September 25, 2015

Some Base Running Advice

I should begin this essay with a disclaimer. I am not a baseball player or baseball expert. I love the game, but I have never played organized ball. I am a fan, though not a fanatical one. I follow the Pittsburgh Pirates, but I don’t know much about players on other National League teams. I don’t even care to know anything about the American League—not until the junior circuit eliminates the designated hitter and returns to playing real baseball, anyway.

On the other hand, I watch every Pirates game I can, and I think I may have learned a thing or two by doing so. Although I can’t offer much wisdom about pitching, fielding, or hitting, observation suggests that baserunning on the Pirates team (and on other teams as well, actually) could be improved by following some simple rules. I therefore offer rules below that are often violated, usually to the detriment of the runner. If any of my rules seems wrong, do offer your reasoned corrections.
  1.  Run like hell. When you hit the ball, unless it’s clearly foul, run all out to first base. Plays at first base are often close, and fast runners sometimes beat the throw on what seem like routine plays. Besides, even on routine ground balls, things can go wrong. Running as fast as you can can capitalize on your opponent’s mistakes. If a hit is potentially an extra-base hit, running fast out of the batter’s box can get you safely to second or perhaps even to third. As a fan, it is frustrating watching a batter run at an average speed to first base only to turn on the speed when it’s clear that the hit can be stretched to at least a double.
  2. Don’t slide into first base. A slide into first base is a bad move about 99.99% of the time, but one sees players trying it more than 0.01% of the time. Even the rare slide is usually a mistake. Since a player can run past the base and still be safe, unless you can slide faster than you can run, it is better to run. If you can slide faster than you can run, scientists should study your technique, since you are apparently violating the laws of physics. So, when should you slide into first base? Doing so only makes sense when a fielder is in front of the base trying to tag you before you reach the bag. By sliding, you may be able to evade the tag by making the fielder reach down. (But don’t get your hopes up.)
  3. Slide and stick. When you slide into a base, be sure that, once you touch the base, you continue doing so. Runners are sometimes called out because they reached the base safely but lost contact with the bag for just an instant and were tagged out. This is sometimes difficult advice to take. Practice helps.
  4. Use base coaches. Don’t watch the ball. It drives me crazy when a batter hits the ball and trots toward first base while he watches where the ball is going. This can seem lazy or arrogant (and probably is). Run, dammit. (See Rule 1.) Watching what’s happening in the outfield while rounding the bases slows you down. Rely on base coaches to indicate when you should run and when you should stop. Generally, baserunners should have two speeds, run and stop, with no speed in between. Exceptions are (1) when caught in a rundown and (2) when you are waiting for a fly ball to be caught. In the first case, good luck. Runners seldom survive rundowns, but a clever runner sometimes evades the tag. When waiting to see if a fly ball will be caught, it can make sense to watch the ball before deciding to run. Even this can involve a turn of the body, however, and relying on the base coach may get you to the next base an instant faster.
  5. Stop, but look about. Upon reaching a base where you intend to stop, take a quick look around to see what is happening. A ball may have gone farther than expected or been mishandled. It may be possible to take another base. And, of course, check the base coach. (See Rule 4.)

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