Baserunning - Scoring on a Passed Ball or Wild Pitch
It gets more difficult and happens less often as players get older, but in youth baseball a wild pitch or passed ball often presents a great opportunity to score a runner from third. In one game this year our 11-12 year old team won a game 5-4, scoring four of our five runs on passed balls, three of them with two outs. I watch many youth baseball games and I'm amazed at how many scoring opportunities are missed because players don't take an aggressive lead and aren't prepared for the ball to get away from the catcher.
It can be a difficult decision for a player to decide whether or not to try and score on a passed ball; that hesitation is often what takes away the opportunity. The first thing I try to do is take the pressure of making that decision away from the player. Our philosophy is that we're going on a passed ball until we see that we can't make it. The player is to look to score on every opportunity and as the third base coach I will help him in determining when NOT to go. Obviously there are situations where we are going to be more conservative, but I can handle those on a case by case basis from the third base box. I try to get my players to expect a passed ball on every pitch. I find it's much easier to stop a player from going home than it is to get them started. Communication is essential from the third base coach and needs to happen on each pitch. Once a player gets to third base I remind them of the situation and I let them know how aggressive we're going to be in trying to get home on a passed ball. In situations where I want to be really aggressive I remind them on each pitch to anticipate a passed ball and to be aggressive in taking their lead.
Pressure on the Coach
Being aggressive on passed balls will put pressure on the third base coach in knowing when to have a player go home and when to stay. If you're not confident in making that decision then it may be tough for you. What I have found is that you will pick it up quicker than the kids because you're there every inning. No matter what player is on third you'll be learning when you can score and when it's better to stay. It takes practice and you'll probably have some kids thrown out at home, but you'll also score some much needed runs during the season.
At practice put a pitcher on the mound with a catcher behind the plate and runners at third. Take the third base coaching box as you would during the game. Instruct the pitcher to throw pitches and every couple of pitches, to throw one in the dirt. This is good practice for the catcher on trying to block the ball; the pitcher on covering home; the runner on being aggressive; and for you in making a decision on when to go. Run this drill at a couple of practices and you and your players will be more confident in these situations during a game.
What to Look For at the Field
- Pay attention to how the ball comes off the backstop. Some backstops that have wood will bounce right back to the catcher and make it difficult to advance. Others will bounce to the sides or stop dead at the fence. Make a metal note as you see pitches get by the catcher for either team what happens when it hits the backstop. This will get you prepared for having a runner on third.
- Try to determine how quick the catcher is at getting the pitch that gets by him. Obviously a catcher that doesn't have much "spring" behind the plate will provide you with greater opportunities.
- Does the catcher like to snap throw to the bases in an attempt to pickoff a runner? If so, make sure your runner is aware and have him take a little shorter secondary and get back quickly.
- Pay attention to the pitcher, not only his control but his reaction after the ball is in play. Is he backing up bases? Does he run to cover first on a ball hit to the right side? Or does he simply stand and observe when the ball is in play? This will give you an indication if he will likely be quick to cover home or not before the situation arises.
What's the Situation?
Of course the game situation will have much to do with how aggressive you're going to be on third base. With no outs and the heart of my lineup coming to the plate, I will be rather conservative because I'm counting on those hitters to drive in the runner. The last thing I want to do is give them an out at the plate and then watch my number three or four hitter drive one in the gap. On the other side of it, if I have someone at the bottom of the lineup coming up with two outs, I may look for any opportunity to score the run and will be more aggressive than normal. You have to consider the score of the game, the inning, how hot or cold the current batter is, and how fast the runner at third in addition to the other items listed.
Older players must take more responsibility in determining when to go as being too aggressive on a ball handled by the catcher can lead to an easy out at third. For older players it's important for them to watch the trajectory of the pitch to look for opportunities. When they read the pitch as one that's going to hit the dirt, they can be more aggressive in taking a secondary lead and reading the opportunity. Here is a drill you can use to help develop that skill: Pitch Trajectory
Good things can happen when you put pressure on the defense. If a pitcher is worried about a runner taking home on a passed ball or wild pitch then some of his focus is taken away from the batter. So even in situations where you can't score on a ball that gets by the catcher, the aggressive nature of your runners will provide a benefit to the hitter. In addition you'll simply score more runs by learning when to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented. There is no substitute for practice and by the end of a season you'll see how confident you and your players will become at being smart and aggressive baserunners.