A self-described born-again Christian who has survived a stroke and beaten throat and prostate cancer, new Marlins third-base coach Brett Butler strongly believes in divine guidance.
“The lord kind of moves me in ways he wants me to go,” said Butler, 56, who in 17 big-league seasons with the Braves, Indians, Giants, Dodgers and Mets was one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.
After spending the last five years managing the Diamondbacks’ Triple A team in Reno, Nev., the new direction for Butler this spring is serving as the Marlins’ outfield, bunting and base running coach.
Considering the Marlins finished last in scoring, lost 55 of their 100 games by two runs or less, and were the second-worst base running team in the majors, according to the sabremetric studies of Baseball Info Solutions, general manager Dan Jennings only thought it made sense to hire Butler.
Butler made his career in the majors bunting and taking extra bases. In spacious Marlins Park, where the home team hasn’t hit too many home runs, being good at those two old-school traits should lead to more offense.
“Bugsy’s been great,” manager Mike Redmond said of Butler. “He’s brought a lot of knowledge and experience to our team. He’s been able to help a lot of guys — not just our young guys, but our older guys also. For them to understand the importance of base running and trying to do whatever it takes to get on base, and then how aggressive they are when they get on the bases.
“We all talk about the one run-games, two-run games, close games we lost last year. We talk about how important it is going first to third, or maybe reading the ball in the dirt, stealing a base here or there, how that might have gotten us over the hump in some of those games. When you start trying to evaluate where we can be better at, base running is definitely one of them.”
Sabremetric formulas are one way to measure base running success. Something as simple as advancing from first to third on a single is another. When it came to doing that last year, the Marlins ranked 23rd in baseball with 75 such plays. World Series combatants St. Louis (116) and Boston (93) ranked first and sixth respectively in that category.
“I see a lot of talent in this room, and I see a lot of fear,” Butler said Thursday while standing inside the Marlins clubhouse. “I see guys that are a little apprehensive, and that’s just being young. I look forward to the challenge of trying to teach these kids how to be the best they can be. Part of it is knowing this is a game of failure. You are going to make mistakes, but you’re not going to be as good as you can be until you find out what your limits are.”
That’s what the Marlins are trying to do this spring, Butler said — when the games don’t count. “Quite frankly for me it’s you run until I stop you,” he said. “You’re looking to score until I stop you.”
Butler points to four Marlins with legit speed: shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, second baseman Raphael Furcal, left fielder Christian Yelich and outfielder Jake Marisnick. But being fast, Butler says, isn’t a requirement for good, smart base running. And he says the Marlins can improve across the board.
It’s the same with bunting. According to Fangraphs.com, the Marlins had the fewest bunt hits in baseball last season (12) and connected on only 10.9 percent of their bunt attempts. The Red Sox led baseball in bunt-hit percentage (36.7).
“I know the way we bunted last year was not good,” Redmond said. “Even for a guy like Yelich, just to give him another weapon in case they start shifting against him or playing him back, it gives him an option to be able to maybe lay down a few drag bunts or even bunt a guy over at certain times. I think the more weapons these guys have the better off we’re going to be as a team.”
Considering the struggles Marisnick had hitting in 2013 (he batted .183 in 40 big-league games), working with Butler (who had 245 career bunt singles) could do wonders for his career. Marisnick has always had the speed (37 steals in the minors in 2011 and 24 in 2012).
“Bunting was something I was able to do, but I wasn’t great at it,” Marisnick said. “Just being able to learn from Brett is awesome. He’s intense. He’s got a lot of energy. That’s good for us out here. That kind of gets us fired up for games, even when we’re on the backfields.”
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