At the youth level, the one defensive situation that may cause more confusion for kids is with runners on first and third base. Let’s take a closer look at the situation, why it causes problems and how you can approach it with your team.
The opposing team is at the plate and they have runners at first and third base. This often puts the defensive team in a dilemma.
If the runner at first steals, should the catcher attempt to throw him out? If so, the runner may attempt to steal home.
The reason this situation is so often messed up is that the team in the field attempts to do too much. They runner at first goes, so they attempt to throw him out. When the runner at third goes on the throw, they attempt to get him out.
Far too often, the defense falls into chaos, leading to a runner on second and a run scored. We definitely want to avoid that.
But the response is often too conservative. Instead of trying to do too much, the defense does nothing.
Instead, the team in the field show be focused primarily on one runner. Depending on the situation (the score, number of outs, runners on the bases, batter at the plate), the defense should choose to focus primarily on the runner at first or the runner at third — not both.
Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to address both runners. But in general, the players should be focused primarily on one.
Get the Runner Stealing Second
The Play: Pickoff to Third Base
The Execution: The pitcher uses a high leg kick, slow pickoff move to third base. This often results in the runner at first heading to second, thinking that the pitch has been delivered. Assuming the runner at third retreats and the runner at first takes off, this shortens the throw to second to get that runner stealing.
This play works great for a couple of reasons. First, the runner at third retreats with the pickoff move, making it less likely they will head home with a throw to second. Additionally, the pickoff move shortens the throw that needs to be made to second base to get the stealing baserunner, making an out there more likely.
The key here is to sell it. A quick move to third will make it less likely that the runner at first takes off. And the third baseman then needs to be quick in making his throw to second.
Hat tip to Colorado Chaos who used this successfully on us!
Considerations: Feel free to try this multiple times in a row to try and bait the runner on first base.
The Play: Throw to Shortstop Covering Second Base
The Execution: Our only concern here is the runner stealing second. If the catcher has a play, he makes the throw through. Teams often assume you won’t attempt to get the runner at second, so this can work well as a surprise play, catching a stealing baserunner who doesn’t get a good jump.
Considerations: In the image above, we have the second baseman backing up the throw. However, you may consider having the second baseman cut between the mound and second base to make it appear that he is going to take the throw to get the runner at third. This can help prevent the run from scoring. If you do this, the center fielder’s backup becomes more important.
To make an out more likely, you may consider a pitchout — assuming your confidence level is high that the runner on first will be going and you’ll have a chance to get him.
The Play: Throw to Second Baseman Covering Second Base
The Execution: Same situation as above, but with the second baseman covering second base. We’re only trying to get the runner stealing second.
Considerations: Same as above, you may want to have the shortstop cut in behind the mound to act as a decoy to keep the runner at third close. This is a risk on overthrow, so you’ll need to balance the importance of that run.
Once again, you may want to consider a pitchout in the right situation.
Prevent the Run from Scoring
The Play: Throw from Catcher to Pitcher
The Execution: The defense acts as though a throw is being made to second to get the runner stealing. The second baseman and shortstop both rotate. A quick, strong throw is made to the pitcher. If the runner at third ventures too far off the base, the pitcher makes a play on him.
Considerations: The goal here is to prevent the run from scoring. So it’s important that if the runner is caught too far off base that the pitcher first runs at the runner. One option for the baserunner is to intentionally go too far, then run home when a throw is made to third. The defense cannot allow that to be possible.
The Play: Throw from Catcher to Third Base
The Execution: Once again, the defense rotates as if a runner will be thrown out at second. After receiving the pitch, the catcher makes a quick, strong throw to third. The runner will steal second base, and we’re okay with that.
Considerations: It’s absolutely critical that the left fielder charges to back up the throw to third. In the event of overthrow, we need to keep the runner from scoring.
The Play: Throw from Catcher to Shortstop
The Execution: The catcher should approach this as if he is throwing the runner out at second. His throw should be no different. It is the shortstop’s responsibility to cut in between the mound and second to field a shorter throw. The hope is that the runner on third gets over aggressive.
Considerations: The catcher is critical to the success of this play. Often a catcher will wait for the shortstop to cut in front or his lack of urgency will make it clear that they have no plans to get the runner on second.
The catcher needs to make a throw as if he’s attempting to cut down the runner at second. As such, it needs to be a low line drive so that the shortstop can field it regardless of whether it’s on the base or 10 feet in front.
The Play: Throw from Catcher to Second Baseman
The Execution: Same as above, but the second baseman cuts in front of the bag while the shortstop covers the bag (while also backing up the throw). The goal is to prevent the run from scoring or — in a perfect scenario — cut down the runner on third.
Considerations: You’ll typically want your surest fielder and strongest arm handling this throw. Any hesitation or lost velocity can lead to failed execution.
How the Approach Changes
At the top, I mentioned how the situation will dictate which play you call. Let’s take a closer look…
If you have a fast runner on first, you may have no shot at him, even with a pitchout. As a result, trying to throw him out may be an unnecessary risk. But if you have a slow runner there, you may value that out more than the potential run that would score.
An ideal situation is when there are slower runners on both first and third. In that case, you may have a good chance at cutting down the runner going to second, and the third base coach may be hesitant to send the runner from third.
Number of Outs
If there are runners on first and third with no outs, the chances are very good that the run on third will score. As a result, I may concede that run to get the runner at second.
Once again, it’s a balance of risk and reward. If it’s a slower runner on first, I’ll let that run score with no outs to decrease the potential for more runs by attempting to get an out.
But with two outs, it’s usually foolish to attempt to get the runner going to second. All you need to do to prevent the run from scoring is to get the batter out.
The Score and Inning
If we’re up by a bunch, I may be care less about the runner on third and be more interested in getting an out on second — as opposed to simply allowing the other team to put two runners in scoring position.
Additionally, the inning matters. A three run lead is much larger in the sixth than the third inning. So while I may try to keep the runner from scoring with such a lead in the third, I may concede that run and attempt to get the runner at second in the sixth.
This certainly matters. Always think about why the other team may be doing what they’re doing.
If it’s the bottom of the order with runners on first and third, you may be helping the other team by throwing the ball around. Their odds of a hit may be low, even with no outs. So by throwing to second, you are increasing that team’s chances of scoring a run.
On the flip side, what if the meat of the order is up? A hit becomes more likely, meaning a run scored is more likely. Because of that, we may concede the run in this situation, trying to prevent a runner from moving into scoring position.
If we do nothing with the best hitters up, we may have conceded two runs instead of one.
There are obviously many considerations when handling first and third situations, but hopefully this will equip you and your team with some options.
Any other plays that you’d add? Let me know in the comments below!