One of the toughest things as a coach is helping young players understand when they should and shouldn’t try to move up a base. When should you be aggressive? When should you be conservative and stay where you are?
It’s all about the situation. It’s all about risk and reward. And this is a complicated concept that isn’t easy to communicate.
There’s an activity that I’ve used several times now that I’ve seen can help — and you may want to try something like this, too (there’s a spreadsheet you can use at the bottom of this post). While it’s a bit nerdy and ultimately a math lesson, it shows players all of the things that contribute to whether they are going to be safe or out. And it also gives them a foundation for seeing in real time the opportunities they may be passing up.
Baserunning is MATH. Let me explain the exercise…
When I do this, I do not tell my players what we’re doing. They’ll eventually figure out they’re being timed, but we don’t want them to artificially enhance their times. Make sure they understand it’s not a competition. I usually focus on average times so that the results are realistic.
I bring an iPad and create a spreadsheet that automatically computes some things quickly for me. If you’re not super comfortable with spreadsheets, you can collect the data during one practice, then calculate things to give you something to show your players at the next one.
The goal of this practice is to collect times. So, bring a stopwatch or use your phone. You may want to have a coach responsible for this.
The times you collect are explained below. But, break baserunning into steps. You’ll have separate stations for your baserunners, pitchers, catchers, and also fielders.
Let’s dive in…
Stealing bases is MATH. The time it takes you to get to the next base needs to be less than the time it takes the ball to get from the pitcher to the catcher to a fielder at that next base.
We will want to collect times on all of the following things related to stealing bases:
- Stealing second from a normal lead at first
- Pitcher throwing from the stretch to home
- Catcher’s pop time to second (catcher receiving, throwing to second and the fielder makes the tag)
- Catcher’s pop time to third (catcher receiving, throwing to third the fielder makes the tag)
We time all of these things separately. It works like this…
Line everyone up at first base. Put a cone at a normal lead at first. The runner cannot take a lead beyond this. Start a timer when the pitcher lifts his front foot. Stop the timer when the runner slides into second.
[NOTE: You could also time your runners stealing third, but I usually skip this and simply use the times from first to second and apply that to third as well.]
Also have several pitchers pitch from the stretch. Time them from the moment they pick up their foot to the time the ball hits the catcher’s glove.
Have all of your catchers receive throws. Find their pop times for throwing both to second and third base. Start these times when the ball hits their mitt and stop it when the fielder puts down the tag at second or third.
Then, average the pitcher and catcher times to come up with an expected time it takes for the pitcher to deliver a pitch and the catcher to complete throws to both second and third.
The spreadsheet will then tell us which runners would be safe on a typical steal of second and which would be safe on a typical steal of third. We’ll also learn how close they’d be in either case.
This leads to a conversation when it’s close. What might lead to you being out? It’s probably things like:
- Bad lead
- Bad jump
- Move by the pitcher
- Release and throw by the catcher
This helps the players understand the things they need to look for to steal. This also helps them see how much harder it is to steal third. They need a bigger jump. It’s important the pitcher doesn’t have a fast move to the plate.
They also need to know their own strengths and weaknesses — and their speed.
Off From First on a Fly Ball
This also carried over into outfield hits when we are on base. As coaches, we felt our runners weren’t getting aggressive enough off of first base on most fly balls. They would stay far too close to first when they are often safe to venture far off of the base. We needed an exercise to test this theory.
We set up two cones between first and second base, one halfway and one at the three-fourths point. We then collected times from three different stations:
- Halfway between first and second, running back to first
- Three-fourths of the way to second, running back to first
- All the way to second, running back to first
In each case, they would be in an athletic position, leaning away from first base when we told them to go. They’d then return and slide into first base.
We then set up relay stations for throws from the outfield to first base. Cones were set up in the following locations:
- Shallow left field
- Deep left field
- Shallow center field
- Deep center field
- Shallow right field
- Deep right field
We then collected a series of times from each station to first base, including a cutoff man where necessary.
The final step: We compared the times it took our runners to get back to first base from each station to the times to get the ball back to first base from each location in the outfield.
The point that we learned: As expected, we were not getting far enough off of first base on balls hit in the air. The time to run back to first was often much faster than the time for the fielders to get the ball back to first. We had more time than we thought. In some cases, we could go all the way to second and still make it back.
This exercise helped them see this.
First to Third
Finally, there was one more exercise. We timed everyone from a secondary lead at first base to a slide into third. We already timed throws from each outfield position to first, so we just took the mirror times of each to represent throws into third. We then timed how long it took for a hit ball to reach those locations in the field from the point of contact.
Once again, baserunning is math. How long will it take us to get from a secondary lead at first to third base if we run hard all the way? Will it be more or less than the time it takes for a hit ball to make it to an outfielder at different locations and then ultimately make it back to third base?
Once again, we did this because we had a theory. We felt that we were not aggressive enough from first base on hits to the outfield. We often slowed down or assumed we were stopping at second. We were satisfied.
But this showed them that if they ran hard all the way (important!), they had a good chance to go from first to third on many of these hits.
It’s All Math
So, yeah. Baserunning is MATH! Whether you are safe or out is all about the difference between two different times:
- How long it takes you to get somewhere
- How long it takes the defense to get the ball to the same place
There are many factors that contribute to those times. If you limit the things that add to your time and take advantage of the things that add to the defense’s time, you maximize your chance to advance.
Get Your Own Spreadsheet
Do you want to take a shot at applying this for your team? You can create your own spreadsheet. You can even start with an example that I created.
Here’s what it looks like. Below the embedded spreadsheet, you can click to download a copy of your own Google Sheet.
Use it to collect your team’s times or use it as inspiration. Good luck!