MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sometimes, an opponent’s inactivity can be telling. In football, the best cornerbacks are buried on stat sheets because offenses rarely target receivers who are covered. On the soccer field, a goalkeeper on a great defensive team may never field a shot in any given game.
On the baseball diamond, West Virginia catcher Dayne Leonard is inducing inactivity. Teams are not attempting stolen bases on Leonard nearly as much as the other Big 12 catchers. WVU pitchers consider that a luxury.
“The confidence he instills in the pitchers [is impressive],” senior reliever Noah Short said. “He’s super supportive and positive, and to know that he’s got the runners and [I] can worry about the hitters, that’s the biggest thing for pitchers. He’s a really good catcher defensively. [He] blocks everything [and] knows what [our] stuff’s doing, I think it’s just that relationship with each one of us [pitchers] that makes him so good.”
Only 52.2% of stolen-base attempts against Leonard were successful during West Virginia’s first 56 games. That is the lowest rate among Big 12 catchers who lead their team in innings-caught. Texas catcher Garret Guillemette has the second-best rate in the conference among qualified catchers, allowing 61.5% of runners to steal successfully.
Only one catcher in the conference holds a better percentage: Texas Tech’s Kevin Bazzell (2-for-4, 50%), who has only caught in a handful of games in 2023.
Every Big 12 team’s primary catcher has allowed 21-or-more steals this season. To put that number into perspective, Leonard has contested just 23 total stolen-base attempts in 2023.
While the efficiency is certainly noteworthy, the timeliness of some of his putouts were crucial. Most recently, he shut down an Oklahoma State runner in the first inning of Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament game after the Cowboys already plated a pair of first-inning runs.
The game ended in the Mountaineers’ exit from the tournament, but early-inning efforts had been subpar defensively for WVU leading up to Thursday. Starting pitcher Ben Hampton went on to throw five more innings. Had the inning extended, Hampton’s longevity may have been altered.
In the Oklahoma series at home a few weeks ago, storm clouds rolled into the Morgantown-area a few innings into Sunday’s rubber match. With one out in the third inning, and the Mountaineers leading 5-0, head coach Randy Mazey opted for a pitching change. Starter Robby Porco had just walked a Sooner, and it was obvious a storm was brewing, both in the sky and in the batter’s box.
Mazey wanted to get out of the inning before a potential delay to avoid an awkward restart for his pitchers and fielders. He signaled for Noah Short out of the bullpen. With a full count, Short struck out Dakota Harris, and Leonard threw out the stealing baserunner for an inning-ending, strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play.
“That was probably the biggest play of the game,” Mazey said.
Oklahoma had stolen three bases off Leonard the previous day. It was the only game all year that he allowed more than one steal in a single game. Some would call it an anomaly. Regardless, it’s possible it produced false confidence.
Either way, runners will second-guess running on Leonard going forward.