Title: THE MOST NEGLECTED SKILL IN AMATEUR BASEBALL
Baserunning is far and away the most neglected skill in all of amateur baseball. Everyone focuses so much of their time and energy on hitting, pitching and fielding that baserunning is either completely overlooked by most teams or an afterthought.
Based on my 20-years’ experience as a head coach of high level select teams or high school teams, plus the hundreds if not thousands of other games I have watched, I am confident in saying in the typical game there is the potential for an additional 2 or 3 runs by simply applying a more aggressive approach to baserunning. The amount of pressure you can apply to the opposing team’s defense is significant if you are aggressive in running the bases.
I am not just talking about stealing more bases, which is a good thing. Some seasons with my high school team we would steal 100-120 bases over a 30-game schedule and maybe give up 30 in a season and it wasn’t because my catchers had a strong arm, most teams just didn’t even seem interested in trying to steal. Aggressive baserunning is so much more than stealing bases. It involves taking a proper initial lead on every pitch and then taking a proper secondary lead on every pitch. Taking an efficient path around the bases can make a huge difference in being out or safe on a potential close play. Having players comfortable in making quick decisive reads on pitches in the dirt and balls hit into the outfield. Being able to correctly and quickly determine if a pitcher is throwing home or going to attempt a pick off once they start their motion and taking ALL the extra bases your opposition is going to give you in every game and there will be many.
Baserunning like every other baseball skill needs to be practiced. You can see the lack of time spent working on baserunning by the tentative nature you see most team’s baserunners have. By committing the time to baserunning like you do the other areas your players will become much more comfortable in game situations and be able to act decisively and make the right decision most of the time.
Here are some detailed suggestions and insights on the areas mentioned above that if implemented will significantly improve your team’s baserunning prowess. This really is just the tip of the iceberg, with all the nuances there are when it comes to baserunning it is not practical to cover everything in one article. If there is interest, I will go into more depth at a later date.
When looking at the initial lead-off of first base, I see too many players who take too many pitches off where they are slow to take their lead, or their lead is far too short. This means missing out on pass balls and wild pitches and if stealing could mean the difference between out and safe. A proper lead off of first base should allow the runner to dive back head first to the back corner of the base and be touching the base with just their hand, with their arm fully extended. If they dive back and their arm is bent or more of their body than just their hand is in contact with the base, their lead is too short. When leading off first base the baserunner should be set before the pitcher starts their motion, don’t let your players be late to get their initial lead.
Unlike the lead-off of first base, a baserunner on 2B should have their momentum moving towards third base when the pitcher has committed to throw home. A baserunner on 2B should generally be in continuous movement. Ideally when leading off 2B you want to take your lead in a V type motion as you move back off the bag at an angle and then work you way towards 3B and back towards the base path as the pitcher gets closer to pitching.
When it comes to leading off 3B, I am a big believer in less is more. You do not need a big initial lead off of 3B, but the secondary lead is arguably more important at 3B than any other base. As you are only 90/70/65/60 feet from scoring, the last thing you ever want to happen is to get picked off at 3B, thus the shorter lead. I also believe when leading off 3B your entire front should be facing home, not the side saddle type lead you take off of 1B and 2B. Your secondary lead off of 3B needs to be quick and far enough, but not too far and most importantly, the baserunner needs to have all their momentum moving towards home at that critical moment when the catcher is either going to catch or miss the pitch. By having their momentum moving towards home at that moment if the pitch is missed or wild, the baserunner can simply continue their movement towards home. If the ball is caught, they need to immediately stop their momentum towards home and return to 3B quickly to avoid tempting the catcher to back pick the baserunner. Always make sure when leading off 3B you are in foul territory and when returning back to the bag be in fair territory right in the baseline to make a catcher have to throw through you if they want to try to back pick you.
As mentioned above, it is very important when taking your secondary lead off of 3B to be moving towards home when the ball will be caught or not, the same goes for your secondary lead off of 1B and 2B as well. You need to be moving towards the next base at the decisive moment. It is critical you instill confidence into your players that when they are on base it is them that need to decide whether they can advance on a pass ball or wild pitch. If the baserunner waits for the coach to start screaming GO! before the baserunner takes off, it very often is too late. By taking a proper initial lead and good secondary lead on EVERY pitch and be moving to that next base when the ball is caught or missed, the baserunner should be able to react and use instincts to make the right decision most of the time whether to advance or not.
The same type of thinking needs to apply when it comes to balls hit in the outfield. In most cases the baserunner is the closest person on the team to the ball at that time and is therefore in the best position to determine if the ball is going to be caught or not. Giving your baserunners the freedom to read and react to the ball will dramatically increase the number of extra bases you can take in a game. You don’t want to have a baserunner in no man’s land waiting for a coach to tell them to run or not. Yes, sometimes a base coach may have the better angle and can determine if a ball will be caught or not, so players should be conditioned to make the read themselves, but if a coach is telling them to get moving, they need to trust the coach and go.
The biggest baserunner blunder I have see so many times I can’t even guess the number is a runner on 2B not scoring on a base hit to the outfield. Unless the ball is hit into extremely short LF or if it is 50/50 the ball will be caught, a baserunner on 2B needs to score on a base hit to the outfield EVERY TIME! Teams will give you that run time and time again if you just simply insist on talking it. Not sure why, but it seems most teams coach most outfielders to get the ball to 2B on any hit to the outfield. The outfielder themselves normally seem to be paying little to no attention to the runner on 2B and whether he is heading for home or not when fielding the ball. You will see time and time again that you caught the defense flat by rounding third and heading for home. What I find even more amusing is how many runs the opposing team has left on 3B by not sending their baserunner home in the same circumstance. The key to this being consistently successful for you is the proper initial lead and secondary lead and trusting the baserunners to make the read and in many cases be near 3B before the ball even hits the ground.
Something else that if worked on makes a huge difference in your success around the bases is cutting the bases as efficiently as possible. The easiest way to think about this subject is simply run inside the bases. This means hitting the inside corner of each base with your right foot. This shortens your pathway around the bases and allows you to cut each base more efficiently, reducing the number of feet you need to run. For example, if you are rounding 3B heading for home and cut the base properly on a 90 foot base path you should run about 94-96 feet. If you take too wide of a turn, you may actually run 105-110 feet. Don’t think cutting the bases efficiently makes that much of a difference on a bang-bang play at the plate? Try running a 90-foot race and giving your opponent a 10-15 foot head start.
I hope you found this information useful. Even if you just came away with 1 new idea or way to look at things then I guess it was worth it. I would be happy to discuss anything in this article or answer any questions you may have. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org