Managing Base Runners

As players get older and the rules begin to mirror actual baseball, including use of the stretch position, taking leads, stealing base, and so forth, pitchers (as well as coaches) need to adapt.

In youth baseball, a coach can’t always get the kids with the best pop times behind the dish often because that player may be on the mound or playing a middle infield position for all or part of that day. The coach must always make the best use of available talent. Often that puts a less than stellar player behind the plate for some part of each game and often a majority of the game.

While it is also rare for any decent base runner to be thrown out at this level, there is no need to surrender bases willingly, which will lead to higher pitch counts and greater frustration for the pitcher and the defense.

Some tips to employ:

-Match slower pitchers with a catcher who has a faster pop time.
-Never put a kid behind the plate that can’t handle that day’s higher velocity pitcher.
-Work on slide step deliveries as well as pop time drills with your pitchers and catchers.
-Use slide steps to help neutralize faster runners or in running counts.
-Work with middle infielders on how to properly apply a tag to a base runner
-Have pitchers vary the number of times they check a runner before delivery.
-Gain advantage by observing each lead taken by a runner, since often they will change their lead in some way when the steal play is on.
-Work on deception plays with middle infielders to feign an off-target throw or fake a tag to get them to slide when you know the throw will sail into center field.
-Teach middle infielders the proper way to hold runners on second base (often middle infielders are too close to the bag at youth level or pitchers allow huge leads from second)
-Work on pick off plays to second base as well as to first base.
-Tire a good runner out by forcing him to slide back into his base
-‘Bad-ball’ drills with ALL catchers on a regular basis to minimize passed balls. If a kid can’t block the majority of pitches in the dirt or get to balls within 2 feet of home plate to either side, he should not be a catcher (even if his parents have purchased catching gear for him–fun conversation, by the way, to have with parents who have shelled out $200-$300 for young Englebert’s gear.)
-Know which kids have no respect for your team’s ability to throw him out. Employ a first-pitch pitch out. These are often the same kids who draw a walk and run straight to second base without stopping. You know them, they are the children of the A-hole coach that no one likes. Discuss the situation before that half inning. Have your catcher follow him up the line a bit with the ball. If he takes an aggressive turn at first to see how the catcher reacts, the catcher can easily throw him out at first or second.

I’m sure you guys have some thoughts or suggestions, please share them!

[quote=“CoachPaul”]As players get older and the rules begin to mirror actual baseball, including use of the stretch position, taking leads, stealing base, and so forth, pitchers (as well as coaches) need to adapt.

Some tips to employ:

-Match slower pitchers with a catcher who has a faster pop time.[/quote]

A catcher with a faster pop time is a luxury. Instead, have the pitcher pick off the runner at first base on the first pitch. :slight_smile:

Sounds like another luxury. 1st day of practice last week the coaches were praying my son wouldn’t hurt the catcher too bad from throwing too hard. Instead, have the pitcher pick off the runner at first. When the batter reaches 1st on the catcher dropping the thrid strike, pick him off immediately! It’s still an out.:slight_smile:

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
Work with middle infielders on how to properly apply a tag to a base runner.[/quote]

Also, make sure the 1st baseman keeps his eyes on the pitcher. Had a practice last year when one of the coaches was playing 1st base. Principle #1: If there is a runner on 1st, pick him off. My son turned quickly to 1st and threw a strike - except, the first baseman (a coach) wasn’t paying attention and got hit right in the privates. Ouch! Lesson learned. Have the kids keep their eyes on the pitcher.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
-Have pitchers vary the number of times they check a runner before delivery.[/quote]

At the MS level, pick the 1st guy off immediately with a hard throw to 1st. Rest of the kids will be too scared to get off the base.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
Work on deception plays with middle infielders to feign an off-target throw or fake a tag to get them to slide when you know the throw will sail into center field.[/quote]

This just yells of “ERROR ERROR ERROR” and the defensive person being out of position. Too many times I’ve seen MS kids try to do this, and end up with both the SS and 2nd baseman on top of the bag while the hitter bounces an easy ball toward the infield for a single, because nobody is playing their position. Instead, they’re dancing, slapping their gloves, kicking up dirt and all around around trying to be cute and cocky. In MS, keep the kids at their fielding position. Remember Principle #1: Pick the kid off at 1st, that way he never gets to 2nd.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
Teach middle infielders the proper way to hold runners on second base (often middle infielders are too close to the bag at youth level or pitchers allow huge leads from second)[/quote]

See above. They should only be holding the runner on 2nd or 3rd if there is a play called - by the catcher!. Otherwise, they’re out of position and any infield grounder is a hit. Teach the catcher to call the pick off and the infielders to follow the catcher’s direction.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
Work on pick off plays to second base as well as to first base.[/quote]

Principle #1: Keep them from getting to 2nd. At MS, once they’re on 2nd, the odds are a pick off attempt will either be lame or wild. Either way, the results are not good. Principle #2: At MS, once the runner gets to 2nd accept the fact that he’s going to get to 3rd. Therefore, Keep him at 3rd.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
-Tire a good runner out by forcing him to slide back into his base[/quote]

Focus on the hitter and getting outs. While the pitcher is monkeying around with the hitter, he loses concentration and walks the next four batters. This breaks Principle #2: Keep him at 3rd. Keep a 14 year old focused on one thing at a time.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
-‘Bad-ball’ drills with ALL catchers on a regular basis to minimize passed balls. If a kid can’t block the majority of pitches in the dirt or get to balls within 2 feet of home plate to either side, he should not be a catcher (even if his parents have purchased catching gear for him–fun conversation, by the way, to have with parents who have shelled out $200-$300 for young Englebert’s gear.)[/quote]

This I could get behind. Unfortunately, few kids want to catch, and the kid that does thinks it’s beneath his dignity to get dirty and block a bad pitch. Blame it on the pitcher syndrome.

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
-Know which kids have no respect for your team’s ability to throw him out.[/quote]

That would be every kid against our team. :lol: The catcher has a great arm, but has an equal chance of hitting the right fielder as he does the 2nd baseman. Our best hope is he fakes the throw to the base and walks the ball back to the pitcher. At least there’s no error this way. We’re doomed!

[quote=“CoachPaul”]
I’m sure you guys have some thoughts or suggestions, please share them![/quote]

Can’t wait for HS ball. :slight_smile:

Some good feedback I guess as a complete opposite of most of my opinions.

I’m just trying to reconcile when you seem to take a “just pick him off” approach to most strategies I suggest, but when I do say throw over, then you consider it “monkeying around” with the runner.

I guess people will just have to decide which way suits their players’ skill level the best.

On the flip side, from the offensive stand point, I usually tell my runners, “If he’s not throwing over, your lead isn’t big enough.” It also allows the runners to determine their maximum lead and get some confidence that they will be able to get back, regardless of the move the pitcher has. If a runner, gets picked off, it’s usually more to lack of attention on the runner’s part than a superior move from the pitcher. A “pick him off first” runner management strategy will not pay off very often.

Also, if runners are held on properly at 2nd base and the pitcher is not brain dead allowing monster leads, the runner is dead at 3rd with even a mediocre throw from the catcher. The only downside to throwing to 3rd, is if the play is rushed and the ball skitters off down the left field line.

Pick-off plays to 1st base are less effective than throwing runners out at second base. To pick someone off, they must be caught napping.

Take your signs from the base, find the ball and lock on to it, take your lead, and be ready to get back or take your secondary lead.
If you are stealing, shorten up your lead just a bit so you don’t have to focus so much on the getting back part and you can focus on the pitcher’s commitment to throw home and get a good jump.

Having a little fun at Middle Schoolers expense.

Again, having a little more fun at Middle Schoolers expense. Travel Ball/ All Stars/ hot stuff, etc. They’ve got the goods, but not the maturity or the discipline to do anything complicated, or anything that needs more than two second attention span. They throw it over to 1st a couple times to keep the runner close, then forget how to throw a strike. Or they throw a strike down the middle that gets killed. Very short attention span at 13/14.

The"pick them off" approach is because my son gets fed up with his teammates goofing off all the time instead of being serious about the game. If you see enough throws from the catcher to left field or center, eventually the pitcher takes the game into his own hands, i.e., picks the runner off 1st so there is not throw to 2nd.

I tell them the same thing. With a MS attention span of 2 seconds, I’ve seen my son pick a kid off 1st who had a one-foot lead. After 2 seconds, the kids gazed off into Neverland, and my son spun to 1st and threw him out before the kid moved.

Here’s what I see at the middle school age: the 2nd baseman and SS take turns running behind 2nd, slapping their glove the whole way and kicking up a mountain of dust. Soon, both are doing the same thing at 2nd, leaving gapping wholes in the infield. They say they’ll get back to their position before the ball is hit, but their reflexes are slower than their good intentions. There’s no explanation to how a middle schooler thinks.

And that’s why it’s effective at middle school age. Two second attention span + Goofing off continuously = getting caught napping.

In a perfect world, this doesn’t happen. But we are talking about 13 and 14 year old boys.

I definitely see the lack of attention span you are describing, and as I mentioned before, teams being able to run with impunity can really get under a pitcher’s skin or that of the defense. :twisted:

I too have seen that spaced out kid get picked off with less than a body length lead off first base while getting signs from a coach who was also too absent-minded to get the kid back on the bag before giving signs. :oops:

You mentioned the glove slapping and dirt kicking going on behind the runner. The reason why kids do it is because undisciplined runners yo-yo back and forth like frightened rabbits.

Another thing I ask my runners at second base. “Can the pitcher throw the ball to second base any faster when the SS is kicking dirt?” When they answer NO, then I tell them to get their lead based on the pitcher’s ability to beat them with a throw and HOLD YOUR GROUND.

Additionally, if no one is holding you on, your lead should match the distance of the closest defensive player. If the shortstop happens to be the closest defensive player to 2nd base, the coach will stretch you out until your distances from the bag are the same and have you shorten up when necessary. The runner can then stay locked on the ball and listen for the coach.

I like to practice my kids move. Have the 1b give him a nice target, knee high, corner of the bag. It should be a portion of any pfp work. I also like for my pitchers to have more than one move…up to 6, 1st motion, holding the ball, from set, best move, step off fake, and a balk move where you break the back leg but still go over (Almost never called one but it certainly is one).
I will discourage a kid from an elaborate stretch motion…all it does is allow the runner to gain ground. The more time spent wasted going over is an effort to bring an error. Keep it simple, 1st runner on, go over (Just to get the distance and let them know you will go over). Then vary your delivery times, get set and go. My kid loved to pick guys and was very good at it. He worked stuff with his 1b, for example the 1b would be talking all game “come on kid”…when there was a play to be made it was “come on Andy”…
I don’t encourage a slide step more than just a simple stretch delivery that is consistent…knee back to knee and go.
He used to just love to get that cocky kid, arms shaved, batting gloves hanging out the back pocket…sweat bands…you know the guy…plunk him a good one on the thigh…then (particularly if he was in the 3rd base dugout)…he’d pick him 1st thing…and just sit and watch the guy back to the dugout… :lol:

Great idea’s, especially the name call for the play.

We do something similar when we have a runner on second who relays the pitch to the hitter. If it’s a fastball we use the player’s first name, if it’s off speed we use their jersey number. When we’re just cheering we use derogatory nicknames :wink:

:lol:

One day, many moons ago, my incredible pitching coach asked me how I was doing with holding runners on base. I replied that maybe I had a problem there, first because I was righthanded (and many righthanders have a problem with that), and second because I actually didn’t have much opportunity to work from the stretch except in relief. He told me not to worry about that, that we would work on this the next time we met, and the following Sunday we spent a whole morning working on this. We worked with phantom runners, ranging from the “bump on a log”—the runner who wasn’t going anywhere—and working all the way up to the definite threat to steal. All kinds, all bases. And he taught me a devastating snap-throw which became a very good pickoff move for me. Then, sometime later, we had an afternoon PFP workout with live runners and all sorts of defensive plays; he had told me that whenever a pitcher steps off the rubber, either in completing a pitch or in throwing to a base, s/he becomes a fifth infielder and has to be able to do all the things infielders do, and this workout emphasized this. Believe me, I got more out of that three-hour session than most pitchers do in a whole season!
And whoever mentioned the slide-step is absolutely correct. Baserunners don’t have the advantage when the pitcher is doing this—as I did. I used a slide-step all the time. 8) :slight_smile: