How the Braves worked in spring training to steal more outs on the bases

Atlanta Braves second base Ozzie Albies (1) tags out New York Mets outfielder Harrison Bader (44) during the second inning against the New York Mets at Truist Park on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.  Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta Braves second base Ozzie Albies (1) tags out New York Mets outfielder Harrison Bader (44) during the second inning against the New York Mets at Truist Park on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. Miguel Martinez /

CHICAGO — During the early mornings in spring training, bench coach Walt Weiss and third base coach Matt Tuiasosopo led sessions for the Braves infielders that were designed to help them improve at stealing outs when opponents try to run.

For one, Weiss and Tuiasosopo built awareness about the new obstruction rule – which says a fielder not in possession of the ball cannot impede the base runner’s progress to the bag. This change, implemented for this season, has forced fielders to be aware of their setup and footwork around the bases.

And two, the infielders worked on their tags. They wanted to improve in this area, which might seem small, because it often looms large in tight games.

“We spent a lot time on tags this spring – Tui and I – on the back field early, just because I don’t think we’ve been great at it in the past,” Weiss recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “So we did a lot of pick tags where you’re picking the ball out of the dirt and tagging at the same time. There’s an art to that. And so we did a lot of that – because I think you can steal some outs from being a good tagger. And when you get outs on the bases, it can change a game. Outs on the bases are big in a major-league game, especially when the margin of victory is so small.”

The extra wrinkle in all of this: The obstruction rule. This, Weiss said, wasn’t a major adjustment, but awareness and reminders are helpful for everyone. In simple terms, fielders without the ball cannot block the base. They must give the base runner a clear line to the bag. For example, this rule eliminates a fielder’s ability to drop his knee in front of a sliding runner at a base.

At his Truist Park locker, Ozzie Albies drops his glove on the floor. He is about to demonstrate something, and his mitt is intended to be second base.

At first, Albies puts one foot on each side of the glove: If a runner tried to steal second base in previous seasons, Albies might go straight toward the bag and settle into a straddle right over it.

But now, he said, he’s intentional about curling around the right side of the base and works toward the front of the bag. This way, he’s not in the runner’s way.

Albies and the Braves already are seeing the spring training work pay off – both with tags and trying to avoid obstruction calls.

“Yeah, it’s amazing,” Albies said. “It’s great when you have a great group of guys and coaches that. We’re all only here to be better every single day. That’s amazing to have.”

“No, it’s great,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve seen all that work they put in (during) spring that really come to fruition and help. It’s helped us win games.”

Entering Tuesday, the Braves’ catchers were among baseball’s best at throwing out runners – which is a credit to them and the infielders. Chadwick Tromp ranked seventh with a 38% caught-stealing percentage, and Travis d’Arnaud was eighth, with a 36% caught-stealing percentage.

The obstruction rule didn’t change much for catchers on their throws, Sean Murphy said. The infielders might take a different route, but the throw goes to the same place.

“I’m not really looking at the guy anyway because usually they’re on the move, right?” Murphy said. “I always just kind of look at the bag.”

The tags, though, can make a huge difference. And the Braves’ middle infielders – Albies and shortstop Orlando Arcia – have done a great job with them thus far.

In spring training, when the infielders worked on tags, sometimes a catcher would be at home plate hurling balls toward the bases on one of the back fields. But for pick tags, Weiss and Tuiasosopo would set up a pitching machine at home plate and program it to fire balls that would hit the dirt in front of second base. They did this several times a week.

“And like I said, there’s an art to that,” Weiss said. “It’s a little bit different than fielding a normal short hop because you don’t want your glove going forward. You want the glove going straight down for the tag. It takes some work to get good at that.”

Weiss said Arcia always has been great at tagging. But the goal is to keep that a strength, which is why the Braves put in all this time and work.

“And if you don’t take care of it, sooner or later, it’s not a strength anymore,” Weiss said. “We spent a lot of time around the bag this spring – footwork on double plays, footwork on tags. Really a lot of fun for Tui and I this spring. We got a lot accomplished early in the morning, for six or seven weeks this spring. It was a lot of fun.”

But at first, the Braves didn’t know how that new obstruction rule would be enforced. Then, during spring training, Michael Hill – MLB’s senior vice president of on-field operations – brought a group of league employees to do an educational slide presentation. “Knowing what they were looking for made it a little easier,” Weiss said.

This is how Weiss now views, and teaches, the rule:

“Well, the toughest thing about the obstruction rule is there’s no replay. So if the ump doesn’t call it, it doesn’t matter what we think. … They put the umpires in a really tough spot because the umpires basically can only look for where the fielder is set up, and then after that, he’s gotta look for out or safe. He can’t look at it all. That’s one of things we’ve talked about: making sure your setup is clean – because that’s when the umpire is really gonna lock in to where you are. Now if you set up in front of the base and then move, you’re putting yourself at risk of getting that called – because once he sees your setup, he’s going for out, safe. He can’t see everything.”

So during those early mornings this spring, Weiss and Tuiasosopo would demonstrate footwork. These are professional athletes, after all. They know what to do. But reminders are useful for everyone.

“Our infield has been awesome,” Weiss said. “And look, we got good players. We got good players. They not only love to play, they love to practice – as you can see. Most of the time, we make this live fungo drill optional for them, but most of the time we get them all out here and they do it, even during the season. They love to practice. They all want to get better. And they push each other. It’s really a good thing we got going.”

The Braves do tons of infield work every spring. But it seems they feel they’ve taken a nice step forward after what they accomplished in North Port, Florida, this time around. And in close games, the details matter even more.

This is especially fitting at this moment, when the Braves’ offense – which put together a historic campaign in 2023 – mostly has underwhelmed to begin this season. They still expect to be an offensive force when they get going, but there are other facets to the game. Some aren’t highlighted as much in the box score, but that doesn’t diminish their importance.

Outs on the bases are huge for a team.

“Yeah, they are. They really are,” Weiss said. “And it’s been good, for our catchers, too. Our catchers have been great, and look, you can’t always make a perfect throw as a catcher. You’re trying to make a quick exchange and get off a strong throw, but it’s happening very quickly, so sometimes the ball is gonna bounce or it’s gonna run inside the line, and I’m sure it gives them confidence when they know the guy on the other end can pick it out of the dirt or get up the line and still make a good tag. And that’s happened this year.

“It’s been fun to watch. Our guys have taken pride in it. Those are big outs. When you get outs on the bases in a major-league game, those can be game-changers.”