How to be a better base runner?
March 1, 2011 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Softball-filter: How can I be a better base runner? This assumes I manage to somehow successfully get on base, of course, but let's say I accidentally conjure up enough batting skill to get a base hit. What next?

I know the basics of base-running such as force plays, how to take a turn for extra bases, or when to tag up and when to venture out halfway on pop flies. I also understand some of the basic Little League concepts of trying to score from second on a base hit, or tagging up on third on hits to the outfield.

However, I wish to know more about some of the "advanced" techniques. I often see base-runners checking out the positions of the fielders. What are they looking for? Is it to determine whether or not they can make a play for an extra base? How can I spot these details and make quick decisions for what to do?

Are there other base-running concepts I ought to know about?

I think learning how to run bases and what to look for would also help whenever I happen to be a 1st or 3rd base coach. So while I may not always get on base during my at-bats, I'd like to assist my team using some advanced knowledge that I could put into practice. Thanks!
posted by CancerMan to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does your league allow leading-off before a pitch? Many softball leagues don't, and limits what you can achieve as a baserunner.

The most simple thing is to be aware of how many outs there are and what other runners are on base. If you know this, you can choose what you want to do before the pitch is thrown, and you'll have no hesitation.
posted by krunk at 11:57 AM on March 1, 2011

I know the basics of base-running such as force plays, how to take a turn for extra bases, or when to tag up and when to venture out halfway on pop flies. I also understand some of the basic Little League concepts of trying to score from second on a base hit, or tagging up on third on hits to the outfield.

One you didn't mention is when you are on second with nobody on first (so no force), and there's a grounder through the infield. Generally you should run if it's hit to the right (first base) side of the infield because they will be throwing to first, and hold if it's hit to the left side (i.e. in front of you) so you don't get tagged.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:25 PM on March 1, 2011

Also if you're not getting tagged out on close plays once in a while, you aren't being aggressive enough in your baserunning. In situations where they only have, say, a 50/50 chance of making a good enough throw and tag to get you out at the plate, you want to take that chance, because there will not be a 50/50 chance of the next guy getting you in via RBI.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:29 PM on March 1, 2011

Well there's the popup slide. You could learn that. It's a feet-first slide with one leg folded under. You let your extended front leg fit the base you're running to and then your momentum and a slight flex of the tucked leg pops you back up to your feet ready to roll to the next base is the opportunity presents.

The other thing is to take a few moments and watch the other team warm up. You can spot, say, the outfielders with strong arms and those with weak ones. Then you take that into account when you hit the basepaths.

Oh, and as an old shortstop, I can't stress this enough: If I'm turning the double play and you're running to second base in an upright position, I'm throwing the ball through your forehead toward my first baseman and baseball etiquette means that's okay and you need to go down into a slide. There was a rather large brawl in a game where the runner didn't grasp that, took one in the head and didn't calm down until his own teammates clued him in that he was wrong.
posted by lpsguy at 12:31 PM on March 1, 2011

Best answer: On base hits, you can think about taking one base or two depending on how hard the ball is hit and the position of the fielders. Basically it comes down to how much time you have. On a hard base hit straight at a fielder, they can charge towards the ball (cutting down the distance), scoop it and fire, with all of their momentum behind the throw. On a soft base hit, it takes them a bit more time to charge the ball so you get an extra second or two. If they are playing very deep to guard against big fly balls you have more time; if they are playing shallow because they feel the hitter is weak, you have less. On a base hit into the gap, they are running sideways or diagonally back instead of straight at the ball, so after fielding it they will have to stop, plant their feet, and then throw, instead of doing it in one fluid motion; it takes more time, and the throw will have less power. If you are running for third and they are in right field, the distance is longer so you have more time; you have much less time if they are in left field. All of these things feed into the decision you have to make, so it is critical to know ahead of time where the fielders are, so that as soon as you see where the ball is going you know how far you can get.

It is a similar story on fly balls and line drives, except you have to decide whether to run all out, run part of the way to the next base, stay near the base, or stay tagged up and prepare to run after the ball is caught. You want to maximize your chances of taking a base if the ball is dropped and minimize the chance of being doubled off if the ball is caught. On deep fly balls if you are on third (and often if you are on second) you should always stay tagged up, because odds are you can take the next base once its caught, and if its dropped you will make it anyway; win-win. If you're on first, you have very little chance of tagging and taking second since that base is closer to the outfielders, and you have a risk of being forced at second if the ball drops and they snap a throw, so you should go halfway and wait to see what happens. If the ball is way over their heads, or it is hit into the gap hard and you can tell it will drop, you should immediately run hard for two or more bases. If it is a shallow fly ball that is likely to be caught you should stay close to your base; if it looks likely to drop you should go most of the way to the next one, bearing in mind that even if they make a spectacular catch you still have an extra second to get back while they get back on their feet.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:33 PM on March 1, 2011

One thing I'll never forget about base running in softball is if there are runners on first and third, the runner on first should pretty much always try to steal second (unless the opposing team has a ridiculous catcher/2nd base duo). If the catcher is dumb enough to try to throw you out at second, the runner on third can usually score.

That, and old men shouting "GET THE LEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS!"
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 1:09 PM on March 1, 2011

Pay attention to who has a good arm and who doesn't--if you watch the opposing outfielders warming up, and when your teammates are hitting/running, you'll notice which ones can and can't make plays. That will help you decide how aggressive to be.

Be alert for moving from second to third on a ball to the shortstop or thirdbasemen (when not forced) AFTER they throw it to first. Depending on the level of play, often no one will cover the bag, look you back, or both, especially when the thirdbaseman moves to his left to field the ball. If you take a couple of steps off the bag , you can break on release and hustle over to move yourself up. Make sure they don't pump fake and tag you out though.
posted by stevis23 at 1:22 PM on March 1, 2011

Some of the rules above might not apply to you - for instance, there is no sliding aloud in my softball league, so I'm pretty sure it would not be my fault if someone threw a ball at my head having expected me to slide.

If you know you are going to get tagged out because of a forced play -you can try to deke out the infielder OR you can slow down and make them come to you. Slowing down will prevent them from making a double or allow another runner to advance.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2011

Response by poster: I really appreciate all the responses. While my softball leagues do not allow leading off (and only one allows sliding), I think that baseball-specific answers are still viable and would help further my own knowledge.

It seems there are a lot of these advanced concepts to keep in mind. As a follow-up question, are there any "simulators" or some kind of situational practice that can help me quickly decide or react accordingly at game-speed? My games go pretty quickly and there's usually no downtime between batters or each pitch, so making faster decisions is a plus.
posted by CancerMan at 2:36 PM on March 1, 2011

That's what your team should be doing at practice. You should set up some situations, like "1 out, man on first, outfielders deep" and then someone who can reliably hit the ball to a certain location should hit a few to different spots at varying speeds. The fielders get practice and the baserunners get practice.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:58 PM on March 1, 2011

Response by poster: That's what your team should be doing at practice.
Yeah, ideally we'd have practice, but these are casual leagues that only meet up on game day (as an excuse to drink afterward). So any self-improvement will be done on my own time.
posted by CancerMan at 3:08 PM on March 1, 2011

I think its a lot of thinking about various scenarios and situational awareness.

For example: You get a walk with no outs and no one on base. There's really only four scenarios there.

1 - Someone hits a ball into the outfield that obviously won't get caught. If that's the case - run your ass off!
2 - Some pops it up to the infield or outfield. If that's the case, hold until the situation resolves then run or stay put
3 - There's a strike-out. Stay put.
4 - There's a ball hit to the infield. In that case, run your ass off.

So you see there's four common scenarios - of which three require action. I think its a lot of thinking about this so that when it happens you don't have to start figuring it out and then act.

That, and avoiding the dreaded softball sunburn.
posted by jourman2 at 3:12 PM on March 1, 2011

If this is beer league softball, my advice is to just keep running. My experiences have shown that the general throwing ability is so poor that you will rarely get out. People will think you're an asshole, but that's their problem :^)
posted by krunk at 3:45 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Going to chime in with another question related to base running... I am in a casual softball league. I play first base.

Last week I was playing in a normal first baseman position, a little towards second base. There was a runner on first and one out. A ground ball was quickly hit right to me, it bounced once and I grabbed it.

I was about 3 steps from the baserunner on first base, the league does not allow leading off so his foot was still on the base. The ball was hit rather quickly and I had it in my hand before he could think to run. If he had run I would definitely have tagged him out.

He realizes this and his solution is to not move one inch towards second base. He just stood on first base with both feet with the batter was running right towards him. I run over, tag the guy on first base with the ball, then tag the base with my foot.

I am thinking its a double play, he is forced to run when the ball is hit, he cannot just stay on first base. He is out when I tag him, then the runner is out when I tag the base. The guy on first says he is safe because he is on the base and cannot be tagged out. In his mind only the person who just hit it is out.

I didnt want to get all argumentative but people basically said he was still safe because he never left the base.

Am I insane? I dont see how this is a question...
posted by outsider at 5:57 PM on March 1, 2011

@outsider: you either have to throw to second to get the lead runner, or step on first to get the batter. I believe even if you do nothing and the batter touches first while the runner is still on the base, the batter is out.
posted by krunk at 6:56 PM on March 1, 2011

Outsider, that was a double play. I've been the first baseman in that situation several times, and it was always a double play. One time, I even got a triple play out of a similar scenario at second base.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:15 PM on March 1, 2011

100% correct, outsider. Did you not have umps to correct this fool? (Our grad school league played without them, it's doable.

To actual address the OP, let me second what jourman2 says--think about what might happen before it does! you should know when you're tagging up and when you're going halfway, when you're forced and not, before the ball is even pitched. (It's the same for fielding--think about your responsibilities, and what you're going to do if the ball is hit to you, before anything actually happens.)
posted by stevis23 at 5:08 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: As several have said, the key to good baserunning is to note what the circumstances are (outs and other runners) and be mentally prepared as to how you will react. (That's really also key to being a good defensive baseball player).

I brought what I considered general base running techniques to organized kickball games and simply tore the infield up with extra bases and runs. Just being aware of the general stuff, like you are, can make a difference when the people fielding the ball simply don't expect much out of those base running.

In terms of practice, you can do jourman2 did above. Write down scenarios beginning with "You're on first - no outs: ball hit high in the air toward outfielder..."

Always remember, if there's two outs already and someone hits the ball up in to the air, run, run and run. At worse, they catch it. At best, they miss it and you've got plenty of steam to get to the next base or score.

If there's only one or no outs and a ball is hit into the outfield in the air, this is where you run halfway and see if its caught. If so, trot back to your base. This part can be tricky, as you always have the option to tag up, waiting for that catch and THEN run. Tagging up is more likely used when you're on third or scoring position. Perhaps when there's already one out. It's a personal judgment.

A pop up in the infield just sucks for base running.

In terms of watching the play unfold, if you see an outfielder lazily jogging to get the ball, then take advantage of it and run for another base (especially if they're on the opposite side of the field from the base you're running for).

Good baseline coaches let runners know if they can found a base or stop at it, saving runners the time from checking over their shoulders.

Lastly, Ipsguy is incorrect. A good baserunner ALWAYS does what he can to disrupt a double play, even if it means taking one in the forehead. Generally, it turns into a mental game of chicken, either the baserunner ducks to avoid the throw, the short stop or second baseman moves to throw around the runner, or ball and runner collide. Sliding is often employed for this same action, not to remove the runner from the path of the ball, but to make the thrower very conscious of the spiked cleats flying toward his legs to distract him from the play. Doing anything to HELP the other team make a double play is just bad ball. (If there's special soft ball rules on this - then avoid this paragraph).

And in a belated review of the previous posts, PercussivePaul has a very good answer.
posted by Atreides at 10:15 AM on March 2, 2011

Response by poster: I think a lot of these answers are really good. I've marked a couple so far that other people might reference if they ever have to consider these things.

I know I now have a lot to keep in mind, and much of it centers around developing my powers of observation and deduction. Thanks all!

Oh, and don't hesitate to keep adding; I'm all up for learning!
posted by CancerMan at 2:26 PM on March 2, 2011

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