
Last season, the Angels attempted 10 steals and were successful eight times in their final five meetings with the White Sox. Pierzynski recalls how easily a leadoff walk or single would turn into a double or a triple sometimes as the opposition ran at will.
Last season, the White Sox allowed 135 stolen bases. If they maintain their current pace, the White Sox will allow only 97 thefts this season.
The last couple of years had gotten pretty embarrassing in how many bases we gave up and how easy it was for other teams to steal bases, Pierzynski said. I think weve significantly shut down the attempts and significantly shut down the percentages.
How they have done so began with a concerted effort in Glendale, Ariz. this spring, pitcher Philip Humber recalled.
The organization simply stressed the need for pitchers to pay more attention. Coaches asked pitchers to work on their slide steps, throws to first base at certain times and to vary their routines with runners on base all in order to give those base runners less certainty they can run whenever they please. This season, opponents have averaged .85 steal attempts per game after they attempted 1.06 thefts per game in 2011.
There seemed to be a lot more of an emphasis, Humber said.
It became a priority, Pierzynski said. When its a priority to the people higher up, it becomes more of a priority to the players and thats a good thing.
Another good aspect is the pitchers mindfulness gives their catchers a better chance to catch runners who steal. Pierzynski -- who threw out 24.1 percent of all steal attempts before this season -- has thrown out 25.7 percent (17 of 66) in 2012. Tyler Flowers has thrown out 11 of 38 (39.2 percent) attempts this season.
Their success is in part because the emphasis by White Sox pitchers hasnt disappeared, Parent said. Parent noted how pitching coach Don Cooper raved earlier this week about how effective newly acquired pitcher Francisco Liriano is using a slide step to the plate.
Its just trying to stay more committed to detail, little things that can help you win each game, Parent said. We came in with the whole thing that, Were going to do this and youve gotta get better at it, and the guys accepted it and they understand why. If youre going to bring something in, and you can tell them why and how its going to help them, theres a chance theyll work at it.