What’s the difference between an average base runner and a great one? Knowing the reads of your opposing pitcher, says Chance Beam, owner and president of the Titans Sports Academy in Marietta, Georgia. Did the pitcher’s head go down? He’s coming to the plate. Is his head coming up? He’s throwing to first base.
Beam knows a thing or two about base running. In his 13 years as head coach of the Titans academy program, his teams have an incredible 96 percent base-stealing success rate. That figure is based on eight reads from an opposing righthander.
Coaches can help players practice reads by emulating a pitcher’s movements. If you concentrate on a shoulder read, for example, try moving every other part of your body except that shoulder. If a runner takes off stealing, he’s more likely to be thrown out because he didn’t pick up the proper read. It doesn’t matter if the pitcher balks; concentrate on what that shoulder is telling you. Through this method, players will learn to read and react, rather than guess.
Instead of basing success or failure on emotional decisions, Beam said coaches should teach kids to look at base running from a technical standpoint.
“The numbers tell us what to do, the reads tell us what to do,” Beam said. “Many times in athletics, people get way too emotional about success or failure. They forget to evaluate success in the same way you evaluate failure. When we double our failure rate, in turn, we’re going to double our success rate.”
Beam offers up three additional tips to help coaches turn their players into base-running threats other teams will fear:
1. Emphasize proper running form. Beam puts runners in three classes: base stealers, base runners and base clotters. The fastest runner is not always the best base runner. If a runner’s form isn’t right, speed doesn’t matter. To put it in football terms, runners should move north and south, not east and west. “I’ve had guys who were professional-level runners, and they were horrible base runners because their strides were too long in the first five steps, (or) they didn’t understand reads,” he explained. “They got thrown out more than guys who were ‘slower’ than they were.”
2. Use your time wisely in base-running drills. Most coaches only get so much practice or field time, and base running is often relegated to the end of a practice. If you can, stage situational drills at an indoor facility with a batting cage. To simulate base runners, position players behind and on both sides of the cage. Even with limited space, you can practice the different situations at each base: hit and run, reading the ball going to third, observing a batting angle when heading home, etc. If the field is your only option, set up a ground ball scrimmage. Throw batting practice, and get batters to hit ground balls and advance runners at each base. Make it competitive. Give points to players who hit grounders or line drives, and take away points for fly balls.
3. Give your team room to fail. In a competitive situation, it’s hard to watch players make one mistake after another. But Beam challenges coaches to allow them to fail in order to develop better instincts. For example, instead of telling your runners when to steal, give them green lights and require accountability. If they don’t steal, ask them why. Did they get a good jump? Were they watching the pitcher’s reads? This mindset should encourage your players to be aggressive and push themselves to become top base runners.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.