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Friday, December 24, 2010

Base Runner Mistakes

The 11th of 12 posts related to common mistakes players make by position.
Playing base to base. This involves the mentality that affects many base runners especially those who do not have much running speed.  When runners know that foot speed is not their strength, they frequently fear taking any risks at all on the base paths even in situations that call for taking an extra base.  As a result, they play “base to base” and require multiple hits in order to score them.  A player who has the desire and confidence to stretch a single into a double is usually capable of scoring a run with only one additional hit.  The same runner who stops at first and plays base-to-base is going to require multiple hits to force them around the bases and score.  Obviously, every coach on Earth would rather have the first runner in their line-up.  Keep reading for tips on how to go from a “base to base” runner to a more aggressive, confident one. 
Base coaches are important but
should not be needed very much  
by great base runners
Relying too much on coaches. As stated in this post about organized ball, many runners rely too much on base coaches to tell them when to run and when to stop at a base.  For great base runners, base coaches are only needed when the ball is being thrown from behind them and therefore outside their vision.  Rounding third on a base hit is one example.  Going to third with a throw coming from center or right field is another.  In both cases, the runner has a tougher time seeing the play develop behind them and may not be able to determine whether to continue, stop, and/or slide.  However, in just about every other scenario, the runner should be able to run and watch the play develop since the play and throw is within their field of vision.  This requires the runner to run with their head up and eyes on the play.  Of course, this contradicts what many little league coaches teach runners.  They are commonly told to not watch the ball, just run, and do what the coach tells them to do.  This responsibility has to shift much more to the individual runner as they get older because the game gets faster.  At the higher levels, plays develop faster and runners do not have time to wait for instructions.  They have to just react on their own or else they will miss the opportunity.
Poor anticipation.  Ask any experienced coach about base running and they will probably say that the best base runners are often not the fastest runners.  Sometimes the fastest runners have been able to rely on their speed and have neglected the finer points of base running.  Slower runners know that in order to continue playing they have to be more selective about their aggression on the base paths.  This requires gathering information prior to the play and anticipating what is going to happen before and during the play.  Here is an example of how this could work.  A runner on base recognizes that the count is 1-2 on the batter.  He also knows beforehand that the pitcher uses a curveball in the dirt as his strikeout pitch.  In this count, it is likely the pitcher is going to throw a curveball and therefore more likely the ball will bounce in the dirt.  Knowing this, the runner anticipates the catcher having to block the next pitch and either steals on his own or at least is ready to move up on a passed ball or wild pitch.  In all these cases the runner is able to get a better jump than the runner who just reacts to what they see happen after the fact.    Great base runners are more aware of what’s going on around them and use that information better than most.  Here is one person's opinion on the best base runners since 1954.
Players take turns practicing their base running during a
batting practice session in spring training.
Lack of practice. Although running the bases should be the easiest thing a player does on a baseball field, it is often the most screwed up because it is rarely practiced at all let alone practiced at a high level by young players.  I mentioned in my center field mistakes post that the best way to practice outfield skills is during batting practice.  The same holds true for base running.  Batting practice gives runners a chance to practice their base running skills in game-like situations that require the ability to anticipate and read the ball off the bat.  A common practice for great base runners is to play mental games while practicing base running.  By that I mean runners pretend they are in common game situations and react to a batting practice hit as if they are in a real game.  For example, a runner on first during batting practice could pretend there are two outs, shuffle off on the pitch, and go on contact like they would in a game.  Another time they could pretend they got the hit-and-run sign and break on the pitch, look in at the plate like they would normally do in that situation, and react depending on what the batter does with the pitch.  This process can be done at second base and third base as well.  The point is, when practicing base running, there are so many options base runners can take but it requires diligent practice and a creative mind.
Tomorrow:   The Bench Player

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