When a baseball player is fast, the first thing everyone assumes is that they are an elite level base runner. Too often someone with speed will still find themselves getting thrown out all over the field. They don’t pay attention to the details of becoming a great base runner. Here are 5 reasons anyone from slow runners to the elite speed players can become a better base runner.
Read The Ball Off The Bat
An innate ability to get a great read off the bat can be the difference between a run scored and getting stranded at 3rd base. This skill comes from practice and game experience. The more balls off the bat you see, the more often you will be able to realize when you can go ahead and get a great jump. As well as when to hold and see if the ball is caught.
Another major part of this principle is knowing your ballparks – especially your home park. If there is an unusual nook or cranny where you know the ball gets stuck. If the left field line is really deep, you know that it takes the fielder longer to get there. Which allows you to take the extra base.
Be sure to practice these reads every day, anytime you go through base running drills. Before you know it, you won’t even think about whether a ball is going to land in the gap. Your instincts will just tell you to go.
Read The Pitcher
Rickey Henderson is the undisputed greatest base stealer of all time. Henderson was fast, but he will tell you that studying the other pitchers and using your instincts is the reason why he was so successful.
Every pitcher’s delivery is different. Some take a long time to the plate, others incorporate a slide step to keep the runner honest. Some pitchers will change their timing every pitch, while others are locked in on the hitter. These are all tendencies you can see immediately as the game starts and that will arm your base running game.
Does the pitcher look over twice and deliver the ball every time? Then be ready to take off once you see that second glance. The first game of the 2015 baseball season. Featuring Jon Lester of the Cubs versus the savvy Cardinals serves as a great example. Coming into the game, Lester has not made a pickoff attempt to first base since April 30, 2013. A period of 66 starts. The Cardinals knew this information and knew Lester wouldn’t be holding them close. So they ran every chance they got. When Lester did finally throw over a few starts later, he threw the ball into right field.
Studying pitchers and learning their tendencies gives you a huge advantage. In the example above Matt Holliday, someone not known for his speed was able to take second base and get himself in scoring position. Due to the team having studied their opponent and knew how to take advantage.
There are players all over baseball that are terrible at sliding. I could write an entire article with images of professional players costing themselves outs by being a poor slider. Here’s an example using Drew Stubbs, an extremely fast base runner. He has 2nd base stolen easily but he doesn’t slide properly. His knee gets dug into the clay and he flips over 2nd base and is tagged out.
There are so many different types of slides that can help avoid tags and put you in an ideal position if done correctly. Pop slides allow you to get to the bag and get on your feet quickly in case you can take an extra base. Hook slides let you slide to the outer or inner edge of the base depending on where the throw comes from. Practice these slides over and over again from a young age. Eventually they become second nature and you won’t end up on the Not Top 10 like Stubbs.
Here the creators of Dominate the Diamond demonstrate the way to effectively slide.
Source: Coaching Youth Baseball & Softball- Majors Course
I also want to take the time to say that sliding incorrectly is very dangerous. Knees are shredded and fingers, wrists and hands broken every year due to bad sliding techniques. Take the time to practice and do it right because trying to come back from a broken wrist is no fun in baseball. Also, don’t dive into first base. It isn’t faster than running through the bag and it almost always ends up badly for the base runner.
Trust Your 3rd Base Coach
Your 3rd Base coach is your greatest ally in becoming a better base runner. It’s important you work with your 3rd base coach and that they realize your skill level so that they can properly coach you on where to go. I know this is difficult but you should always trust your 3rd base coach. If he is telling you to hold up, then put on the brakes. If he is waving you home then turn on the afterburners.
There will be times where your 3rd base coach is wrong, however they always have the better angle at the play. If you are trying to turn your head and find the ball while running, it is going to slow you down. You will be more likely to miss a base and your body will be out of sync. Your 3rd base coach can see if there is a bobble, or if the fielder fields it cleanly and comes up throwing.
In the end, you will save yourself a lot of bad mistakes by listening to and trusting your 3rd base coach. We all know there is no worse look than when you run through a stop sign and get thrown out at the plate. Especially with your cleanup hitter standing on deck.
Know The Situation – When To Take The Extra Base
If you read more of our baseball instructional articles, you’ll find that we often come back to the principle of being the smartest player on the field. It applies to base running as well. You should always be aware of the situation. Perhaps you are a great base runner and always have the green light to steal. However your best hitter is standing at the plate with 2 outs and the other catcher has already thrown you out once. This is probably not the best time to try to prove you can beat the catcher.
This goes back to studying the game and always paying attention. It may be okay to try to stretch a double into a triple early in the game. However, you don’t want to get thrown out at 3rd for the first out in a tie game in the 9th inning. Your 3rd base coach should be helping you in these situations as well. If you are striving to be the smartest player on the field, you will more often put yourself in the best positions to score.
There are so many poor base runners in the game today. Taking these steps to becoming better will set you apart from the rest of your team. Coaches notice when you are working on the little things and sometimes it is as simple as becoming great at the fundamentals. Knowing the situation, becoming a better slider and trusting your coaches.