Players who can get around the bags are seen as valued commodities in baseball. This comes from the fact that scoring is still the number one most important stat in the game.
While speed can definitely amplify a player’s ability to circulate the bases, having some strategies, techniques and tactics are valuable assets to the baserunner.
To get into some of the finer details and foundational concepts of sound baserunning, the Dirtbags are calling on the following 3 coaches to offer some insight as to the skill.
- John Eberle … 17u
- Noah Heatherly … 16u
- Dick Zayicek … 17u
Baseball savvy is a term in the game for those that run the bases smart. Do you have any general tips to aid a player trying to up their baseball IQ and be more effective on the bases?
JOHN EBERLE – Pay attention, be athletic and care.
Paying attention covers a few different things. One is paying attention to detail which starts pregame when the opposing team is taking infield/outfield. Watching to see arm strength of all players especially the outfielders and how aggressively they attack balls hit to them. As it pertains to in-game the pitcher is the obvious one, understanding what pitches he’s throwing in what counts especially off-speed pitches which could lead to balls in the dirt, also what type of patterns do they get in with runners on base when they’re in the stretch, do they look the runner back once, twice, how long they come set for before delivering to the plate? All these things can lead to taking an extra base and putting a player in a position to score which is the name of the game offensively.
Being athletic basically is being in an athletic position when on the bases and not taking leads flat footed or being lazy on secondary leads and getting back to the base aggressively after a pitch is thrown and received to avoid potential pick-off throws from the catcher. Also, being aggressive out of the batter’s box and putting pressure on the defense which will be covered in a little more detail later.
Caring is pretty straight forward, being a good base runner has to matter they have to understand the value in it and the fact that baseball games can be won and lost by the slimmest of margins. Getting an extra base could be the difference between scoring or being stranded at third or a good jump off a secondary lead can make up a split second that could make the difference between being safe or out… and most importantly the difference between winning and losing.
NOAH HEATHERLY – Some general ideas for any player wanting to run the bases more effectively starts during pregame infield/outfield. Watching and taking note of the arm strength of outfielders will tell you before the game which defenders give you the opportunity to be more aggressive and take an extra 90 feet. The second tip would be always knowing where the defenders are positioned on the field, knowing this helps take some of the guessing out of base running when determining whether or not to go first to third, or second to home on a single. The third way to increase base running effectiveness it to run with your head up. Having the ability to see plays develop allows you to be aggressive and take advantage when the defense doesn’t play clean.
DICK ZAYICEK – Several things you need to remember and be aware of when you’re on the basis.
1) Know the situation -how many outs are there, is there anybody else on base , what sign is the coach giving me.
2) Mentally prepare yourself before every pitch is made. Know where all the outfielders are playing and where all the infielders are in every given situation.
3) Go over situations in your mind – meaning that if a ground ball is hit where are you going – if a fly ball is hit where are you going. Make sure you put yourself in a good situation where you can see a play developing so that if you need to get back or you need to go you are ready to do so.
4) Know your speed and your skill set. Make sure to watch the defense because the defense will tell you where the ball is being thrown so that you can slide away from the play.
What advice can you give players as to the essentials for coming out of the box and running to first base?
JOHN EBERLE – As briefly mentioned in the previous question, it all starts with coming out of the batter’s box hard, by doing this you put pressure on the defense which could lead to an error or mishandle that may help the batter beat out the throw to first. Coming out of the box hard is also essential on a clean base hit, by doing this and rounding first aggressively it again puts pressure on the outfielder to get to it and field it quickly and cleanly or risk giving up an extra base and putting the runner in scoring position.
Also, when running to first on a ball hit to an infielder many players hit the middle of the bag with their foot which on a bang-bang play causes them to be out, it is imperative to try and hit the front of the base with your toe/ball of the foot to get to the base a split second sooner which could again be the difference between being safe or out.
NOAH HEATHERLY – Simply getting out of the box hard, even on routine plays, puts added pressure on the defense. When defenders see that you are busting it down the line they begin to speed the game up in their mind, leading to more mistakes. When getting down the line to first base, it is crucial that you hit the front of the bag. This will cut down on the home to first time and can often be the difference in a safe or out call on a bang bang play. To hit this part of the base, you need to get your eyes to the front of the bag about 2/3 of the way down the line. This will give your brain time to automatically correct your stride to hit that part of the bag without having to slow down and break stride.
DICK ZAYICEK – Tips for coming out of the box:
1) Ground ball to the infield make sure you’re going as hard as you possibly can and hitting first base in a normal stride then looking right for a possible overthrow situation.
2) Obvious base hit – going hard with a slight turn out of box – watching the play in front of you in case it’s a possible situation where you can get to second base.
3) Possible double off the bat – A little bigger turn out of the box cutting the corner sharp at first base and going straight to second as hard as you can.
Let’s finish by going around the diamond and each of you take a base. Tell us how you like to see players take leads at that base and what you may tell them to read either on a pick, a ball in the dirt or even a hit ball.
JOHN EBERLE (1B) – One trick I like to tell players (especially base stealers) is to take your primary lead off the front edge of the bag (a little closer to the infield cut), this can give the perception to the pitcher that you are actually closer to the base and give them a half step bigger lead which again could be the difference between being safe or out. I also like to them get a good secondary lead and work hard back to the bag on every pitch to avoid pick-off throws.
On reading a pick-off move from a RHP I honestly think it depends on the baserunner. Traditionally you’re told to watch the back foot (on the rubber) and if it lifts they’re throwing to first if not then get your secondary or try to steal. Some players I’ve had have been able to focus on the space between the front and back foot and read either one to get a jump.
With reading a pick-off move from a LHP runners need to be aware of the step-off snap throw move which when a lefty has a good one can be tough to get back on, with this move the focus is the back leg. Traditionally, if the kick leg crosses the back leg then the secondary lead or steal can be executed or if their front shoulder comes towards first, they will be attempting a pick-off throw.
As far as reading balls in the dirt there are a couple of things that can be focused on. One, which I mentioned earlier is understanding what counts a pitcher is throwing their off-speed stuff within the flow of the game and in general which counts pitchers throw off-speed pitches which have more of a potential to be in the dirt. The other is watching the release and angle of the ball in-flight to see if it’s going to be in the dirt, this is where getting a good secondary lead comes back into play in getting a good jump to try to take the extra base.
NOAH HEATHERLY (2B) – At 2B I like to see players take their lead about 15 feet off the bag and at a slight angle back toward the shortstop. As the pitcher comes set, I like to see players slowly add on their lead by walking at an angle back into the base line. We do this for 2 reasons, the first being to add on the lead, and by walking at an angle it is difficult for the pitcher to see the we are adding to our lead, to him it just looks like we are walking back into the baseline. The second reason we walk at an angle is to constantly keep the feet moving and be ready to dive back on a pick. Dirt balls at 2B can be difficult to read because you are facing the catcher straight on. I like to tell my guys to see the ball in the dirt kick to the right or left of the catcher before attempting to advance. If the ball is blocked in front of the catcher, you don’t have a great angle to see how far the ball got away. On a ball in play, particularly on the ground, we went to advance on anything that is behind us. The ball hit in front of us at 2B can still be a ball we advance on. To advance on this play we have to beat the ball to the defender. What this means is, when we choose to advance we have to make sure that we can get in front of the ball before it reaches the defender. This will make the play to throw us out at 3B very difficult.
DICK ZAYICEK (3B) – Tips at third base.
Communication is key – look for signs from third base coach.
Normal lead off with momentum (secondary) going towards home.
Read the pitch – you have a great view of the field from this position and if the ball is in the dirt it’s an opportunity for you to score.
Be sure to get out of the base path. Stay in foul territory at all times.
A few things as a reminder : being at third base you are in a great position. It’s time to score. Think of it this way -what value are you to the team if you don’t score?
Always know the situation and make sure to read the defense and know how they are positioned for the batter. Remember, if there is 1 out and the bases are loaded or a man is on second and third and a fly ball goes to the outfield and is caught and a runner that tags is thrown out at the next base before you cross Home plate your run does not count. Do not jog in!! Pay attention and be alert – your run matters – don’t be LOB!
Wow! Plenty to glean from those words by the Dirtbags coaches. Sure everyone can find something to add to their baserunning bag of tricks or at least some perspective. Come back next week as the series will dive into some position play.