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NFCA Instructional Corner: Baserunning (Posted October 25, 2002)

By Kevin Blaskowski, Head Coach

Southern Arkansas University

There are a number of different areas of a program's offensive philosophy that can be emphasized. This year we are making a point of emphasizing (and sometimes over-emphasizing) our baserunning philosophy. We believe that a major factor in our success this season will be the way we take advantage of baserunning situations.

We have worked hard during our fall practice season to develop an aggressive, yet smart, mentality on the bases. Some teams are aggressive, but do not think well on the bases and take themselves out of scoring positions, rather than creating them.

Baserunning Guidelines
Alertness and quick response will be key tools to our success on the bases. We have developed the following guidelines, which we have implemented into our offensive philosophy.

1. We will always look to take the extra base. We have to come out of the batter's box aggressively and look for the extra base on every at-bat.

2. When the baserunner has visual sight of they ball, she is on her own and must look to be aggressive. Base coaches will bring runners back with a verbal call, if needed.

3. If the baserunner cannot maintain visual contact with the ball, she must make early visual contact with the base coach to pick up visual signals.

4. Whenever a baserunner hears a verbal (STOP) call, she must immediately return to the nearest base.

5. Baserunners must always use an aggressive primary or secondary lead. Their lead must appear the same in both base stealing and holding situations.

6. Baserunners must always be aware of the situation. Score, inning and outs are their responsibility. They must also be aware of the speed of other runners on base, if they are present.

7. Baserunners are responsible for seeing bunts down, line drives through and fly balls down or caught, before advancing.

8. Baserunners are responsible for the tag and their jump in all tagging situations. They do not wait for a coach to tell them what to do. They will return to the bag immediately and see the ball caught before making their break. They must break aggressively in all situations. The base coach will use a verbal call to bring them back (not tell them to go).

9. Baserunners must slide in every situation that it is warranted. Breaking up a double play is vital, when possible. They must also expect to slide on any multiple base hit or advancement.

And most importantly, our baserunners must remember the golden rule of baserunning:

10. RUN HARD & TURN LEFT. No situation allows them to jog or let up. They must implement good corner turn techniques and drop the inside shoulder and touch the inside corner of the base to minimize distance covered.

Communication Tools
Communication between coaches and baserunners is vital. All communications must be relayed early and clearly. We implement both verbal and visual communication tools. Our verbal communication tools must be clear and consistent. We use the same commands for the same situations. Our visual communication tools must be obvious enough to allow our baserunners to see them early and throughout the entire play. Coaches must put themselves in positions to be seen.

Baserunning Keys
We ask our players to be very observant and look for a number of keys that can assist our baserunning philosophy. Some of the keys we look for are Ï

A. Outfielder arm strength. This is vital. We have to identify which outfielders we can attempt to take extra bases on when the situation presents itself. Pre-game warm-ups are a good time to look for this.

B. Catcher's arm strength and throwing techniques. We look at this early in the game. Does she throw the ball back to the pitcher from her knees? Does she lob the ball back to the pitcher? What type of throw does she use in steal situations? What is her demeanor after a passed ball or wild pitch? These are some of the questions we look to answer.

C. The pitcher's motion. We use the rocker step, so it is very important that we get our timing with the pitcher's motion. Everybody has to work on this early in the game and be consistent throughout the game.

D. Defensive aggressiveness to the ball. Do the outfielders attack the ball or are they conservative? This is key to our ability to take extra bases on base hits to the outfield.

E. Defensive positioning and coverages. How deep are the outfielders playing? Who covers bases in steal situations? What does the defense do when we show bunt? These are key questions we look to answer very early in a game.

F. Field and weather conditions. How long is the outfield grass? How deep are the fences? What direction is the wind blowing from? Is the ground hard or soft? Is it raining or is the grass moist? These questions give us a lot of insight into how aggressive we are on the bases.

Taking A Lead
We use the rocker-step to take our leads at every base. We feel like it gives us the best timing and jump. We expect everybody to use the same lead and be aggressive. Our non-base-stealers are key in helping our base-stealers get better jumps. We expect that we will have at least one baserunner called out for leaving early in each game we play. We do not discipline our players for being aggressive.

Another key to taking a lead is our use of a secondary lead in scoring situations. We use our secondary lead in most situations with a runner on second base. Our secondary lead is an extension of our regular lead. In a regular lead situation, we take three aggressive steps. In our secondary lead, we look to take four or five aggressive steps and we back our lead of the baseline approximately two-to-three feet. By deepening out our lead, it allows us a good angle to third base on balls hit to the outfield. By taking a better angle, it allows us a better opportunity to score on a base hit.

All parts of our baserunning philosophy begin with an aggressive lead. Our players know that if they do not get a good lead, they are in control of the decision-making process and we do not want them to make poor decisions on the bases. We do not want to discipline our baserunners for being over or under aggressive depending on the situation. We want to encourage and promote aggressiveness.

Base-Stealing Situations
Base-stealing is not as much a matter of speed as it is taking advantage of a situation and catching the defense off-guard. Baserunners with average speed can be successful base-stealers, if they pay attention to the game and are opportunistic. We believe the key to being a successful base-stealer is getting a good jump and accelerating quickly. Our first step in a base-stealing situation is an aggressive crossover step, in which we pull the upper body through with the left arm and drive the left leg across our body.

We also try to identify the best situation to steal a base. We try to read the pitcher's tendencies and identify the best pitch in each at-bat that we can run on. We are more apt to use the hit-and-run or bunt-and-run early in the count and wait to attempt to steal bases late in the count. Our philosophy is that pitchers are more likely to throw off-speed pitches or pitches that are tough to handle later in the count if they are ahead of the batter.

Stealing Third Base
We look to steal third base more than we look to steal second base. There are a couple of reasons for this philosophy. The first is the fact that people expect you to steal second base more than third base. The defense is more alert to that situation. The second is the fact that it is easier to beat defensive coverages when you steal third base. We want to put baserunners in a foot race with the shortstop covering third base. We feel it is very difficult to catch a ball on the move and apply the tag. If we feel that the third baseman is playing back, we are more than likely going to attempt to drag bunt down the third base line and attempt to create a defensive coverage miscue.

We are more apt to look to steal third base, when we have runners on first and second base. Even if our runner does get thrown out at third, we can still advance a runner into scoring position at second base. Delayed steals are also very successful in this situation. We look to read if the shortstop and third baseman rotate all the way to third base on every pitch. If they do not, we can extend our lead and look to delay steal on the throw back to the pitcher.

Conclusion
It is everyone's goal to take advantage of every scoring opportunity during a game. Some are conservative and wait for those scoring opportunities to present themselves. Our philosophy is to create as many scoring opportunities as we can during a game. Our baserunning philosophy is a key factor in our overall offensive philosophy.