There are some basic rules of baserunning that help determine whether you should be aggressive and try to take that next base. It’s all related to the number of outs and risk and reward. These rules of thumb help explain the difference between a good risk and a bad risk.
Keep in mind that these rules can be adjusted depending on the level. They make some assumptions regarding how easy or hard it is to score. These things will contribute to the willingness to take risks.
At the younger ages and lower levels, for example, rules can be a bit different. It can be very easy to move from base to base due to stealing bases and passed balls. It’s often more likely to keep an inning going with hits and errors.
That said, these are rules you should hear more and more as these kids age. It’s important that your players understand them so that they have a guide for taking their own risks on the bases. Ultimately, you want the player making many of his own decisions on the bases based on instinct. If he’s waiting for a coach to make the decision, it will slow him down and make an out more likely.
So, here we go. The rules of baserunning…
1. Don’t Make the First Out at Home
Don’t try for that inside-the-park home run with no outs if it’s going to be a close play. I know! It’s exciting. But, if that run is important and it’s going to be close, hold the runner at third.
Play everything conservatively from third base with no outs. That includes wild pitches with a runner on third and scoring from second on a hit or from first on a double.
It’s risk and reward. There are no outs, so you are very likely going to score from third eventually. There are limitless ways for you to score within the next couple of outs (wild pitch, passed ball, ground ball, fly ball, base hit, etc.).
There’s no reason to take a big and unnecessary risk.
2. Don’t Make the First Out at Third
Not quite as crazy as making the first out at home, but close.
You’re already in scoring position at second base. You can score on a hit. You can also score on two consecutive outs. A ground ball moves you over to third for the first out and then you can score on a sacrifice fly. Wild pitches and passed balls accelerate the possibility of scoring.
If you think the play at third with no outs is going to be close, hold up that stop sign.
3. Don’t Make the Final Out at Third
Yeah, we’re still at third base.
There’s very little advantage of risking an out at third with two outs when you are already in scoring position at second base.
The number of outs matters. It makes sense to risk getting to third base on a close play with one out. That is your last chance to score from third on an out. But with two outs, it’s a bigger and unnecessary risk.
Now, this assumes that there aren’t a lot of wild pitches. When there are, that opens the opportunities to score from third with two outs. So taking that risk to get to third makes a little more sense.
Otherwise, you will only score on a hit with two outs. A runner on third and a runner on second are both likely to score on a hit with two outs, so taking that risk successfully improves your odds very little.
4. It’s Okay to Make the Final Out at Home
I remember being baffled when I once heard a coach yell at a kid because he said you should never make the final out at home (???). The reality is that this is absolutely when you should take more risks to try to score.
As a third base coach, you have much less pressure here — play it loose (within reason)! Let’s think about this because it’s important to understand why.
You will only be able to score from third base with two outs on a wild pitch or a hit or error. That’s really it. So, there’s no guarantee you’ll get another chance with the ball in play to score. As a result, you should force the defense to make a play.
Take bigger risks. Try to score from second on a single that will be close. Try to score from third on a wild pitch that will be close. Or try to score from third on a short fly ball that is caught for the second out. Where you are in the order or the count will also impact these decisions.
Sometimes you’ll see a runner try to steal home on a catcher’s throw back to the mound. The best time to do this would be with two strikes and two outs. Or when your hitter at the plate rarely gets on base. Your odds at the moment are low to score, so taking a huge risk isn’t much of a risk at all. If you get out, so what?
This rule is consistently true earlier in the game. Obviously, if it’s the final inning and you need more than that one run to score, you’ll need to be more conservative with two outs.
5. It’s Okay to Make the Final Out at Second
So, if there are two outs, take bigger risks to get to second base. Whether you’re stretching that single to a double or you steal second base with players you may not usually run with, it’s okay to take this risk with two outs.
I tend to recommend stealing early in the count in this case. Why? From first, you will likely need two hits with two outs to score — the odds of that aren’t great (clearly, this depends a bit on the spot in the order and competition). But if you get to second base, you can score on one hit.
If you get thrown out, so what? With two outs, you’re just much less likely to score from first base. A great time for this is also when the leadoff hitter is batting. If the runner gets thrown out, you start the next inning at the top of your order.
These are the 5 Rules of Baserunning that you should follow. Also, I understand that it’s not always easy. You’re making a lot of quick decisions. As a third base coach, I have absolutely had a kid thrown out at home for the first out or thrown out at third for the second out. These were not my proudest moments. But, things aren’t always obvious in real time.
This is all about aggressiveness and timing. It’s a good reminder for kids. I will often tell a runner on third, “Hey, there’s no one out. Don’t take any big risks on a wild pitch.” Or, “Hey, there are two outs. Take bigger risks if a ball gets by the catcher. We need this run.”
It’s good that the players have a general understanding of when they should and shouldn’t take bigger risks, and more importantly, why.