Base coaches are a vital part of an offensive effort in baseball. Even the most knowledgeable base runners depend on the coaches to guide them around the bases, especially in a high-pressure situation. Here is an in-depth look at the base coaches’ duties, and the skills they need to be effective.
The base coach’s job begins when he first enters the ballpark. Let us assume you are the coach. Your first job is to.
Scout the Park and the Competition. Observe the quirks of an unfamiliar ballpark– the size of foul territory, distance from the plate to the backstop, the condition of the outfield surface and warning track, the height of the grass, the direction of the wind, and the amount of glare from the sun.
During the opponent’s pre-game infield, and throughout the game, study the other team’s tendencies and capabilities.
a) Scout the strength of outfielders’ and catcher’s throwing arms, where the fielders position themselves in the field, and how they adjust their position for each batter or pitch.
b) Analyze the opposing pitcher’s pick-off moves. Do his body mechanics telegraph his throws to the base? Is his rhythm of checking runners predictable? Time his delivery to the plate with a stopwatch. If a pitcher takes more than 1.5 seconds to deliver a pitch from the stretch position, base runners gain an advantage in stealing second base. Base coaches should also notice if the pitcher employs a slide step to the plate.
c) See if the opposing pitcher tips off his pitches, or follows a pattern in his pitch selection. Watch the pitcher’s grip and the angle of his arm, wrist, and glove during his wind-up. Are they different for each type of pitch he throws?
Feed all this information to your base runners. Vocalizing these observations to players actually helps base coaches recall these same factors in pressure situations and make split second decisions.
If the opposing bench coach is calling pitches, try to steal his signs, at least to the extent of distinguishing fast balls from off-speed pitches. Do not relay the pitches to your batter. Mistakes in stealing signs and conveying the wrong information can lead to serious injury to the batter. But predicting pitch selection gives base coaches a decided edge in formulating offensive strategy and anticipating the defense’s reactions.
Help Runners Focus. When a runner arrives at the base, help him concentrate on the task of base running. Shift his attention away from the previous at-bat or running play, especially if the play was dramatic.
Quickly recap the game situation aloud– the inning, score, number of outs, who else is on base and where. Bring the pertinent points to the forefront of the runner’s mind.
Also, verbalize a checklist of the runner’s possible responses to the very next play. Keep each phrase concise, and emphasize one or two key words. For example, remind runners to perform one or more of the following:
“Advance on a ground ball”,
“Go half way on a fly”,
“Pick up the 3rd base coach on a base hit”,
“Freeze on a line drive”,
“Make sure the bunt hits the ground before you run”,
“Be alert for passed balls”,
“Check the position of the outfielders”,
“Get a good secondary lead”.
React to the Ball. While the ball is in play, help the runners advance around the bases and ultimately score. Be the eyes and ears for the base runner, especially for any activity out of his view.
Alert runners to the unexpected, such as errors and overthrows. Inform a runner at second base where the middle infielders are and how much of a lead he can take. Yell “back” on pick-off attempts.
Review After the Fact. Between innings or after the game, discuss the key base running situations you encountered with the players. Resolve any communication problems. Explain the logic of the coaching decisions you made while they were on base. Praise the players for their successes. Solicit questions and feedback.
Skills & Traits:
Here are four characteristics of effective base coaches:
Communicate Clearly. Good base coaches are effective communicators. This must be true in spite of the fact that base coaches speak in “code” to maintain the element of surprise. Establish a language known only to your team. Use it consistently. Review your language and base running policies regularly with players during practice.
Have a corresponding set of hand signals. Verbal commands can be drowned out by noise from the stands or the defense. Hand signals are often more effective and discrete.
Ingrain the meaning of each verbal cue and hand signal during “chalk talk” sessions, scrimmages, and base running drills in practice.
Be Animated & Loud. Good base coaches are easily seen and heard by runners and batters. Base runners must be able to see the third base coach clearly in between glances at the fielders and the ball. Use exaggerated arm and hand gestures. For example, the third base coach can kneel or crouch down when instructing the runner to slide on a close play.
Make Snap Decisions. Be ready to react to the unexpected– passed balls, wild pitches, catcher’s rifling the ball to a base after the pitch, a bobbled ground ball in the outfield. Your brain must process information with computer-like quickness.
For example, when the batter launches a double into the gap with a runner on first base, the third base coach must consider all the following factors as part of his decision whether to send the runner home:
Base runner’s foot speed,
Outfielder’s arm strength,
Relay man’s arm strength,
Number of outs,
Which batter is on deck.
Here are two tips to improve your decision-making:
a) Pre-pitch planning. Rehearse the possibilities in your mind before they happen. Anticipate the other team’s moves. Warn the runner if you suspect a particular defensive play.
b) When unexpected plays do occur, go with your gut. Have the courage to make the wrong call. You will find you are usually right when you follow your first instinct.
Encourage Aggressive Play. A good base coach realizes his capacity to set the tone for the offense. Players feed off the base coach’s aggressive calls. When the coach shows confidence in the player’s ability to execute, it boosts their confidence. Calling an aggressive base running game from the coach’s box can spark a rally.
Take high percentage risks. When the game situation permits, force the defense to make a perfect play in order to tag the runner out. Pressure the defense into committing errors.
Some X’s and O’s:
The first base coach is responsible for all base runners from the time they exit the batter’s box until they commit themselves to second base. Once a runner leaves first base, the third base coach assumes responsibility for the runner until he leaves third to score.
The third base coach must maneuver himself directly into the runner’s line of sight. Remember to remain well into foul territory at all times and avoid making contact with any runner while the ball is in play.
On a base hit with runners at first and second, the third base coach must give verbal commands and hand signals to both runners. If the coach sends the first runner home, he then must pick up the trail runner and tell him whether to stay at second base or advance to third.
Who is responsible to coach runners once they leave third base and try to score? The on-deck batter. Base coaches should teach all offensive players the basic principles described above so that, as on-deck batters, they can stand behind the plate and help their teammates score safely.
Effective base coaches can influence the outcome of many plays throughout a game. Though their contributions are not always apparent, base coaches are critical to a team’s ability to generate runs.
Brian Priebe wrote several articles on coaching baseball when he was the head freshman baseball coach at Monte Vista High School in San Diego.