Category Archives: Baserunning
This post was prompted by a play I saw yesterday on TV during the Oklahoma/Auburn game. It points out both the need for fastpitch softball baserunners to be smart on the bases, and how even the highest level players can make bad decisions.
Oklahoma was up to bat, trailing by two or three runs, with a runner on first. The hitter hits a hard ground ball that goes straight to the second baseman, who is just a few steps from second base. What should the runner going from first to second have done? And what do you think she did?
Let’s answer the second question first. She ran a straight path between the bases, directly in front of the second baseman, who promptly tagged her and threw to first for the double play. I just cringed watching that.
One of the cardinal rules of baseball and softball baserunning is that you never, ever, run into a tag. Make the fielder work for it – she might miss.
In this situation it becomes doubly important because, of course, it leads to a double play.
So what should the runner have done instead? She had several options. One was to dive head-first to try to get under the tag. Or feet first. Or do a tuck-and-roll.
She may have been close enough to get to the bag if the fielder missed. But even if she wasn’t, she might have taken the second baseman by surprise and had enough time to scramble forward to the base. She would either have been safe or would have drawn the throw to protect the batter/runner and avoid the DP.
Another option would have been to stop short and make the second baseman chase her to get the tag, or stop and throw to second. Either of those choices would have once again protected the batter/runner by eating time. While she’s running, the batter/runner is as well.
A third option would have been to divert behind the second baseman, out of arm’s reach, so the second baseman would have to turn away from first to chase her, which – everyone say it with me now – would have protected the batter/runner and avoided the double play.
This last one is the option I would teach baserunners when I was coaching teams. Go beyond and make the second baseman chase you. If necessary, run into the outfield yelling “Woob woob woob” like Curly of the Three Stooges. If you can see you’re going to be out anyway, make sure you’re protecting the batter/runner, and maybe have a little fun while you’re doing it.
No need to worry about the “baseline” either. That’s a very misunderstood concept. There isn’t a single baseline you have to stick to as a runner. You establish your baseline as you run from base to base. So if you’re diverting behind to avoid interfering with the fielder’s ability to field the ball (and that’s the story you’re sticking to) a new baseline is established, which gives you some leeway. Not to the outfield, exactly, but at least some wiggle room. Running to the outfield is only for when you’re sure you will be out anyway.
There are probably more good choices as well. If you have one, please share it in the comments. But there is only one bad option in my experience: running into the tag so your batter/runner can be doubled up at first.
As I’ve always said you don’t have to be the fastest player to be a great baserunner. You just have to be the smartest.The earlier you learn your responsibilities on the bases, the more value you’ll bring to your team and the more success it will have.
By the way, I imagine Coach Gasso will be running some baserunning drills at the next practice to make sure her players remember not to run into a tag the next time. Even those who play for the top D1 seed right now have things to learn.
Baserunning is probably one of the most under-coached elements of fastpitch softball. That’s a shame, because smart baserunning can turn the tide during a ballgame and generate more wins.
And bad baserunning can lose ballgames by not taking advantage of opportunities to advance when they’re there. Nothing sadder than a runner stranded at third who should’ve scored on the previous play but didn’t. Especially if the original mistake happened upstream.
Coaches really need to make a point of working on and teaching smart baserunning. But it’s not all up to the coaches. Players can do themselves a lot of good – and increase their value to the team – if they take it upon themselves to learn all they can about how to gain every little advantage.
Here are a few tips to help you teach better skills (if you’re a coach) or acquire better skills (if you’re a player).
You don’t have to be fast, just smart.
It certainly helps to have 2.7 speed from home to first. But some of the best baserunners I’ve coached and seen had average speed. But what they were was smart. When they were on first, they would look to see whether the shortstop was covering second after each pitch, or even paying attention if the ball wasn’t put in play. They knew they didn’t have the speed to steal the base outright, but they knew they could pull off a delayed steal pretty easily. Knowing what to do and when is a huge advantage on the bases.
Have an aggressive mindset
The other night I was watching a high school game when one of my students got jammed on a ball and hit a little duck snort out behind first base. Instead of doing what most players would do, which is to trot it out and hope it falls in, she took off like she’d hit a ball to the fence. Sure enough, no one got to it and she ended up on second base instead of first.
You see that in the college game a lot. They go hard on every hit, and they keep going until someone tells them to stop.
Always remember that the goal isn’t to get to the next base. It’s to get home. That’s the only way to score. The faster you do that the better off your team is. That goes double when you’re facing a great pitcher where you don’t expect many hits, by the way. Find a way to get home.
Tagging at third
Okay, now for some specific situations. Each of the next three has to do with whether you can gain advantage through your actions. For example, if you’re on third with less than two outs and there is a ball hit to the outfield that might be caught, don’t stand a few feet off the base to wait and see if it is. Tag up immediately and automatically so you’re ready to go home immediately as soon as the ball is touched.
(You don’t have to wait for a catch, by the way. As soon as it touches the fielder you’re good to go, a rule in place to prevent the outfielder from juggling the ball all the way to the infield to hold the runners.)
Here’s where you want to look at the advantage versus disadvantage. If you’re off the bag and there is a catch you have to go back. That may be just enough time to get the ball in and hold you.
If you’re off the bag and there’s no catch, the extra few feet you gained by being off don’t matter. You would have scored anyway.
But if you’re on the bag, you can go immediately when it’s touched, full steam toward home. It’s your best chance of scoring.
Tag or not at second
Here again you have to look at the possibilities. On a softball field with a 200 foot fence, and assuming the players can throw far enough to get the ball in, on a fly ball you want to go as far off the bag as you can and still get back. That may or may not be halfway, incidentally.
The “halfway” rule is myth. Players have different speeds, and outfielders have different arms. Get as far as you can in case the ball is dropped so you can advance. But be sure you can get back if it’s caught.
There’s no need to tag on a ball to left because the throw is short enough that you’ll likely be thrown out if you make the attempt. Again, unless the players are really young or the left fielder has an exceptionally poor arm.
For a ball hit to deep center or right, however, you do want to tag. If you’re off the base and the ball is caught you’ll have to come back, which will probably prevent you from advancing. If you’re tagging, however, you can take off right away and will at least get to third, putting you 60 feet closer to scoring.
Now, if you are off the bag and the ball is hit toward the right field line there is a chance you could score from second if the ball isn’t caught. But the odds are low on a routine fly with even average outfielders. The smarter play is to tag and ensure you’ll get at least one base.
Of course, on an obvious gapper you won’t tag – you’ll probably just go. But be careful. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular catches result in double plays!
Leading off first
This one is really under-coached. If you’re on first and there’s a fly ball to the outfield, you again want to go as far as you can and still get back. If the hit is to left field, especially if there’s a runner on ahead of you, that may mean getting pretty close to second.
If the ball is caught you’re probably not going anywhere so no need to tag. Also with runners ahead of you the opponent is not likely to pay much attention to you. And if it’s not caught you already have a head start on one base, and maybe too.
The same concept applies to center and right, but you won’t be going as far. Get as far as you can and still get back, even if that’s just a few feet away. If the ball isn’t caught you’ll need to advance to the next base so every little bit helps.
This one is pretty easy. The closer you are to where the pop-up is hit, the closer you should be to the base. If it’s behind second and you’re on second, for example, you pretty much want to stand right on the base. There’s no advantage to being a few feet off, but there’s a huge risk if you get doubled off.
Whenever there’s a ground ball it’s critical to avoid contact with any player making a play. If you’re not sure where the ball is, run behind where the nearest fielder is. If you’re hit by the ball when you’re behind the fielder you’re safe (as long as no one else had a play). If you’re hit by the ground ball when you’re in front of the fielders you’re automatically out.
Never, ever run into a tag
Ok, so things didn’t quite go as planned and the ball got to the base ahead of you. The worst thing you can do is just slide in and let the fielder tag you, especially if there isn’t another runner behind you.
Stop and reverse fields to get into a rundown. Maybe they’ll make a mistake and you’ll be safe. Or try a slide-by, where you go well to the side of the fielder and then catch the base with your hand. I once saw an opposing runner stop dead right before our catcher was going to tag her and then completely leap over the catcher. She was safe. It was a spectacularly athletic play that not everyone can do. But if you can do it, go for it.
One last point. If you’re running between first and second and the second baseman fields a ground ball, don’t just let her tag you and make the double play. Run behind her and try to get her to chase you – even if that means running toward the outfield. Sure, you’ll be out, but you were going to be out anyway. What you’re trying to do is protect the batter so she can reach first safely.
Ok, now it’s your turn. What did I miss? What are some of your favorite baserunning strategies? And have you ever seen any moves that made you just shake your head and say “cool?”
One of the staples of fastpitch softball tournaments is the international tie breaker, or ITB. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a way of trying to get to a winner faster in a tie game. After seven innings, or the time limit expires if you’re playing with one of those, each team starts the inning with a runner on second base. The runner on second is the last out from the previous inning. Each team gets three outs to try to score as many runs as they can in their half-inning. If one score more than the other, they win. It’s sort of like the soccer shoot-out for those of you watching the World Cup, or a shoot-out in hockey. While I said “as many runs as you can,” in most instances you’re trying to get one run. Most games that go to the ITB are not double-digit slugfests. They’re usually low-scoring affairs, which is why you start with a runner on second. Softball strategy 101 says the team at bat should sacrifice bunt the runner to third, and then take two outs to try to bring her home. That’s what most teams do. But I have a strategy that, if you have the right pieces in place, can help you get that runner at least to third with no outs. It depends on two things. The first is a runner with decent speed – enough to make it a challenge for the shortstop to cover on a steal. The second is a hitter with the ability to slug bunt, i.e., show bunt then pull back and slap the ball hard on the ground. Here’s how you take advantage of them. If you can get the hitter to a favorable count such as 2-0 where the pitcher really needs to throw a strike, have your runner on second steal third, and your hitter execute a slug bunt. When you do this, you’re starting out by giving the defensive team what they expect – a bunt. Third base will likely be playing up for the bunt, which means the shortstop must cover third on a steal. When your runner takes off, the shortstop will likely start moving to cover third on the throw from the catcher. You may also get the second baseman moving to cover first if the first baseman is also playing close. That opens up some space. After showing bunt and pulling back, the hitter attempts to slap the ball on the ground, either to where the shortstop or second baseman normally plays. There are several possible good outcomes. One is if the shortstop or second baseman did start moving to their respective corners and the hitter gets the ball on the ground, it will roll through the area they vacated, perhaps to the outfield grass. Since your runner was already stealing, she may be far enough along to keep going and score. And you have a runner on first with no outs. What about if the hitter swings and misses? No problem. Perhaps the act of pulling back gets the shortstop to freeze long enough to allow your runner to get to third unchallenged. Even if she keeps going it’s still a tough play at third. A poor throw or a miss and your runner is either safe at third or headed home. Again, you also have a runner at first with no outs. And that runner will likely be standing on second after the next pitch, because the defense can’t afford to let the runner on third score. If the hitter goes for the slug and hits it directly to a fielder, the runner on second is still likely to get to third cleanly, although the batter may be out depending on her speed. In that case you’re no worse off than if you’d sacrifice bunted. Any of those outcomes will make you look like an offensive genius. About the only thing that can go wrong is if your hitter pops up instead of putting the ball on the ground. In that case the batter is out and the runner who was on second will probably get doubled off. Then everyone thinks you’re an idiot. Still, the odds are in your favor. With the summer tournament season heating up, you’re likely to face an ITB sooner or later. Keep this strategy in mind and you just may improve your odds of winning. Now it’s your turn? What other non-standard strategies do you employ on the ITB?
Sliding is one of those softball skills that can be a problem for some players. Many who have the issue are afraid of getting hurt so they avoid it at all costs. That can be a problem in a game, where a good slide (versus running all the way to the base) can mean the difference between safe or out.
How do you get them to overcome that fear? Part of it is teaching them good technique. If they’re confident they won’t hurt themselves too badly they’ll be more likely to give it a try. Still, doing it in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game, well, that’s something else.
This fall I was working with a team that had several players who didn’t like to slide. That led me to create a game that not only gave them lots of practice but made it fun.
Of course, before we played the game we worked on basic technique. I took them into the outfield and had them take their cleats off. That was important so they wouldn’t catch a cleat and turn or break an ankle.
We set up two lines, with a base about 20 feet away. We went over the technique, stressing the importance of running full speed and then driving out instead of sitting straight down. That when on for 15 minutes or so, when everyone was at least giving it a try. Then we did a few other things before coming to the game.
For that, we set four or five bases spaced somewhat randomly, i.e. not in a square. Then it was basically a game of tag. The rules were simple.
One person was “it,” just as in regular tag. If you were standing on a base you were safe. But, and here’s the important part, only two people could be on a base at any given time. There were more than eight players, so that meant some were always off a base. You could run to a base to be safe, but in order to occupy it you had to slide. Once the “free” player slid in, one of the players who had been on the base had to get off. She could not come back to that base, but she could go to another. If the player didn’t slide, she wasn’t safe on the base and could be tagged. If a player was tagged by “it” she became the new “it.”
Once the element of competition was introduced, the players forgot their fear. They were so focused on not being it they were sliding freely and frequently. They were also laughing and having fun. It was great conditioning too – they were huffing and puffing after all the running.
I was told it translated into their next game – a couple of players who hadn’t been willing to slide before did it – and were safe.
If you have players who don’t like to slide give this game a try. I think you’ll like the results.
Now it’s your turn. Have you had any players who didn’t like sliding? What did you do to help them?
I’ve talked before about the value of outs in fastpitch softball. It’s a concept that’s really laid out well in the book and movie Moneyball.
Yet it still can be a bit difficult to grasp in practical terms, especially for players. So I thought of a more concrete way to explain how precious outs are, and why you want to conserve them carefully.
Think about it this way. You want to buy a new iPod. You’ve been working hard to earn the money, doing chores and such, knowing exactly how much you need to make your purchase (including tax).
Finally the big day arrives. You head to the mall to make your purchase, but before you get to the electronics store you stop in to a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes first. Of course when you get to the electronics store you no longer have enough money for the iPod. You lose.
It’s the same with outs on offense. If you waste them on bad strategies or stupid decisions, you may not have enough at the end of the game to go for the win.
Outs are precious. In a seven-inning game, each team only gets a maximum of 21. (In a time limit game, it may only be 18, or even 15). As a player, wasting them by getting doubled off a base on a line drive or pop-up, trying to stretch a single into a double when the ball is clearly going to beat you there, leaving a base without tagging up on a fly ball, popping up a bunt attempt, swinging at strike three that is over your head or in the dirt, etc. can really come back to haunt you.
As a coach, wasting them by automatically sacrifice bunting when you get a runner on first, attempting steals against a catcher with a gun for an arm and a quick release, attempting a steal in the last inning of a tight game with the top of your order coming up, sending a runner for an extra base against a team with a strong defense, etc. can do the same.
Make sure you use yours wisely.
Often times when fastpitch softball hitters are having trouble catching up to the ball, a part of the problem can be found in their mental approach. They are watching the pitch to see if it’s a strike and then making a swing decision instead of assuming the pitch is a strike and then holding up if they see it’s not. The process is known as yes-yes-no rather than no-no-yes.
The same kind of thinking needs to apply to baserunners. They need to be looking for opportunities, assuming opportunities are coming, rather than sitting back passively and then trying to react (usually too late) when an opportunity arises.
This problem is actually how I manage to get baserunners thrown out at third or home from time to time. Because I understand baserunning, and was an aggressive runner myself (hard to believe when you see my picture but I wasn’t always old and fat) I assume my runners are looking for the same things I am.
So I see the ball get away from the catcher with a runner on third, and my immediate reaction is “go!” Unfortunately, if the runner isn’t looking for opportunity her first reaction is usually “huh?” followed by “oh maybe I should run now” followed by running, usually into a tag. It isn’t that the decision to send the runner was wrong — it’s sending THAT runner that didn’t work out because she wasn’t looking for the opportunity. While there may have only been a half-second lagtime between me saying “go” and her leaving, it was enough to get her tossed out.
Runners shouldn’t be relying on coaches to send them. They should be looking for opportunities to go. That means watching the ball out of the pitcher’s hand with the assumption that something will go wrong for the defense, then holding up if it doesn’t.
For example, a runner can look for a ball that slips out of the pitcher’s hand, or a drop ball that will obviously hit in front of the plate. Rather than waiting for the ball to hit the ground and then hit the catcher, the runner should be taking off before the ball hits the ground. It’s a pretty safe bet — not many hitters swing at balls that bounce in the dirt — and those extra hundreths of a second might make the difference between getting tagged out (especially with a strong-armed catcher) and cruising in standing up.
A little more difficult is the ball that is partially blocked by the catcher. It takes a little experience to make the judgment, but essentially you want to see how the ball gets away from the catcher. If you can see it going out to the side, that’s the time to take off because the catcher first has to get to the ball, then get control of it, before she can make a throw. If you’re uncertain, learn to recognize a ball moving to the side versus being blocked in front. As long as the catcher can’t just reach down and grab the ball you stand a good chance of making it to second or third.
If you’re on third, you need to be a little more cautious but you can still take advantage of miscues when they occur. You may have to wait a little more to see what the ball does, but the sooner you recognize that the ball is getting away from the catcher and will have to be tossed, the better chance you have of making it home safely.
But it all starts with planning to run. Make that your first priority, to take advantage of opportunities when they occur, and hold up if nothing happens, and you’ll find yourself getting around the bases a whole lot quicker.
One of the challenges many teams face is getting players to communicate on the field. I saw it happen in a high school game yesterday. A throw came from right field to the second baseman, and she had no clue where to go with the ball. She turned toward third to make a throw, saw it wasn’t there, and then tried to throw to second from an off-balance position. Needless to say it didn’t work out too well, and a run scored and the runner on second advanced.
That’s not unusual. I’ve seen it happen on teams I’ve coached too. So today at practice we did a little experiment that I got from John Tschida at the University of St. Thomas. We sent the girls out into positions with one instruction: absolutely no talking. We then had a couple of coaches act as baserunner while I hit balls into the field.
The girls didn’t like it at all. It was very difficult to know where to make the play and there was a lot of confusion. After about 10 minutes we called them together and talked about it, then sent them back on the field while removing the “no talking” restriction.
It really made the point. We had a lot more talk — not all of it correct, but most of it — and they started making more plays successfully.
If a lack of communication is an issue you face, give this one a try. It probably won’t be a problem for long.
Today was the day we spot-checked how our players are getting off first on a steal. We used a technique I first heard about at the NFCA Coaches College . It’s pretty simple. You set up a video camera(in this case a Kodak Playsport) in a spot where you can see both the pitcher and the runner on first, and then you see whether the runner is getting off the base on time. To make it easier to see, we transfer the video to a computer, incidentally.
It’s amazing what you see when you do it. We tell the baserunners to anticipate the release, essentially getting going when the pitcher’s hand is over her head. The general rule, which I got from Team USA coach Jay Miller, is you’re either safe at second or out at first. Despite all of that, some of our runners were still late getting off first.
In looking back at the video, however, we also noticed a pattern. The players who used the “rocker” start — where you place the left foot on the base and drop the right foot back and to the side — were consistently late. Most were about four frames late (on a 30 fps video). The players who used a “sprinter” start — back foot on the base and front foot out toward second — were either early or on time. None were late.
At that same Coaches College class we were told that when a study was done, the sprinter start came out faster, even though everyone thinks that the rocker start provides an advantage because you’re already in motion. Perhaps, in looking at the video, this is why.
While those doing the rocker start may get started a little earlier, they’re not really getting going early enough. It’s much harder to time the release from the base to the release of the pitch because there is more margin for error. Using the sprinter start, as soon as you get into motion you’re off the base.
If you’ve been teaching the rocker start, it might be worth doing a recording to see if you’re really getting the benefit you think you are. You may just be surprised. And if you do happen to do the test and it shows your players getting off on-time, or early, please share how you’re teaching it. But no speculation — actually run the test.
Just had to share this photo. One week ago today I was explaining to our 14U Glory team about not sliding or running into a tag, especially at home. Instead, I said, if the ball beats you there use a slideby.
Knowing, however, that many people learn better by seeing than hearing, I positioned a catcher at home with the ball, strolled up the third base line, and then took a run at the plate. (I was wearing shorts at the time, incidentally.) As I approached the catcher I got out wide, beyond her reach, executed the slideby and touched the plate with one finger. Safe!
When I stood up to review what I’d just done, one of the girls pointed out that I was bleeding. I didn’t think much of it, but we took a break while I cleaned it off.
Turned out to be worse than I thought at first. In fact, the photo you see here is after a week of “healing.” It’s made for a great war story though, and it definitely demonstrated that I won’t ask my players to do anything I wouldn’t do.
Still, you’d think I’d know better. Old men, especially fat ones, and sliding are not a good combination. I have to think that the added weight didn’t do me much good as I tried to “glide” across the infield dirt.
In any case, while it looks bad I am fine. I’ve been wearing two 3″ x 4″ gauze pads over the area for the last week, changing them each morning before I head to work. It’s not as bad as it was, but I have a feeling I’ll be showing this particular scrape in some form for a few more weeks. Oh well, all for a good cause.