Quintin Berry is off to a fast start. The Detroit Tigers outfielder is hitting .290/.372/.406 in his first 18 games as a big leaguer. He is also stealing bases, which should come as no surprise. The 27-year-old former Phillies prospect was a prolific thief in the minors, swiping at least 40 bags in five of his six full professional seasons. Since donning a Tigers uniform, he has been perfect in all seven attempts.
Berry discussed the art of the stolen base on a recent visit to Fenway Park.
Berry on stealing bases in the big leagues: “I often wondered whether my speed was going to get me to the big leagues, because it’s always been my best tool. Fortunately it did and I’ve been able to use it a lot since I’ve been here.
“I feel that stealing bases is the same anywhere. The only difference here is that the stakes are higher and the margin of error for mistakes is very small. You have to make sure that you’re being smart about the situation, but I feel good. I feel just as confident here as I did at the lower levels. I know that I can steal bases.”
On preparation: “There is definitely more [data] available here than in the minors. I’m able to see the times a lot better, so I’m getting more reads on pitchers. I’m able to see video on them before games, so I have an idea of what they’re working with. For me, stealing bases is like hitting. Just like you study a pitcher to see how he’s going to throw in certain counts, I want to see what he’s going to do with runners on base. I want to see if he speeds up, uses a slide step, picks off, if he has quick feet. I try to really bear down and pay attention to everything.”
On taking his lead: “My lead is always the same. It is exactly three-and-a-half steps, regardless of who is on the mound. I feel confident there and know that I can get back. That’s my comfort level. I won’t try to shorten up unless I know the guy is really quick and I’m not going.
“You have to be careful not to tip that you’re running. The biggest thing they teach you when you’re learning to steal bases is to be consistent and do the same things over and over again. Whether you’re stealing or not stealing, you want to try to look exactly the same every time.”
On his first step: ““I like to have my weight equally shifted between my feet, and stay semi-low to the ground for as long as I can. You need a good posture. My first step is a cross-over. I don’t do a jab step with my right foot, I just cross over with my left foot. To me, that’s the quickest way to the next base. I used to take a jab step, but I lost ground with my front foot, so I stopped doing that.”
On where his eyes are trained: “Davey Lopes taught me that the most important thing is your eyes. If you can take your eyes from the pitcher to the base, everything else will follow. I want to focus on that base, so that everything lines up and I’m running straight for that base.
“I glance at the pitcher’s belt and see his whole body. I don’t just look at his back heel, or anything like that, to see if he‘s going home. I want to see the pitcher rock and bend his knee. I can see that if I’m focusing on more than just his foot. Sometimes I can kind of tell what he’s going to do by the way he’s breathing. I can see his chest go in or out — certain things like that. The way they move their hands.”
On his first big-league steal: “It was off [Francisco] Liriano, the lefty for Minnesota. He was my first bag. I didn’t really have any reports to go on, because he was on in relief, but I did know that he was slow to the plate. I didn’t really hear about how [Joe] Mauer was throwing, I was just told that Liriano was pretty slow.
“Running against a lefty is a different, because their pickoff is completely different. I ran on the second pitch. I think it was a fastball. He did pick over three times, though. I didn’t think he’d pick over again, so I took off.
“I was running on my own. I have a green light. I’m here to run, so until they take it away, I’m going to go. If you want to be a base-stealer, you have to want to run and you want be looking to do it at all times. That‘s why I‘m here.”